It’s time to call it on diversity and inclusion.

Joan Westenberg
4 min readNov 1, 2023

For years now, we’ve been subjected to the endless spectacle of diversity, equity and inclusion theatre. What began as well-intentioned efforts to increase representation has devolved into a grand pageant of virtue signalling, amounting to little more than expensive pageantry devoid of any meaningful impact.

DEI initiatives are elaborate PR stunts for companies who want to pinkwash their image and present a veneer of progressivism without actually doing anything. Press releases proudly trumpet incremental changes in diversity statistics, touting them as significant milestones. Slick recruiting materials boast an inclusive culture featuring carefully curated images of diverse employees collaborating. Leaders espouse lofty visions of equality during presentations and interviews, voices brimming with earnestness, eyes wet with tears.

Peel back this glossy veneer, and the reality remains unchanged. Leadership ranks remain dominated by straight white men. Pay gaps persist across gender and racial lines despite repeated pledges to address them. Toxic cultures that subtly discriminate against marginalized groups continue unchecked behind closed doors.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: DEI budgets pale in comparison to employee snack budgets. And until those snack budgets are redirected to sponsoring marginalized talent, ensuing pay equity, removing biased HR practices, and enacting zero tolerance for discrimination rather than glossy programs, we will keep getting fucking nowhere.

Instead of progress, we have the DEI industrial complex. Consulting firms rake in massive fees for performing bias training workshops and conducting branding exercises to position companies as progressive. Conferences feature speakers preaching eloquent visions of equality to audiences of DEI professionals eager to network. Trainers are hired to run employees through an obstacle course of activities to uncover unconscious biases.

Nothing of substance emerges from these exercises beyond superficially diverse stock photos and toothless policy papers that gather dust. Platitudes about diversity continue being served in elaborate presentations and reports.

The blame for the lack of advancement is placed squarely on the shoulders of marginalized groups. If only they would lean in more, advocate for themselves, take suitable training courses, seek out sponsors, and follow the proper unwritten rules, they, too, could ascend the corporate ladder. Outside of finger-snap-inducing IWD panels, zero attention is paid to the systemic obstacles littering our path — obstacles carefully placed and maintained.

When marginalized employees speak up about experiencing discrimination, gaslighting ensues. Their grievances are dismissed as anomalies, one-off incidents, and distortions of innocent remarks or actions. They are advised to toughen up, develop a thicker skin, and not take things personally. Complaints are filtered through a bureaucracy adept at legal cover-ups and confidentiality agreements.

The few who manage to advance serve as tokenized proof of progress. Company PR machines blast announcements when minority employees reach senior levels for the first time as if it were a milestone worthy of celebration rather than further evidence of systemic inequality. These employees face immense pressure to be standard bearers for their entire community, expected to be experts on all related diversity issues.

The long climb required for marginalized employees to reach the top is a fucking lonely one. Lack of sponsorships, inequitable distribution of high-visibility projects, biased feedback and promotion processes, and alienating cultural expectations stack the cards against us. But the systemic disadvantages are overlooked in the congratulatory applause for those managing to overcome them.

When marginalized employees grow tired of the charade and call out the discriminatory culture, the scene follows a predictable script. First comes the shock, anger and denial — how could anyone criticize such an enlightened, progressive company? Then comes the grudging acknowledgement of isolated incidents that never represent company values. Finally, earnest platitudes are issued about recommitting to DEI efforts with more initiatives in the pipeline. The camera fades, the lights dim, and the scene repeats.

It’s time to tear down this elaborate DEI theatre and confront the elephant in the room — entrenched biases and discriminatory practices carefully maintained by those benefiting from them. No more excuses that meaningful culture change is difficult. No more mistaking marketing for courageous action. No more letting leaders off the hook for allowing oppressive cultures to fester under their watch.

Performativity must give way to challenging conversations and bold action that dismantles systemic barriers at every level. Leaders who cosplay as allies should have their impact measured in hard metrics, not events attended.

The spotlight is shining bright on companies now to back up their talk with meaningfully inclusive action. Half-measures will no longer pacify marginalized voices. There is no going back to cheering over window dressing and celebrating meagre representation gains wrapped in transformational progress.

The curtain needs to fall permanently on the grand diversity charade. In its place, a new era of inclusion must emerge — one built on transparently dismantling entrenched systems and empowering marginalized voices with long-denied seats at the table. It will require courageous leadership, willingness to listen without defensiveness, and perseverance through uncomfortable conversations. All of which means it’s unlikely to fucking happen.

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