How To Address Conflict In DEI Implementations

By Dwight Cook and Tina Vinod
In our previous article in this series, we talked about how conflict is inevitable in DEI implementations. In this article we will talk about ‘how to’ address these conflicts.

In our experience, most general conflicts boil down to these four arguments

Proactively communicating the reasoning behind changes and decisions

Affirmative action to hire and promote from marginalized and under-represented groups is perceived as a compromise in the quality and merit of the candidate hired. * This is a common conflict that can be addressed by clearly articulating the purpose of affirmative action and the shift from traditional standardized meritocracy for hiring and performance management. This comes with an acknowledgment that diverse talent brings valuable skills and perspectives that we often tend to undervalue. Organizations that look at individualized skills-based hiring and performance management practices build teams that bring greater value.

Hiring diverse talent may conflict with the comfortable homogeneity of teams and may often lead to superficial allyship, which can be disruptive to team cohesion and performance * There is proven research on how diverse teams that are sensitized and understand the value of DEI outperform those that are not, delivering value to diverse customers and clients. All employees benefit from a culture that embraces DEI. People who dissent initially may find that they are engaged in new, helpful ways, and they learn to engage others differently.

DEI investments are performative and only intended to improve brand visibility and investors/stakeholders' buy-in. * Having a shared purpose and commitment to DEI that starts with the leadership will encourage authentic engagement from employees. Most times, this argument also stems from the fact that they do not understand the purpose or/ nor see the visible leadership involvement in DEI. Authentic commitment to DEI leads to highly engaged employees who are brand ambassadors.

It impacts business performance and the investments in DEI don’t have a good ROI. * Communicating the business impact of DEI is crucial in initiating and promoting engagement throughout the DEI journey. Tracking DEI metrics and mapping to employee and customer satisfaction, retention, innovation, and improved brand perception is a great way to provide data-backed proof of the ROI of DEI. Periodic and anonymous employee surveys also provide insights that can often be sliced to view a particular demographic, eg. women in the workplace or the developer community.

Thus, engaging with dissent, having unifying conversations, understanding different points of view and perspectives, and focusing on shared values is key to effective DEI implementation and collective ownership.

Dissent often comes from conflicting mental models around values. People with dissenting views are almost always committed to candidate quality, team performance, and the organization's business goals, they simply apply them differently to the current situation. Commitment to DEI can be as simple as seeing the application of values they already embrace in a different way.

When people fully understand and commit to DEI Principles, they work to include diverse co-workers in ways that enable and empower them beyond what is specifically included in DEI training.

It can be tempting to take an expedient authoritarian approach and ask for compliance simply because those are the corporate policies. This may achieve compliance but most likely will not achieve the broad set of needed behavior changes. An overly “compliant” approach is likely to result in microaggressions like the statement, “Oh, you’re the diversity hire,” that set the team up for failure.

DEI is about including and engaging all people, even those who might dissent.

P.S – This blog was written for Linkedin and published on