The Fall of the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion: What It Means for the Public and Private Sectors

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Authored by

Janet M. Stovall, CDE
The decision to dissolve the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) is a setback to a more inclusive society, with implications for both the public and private sectors. But there's one big difference: Business can do something about it.

The recent dissolution of the House Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has cast uncertainty over the future of federal-level DEI. But it’s not just the public sector that’s affected. Traditionally, as goes government, goes business. This decision is a setback to a more inclusive society, with implications for both the public and private sectors, with one big difference: Business can actually do something about it.

DEI under fire: The policy backlash

DEI initiatives are under increasing pressure from all sides. Public policy is shifting focus. Some states are attempting to pass legislation restricting how companies address issues of race and gender in workplace training and policies. High-profile, high-income individuals are leveraging big platforms and deep pockets to undo decades of DEI progress. For now, these efforts have not translated into actual policy for business. In fact, a U.S. appeals court recently ruled that Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which bans mandatory workplace diversity training on certain progressive concepts, violates employers’ First Amendment rights. However, policy changes put pressure on corporations to remain compliant and effective within this evolving landscape.

Public sector implications; private sector fallout

The ODI was instrumental in promoting diversity and inclusion within the U.S. House of Representatives, focusing on recruiting qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds. Its closure will make it harder to build a representative workforce and deprive offices of a key resource for diversity expertise.

Though only one office, ODI’s closure has symbolic weight, coming amidst a broader DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility) push spearheaded by the executive branch. This raises concerns about a potential disconnect in DEIA priorities within different governmental branches. Signaling that DEI is not a top priority for some parts of the government can have a discouraging effect on private companies, particularly those that partner with federal agencies or depend on access to public data. Without a unified approach to DEI across governmental bodies, there’s a potential for setbacks in progress made across both public and private sectors. Furthermore, a perceived disharmony on DEI initiatives at the federal level could contribute to an erosion of public trust, indirectly impacting the business environment.

NLI’s Impact Case for Diversity: A science-backed approach

Even with the best intentions, DEI work often falls flat. Why? These all-too-common mistakes get in the way:

  • Settling for the diversity checkbox. Treating diversity like a problem to solve rather than a solution to problems means not leveraging its true power.
  • Defining inclusion as feeling rather than doing. Making people feel included is important, but belonging comes from being valued for what you bring to the table.
  • Confusing equity with charity. Equity isn’t about fair people; it’s about fair systems, which call for identifying and removing systemic barriers.

The NeuroLeadership Institute’s (NLI) Impact Case for DEI challenges conventional DEI approaches, offering a framework rooted in three key scientific disciplines:

  • Neuroscience at the individual level helps explain how diversity and inclusion influence our thoughts and actions and the significant influence of biases in decision-making and interactions.
  • On an interpersonal level, generative interactivity underscores the importance of organizational practices that enhance collaboration and inclusivity on diverse teams, improving creativity and problem-solving.
  • Complexity science at the institutional level suggests viewing diversity as a strategic solution rather than a problem, promoting a transformative shift in how diversity is approached and integrated into organizational practices.

The science-based Impact Case for DEI demonstrates how targeted changes can produce large-scale benefits. This approach creates a compelling case with measurable results and goes beyond simply arguing the moral imperative.

Business must take the lead

For many years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has shown people trust businesses more than governments. Businesses get things done when governments seem stuck. Closure of the ODI is a challenge, but it can be a catalyst for change. And the private sector can create that change if it:

  • Prioritizes diversity by tying it directly to personal, departmental, and organizational business goals,
  • Habituates inclusion by implementing learning and development solutions focused on changing behavior rather than hearts and minds, and
  • Systemizes equity by inspecting, interrupting and improving policies and procedures to sustain and spur the behavioral change.

The shuttering of the ODI is a challenge that presents unique opportunities. For the public sector, it validates ongoing efforts to systemize equity by institutionalizing DEI efforts wherever possible. For the private sector, it’s a chance to step up and lead on DEI. NLI’s Impact Case for DEI offers a science-backed roadmap. By implementing its actionable strategies, companies can leverage diversity to spark innovation, attract top talent, and gain a competitive edge. It’s a win-win scenario, leading organizations to better business outcomes while leading the way in DEI.

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