We don’t need your buy-in on DEI.

Can I be bold?

In the same week of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s US Senate confirmation hearings, I was asked at work to write a blog post. The prompt, “How do we persuade (other) white men to care about DEI (diversity, equity & inclusion)?” was a question asked in earnest by a white male business leader to a Creative Talent Endeavors (CTE) Partner at the HR Transform Conference recently. Implied in the question was that some (perhaps many?) white men are indifferent or reluctant regarding the merits of DEI and need to be convinced.

I spent a week ruminating on what to write. Frankly, I was annoyed by the prompt. The expectation that non-white people, who are disproportionately under-resourced and underrepresented at every level of most organizations, do the work of convincing white people of our humanity is exhausting.

Some personal context. I am a Black immigrant woman who has spent my entire career driven by diversity, equity, and inclusion. My commitments brought me to the Advisory Services team at CTE. The 100% Black-owned retained search firm was founded in 2017 by Kyle Samuels with a simple, anchoring mission – to change the face of talent. I’ve been inspired by our talent consulting work and how we enliven DEI best practices for the benefit of our clients. Given CTE’s work and my long career in this space, this question is not new to me. Usually, I’m even open to participating in the exercise.

However, this time, while watching Judge Brown’s 20+ hours-long confirmation hearing, I felt impatient. I watched as white Senators used coded racial stereotypes to yell at the judge. I was reminded how exhausting it is to persuade white men – reluctant, suspicious, or indifferent as they can sometimes be – that diversity matters.

But why should we? My honest answer is we shouldn’t.

The bottom line is that DEI work is urgent. We cannot wait, nor can we afford for white men who are not on board to get on board. And we don’t have to. Society is changing, and so are the needs of businesses. Many people now choose careers and opportunities based on work cultures prioritizing diversity, inclusion, and equity commitments and practices. Talking the talk without walking the walk is no longer good enough. Companies must take specific steps to create positive work experiences for all employees, specifically those historically marginalized and underrepresented. If white men catch up or get on board, that’s great, but if not, the world isn’t waiting for them. Let’s look forward, not behind.

The benefits that DEI offers – i.e., creativity, innovation, improved productivity, higher profits, better employee engagement, and diminished employee turnover – far outweigh the costs of some white men’s discomfort, suspicions, or indifference. It’s better to focus on people already on board.

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