The news cycle has returned with a vengeance to a familiar bogeyman over the past year – the imminent end of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The flurry of stories and sound bites about the end of DEI could make a person’s head spin.

And, the controversy is more than a media firestorm. DEI is a hot topic on university campuses, in the nation’s K-12 classrooms and in communities, particularly in states where anti-diversity legislation is being implemented, like Florida and Texas. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis coined an infamous slogan, declaring “Florida is where woke goes to die,” then later equating DEI to an attempt to impose “orthodoxy” in academia.

On the national and state levels, a multitude of courts and legislative bodies are inundated with thousands of bills and lawsuits battling to either maintain or end DEI once and for all. As if the political rhetoric weren’t enough, the debate over DEI will certainly take center stage in the 2024 presidential election.

It’s a difficult time to be an executive. You don’t get to hide from the issues. People are watching – lots of them – and they want you to lead … What do you do?

What should an executive do next?

In the U.S. today, people place more trust in business and its leaders than most other institutions. Given this sentiment, senior executives are being asked to take a stand on socio-demographic issues – and “asked” may be an understatement, it is more like “expected.” All your stakeholders, particularly employees and customers, are watching to see if your actions align with the aspirational words used in your mission and vision statements.

Let’s take “ignore DEI and hope it goes away” off the table. I don’t think this is a smart way to approach a controversy, just like saying “no comment” is unacceptable in addressing a crisis. This is a defining issue of our lifetimes and a “wait and see” attitude is not going to cut it among any of your stakeholders.


Join the “anti-woke” critics.

Start or maintain your organization’s DEI journey.

Play both sides of the fence.

As the anti-DEI crowd grows and people line up on sides, grabbing your own pitchfork and joining the attack has advantages. Heck, if Elon Musk is willing to call for the “death” of DEI, certainly there are many others who will follow suit.

Another option is to subtly support diversity efforts while (as quietly as possible) downsizing your DEI staff and cutting funding (that you may or may not have previously announced publicly). Last month, CNBC published a high-profile story claiming that many of the world’s largest companies, including Meta and Google (among other tech giants) had drastically cut back on DEI pledges and resources.

The news reinforced research conducted by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, which showed that companies had previously pledged $340 billion toward racial equity programs in the two and a half years after George Floyd’s murder. Think about that number – $340 billion.

I don’t think my shock would surprise anyone, nor my questions about where all this money went. To put that figure into perspective, $340 billion could buy 850,000 people a $400,000 home (the median price in the U.S.). That’s more than the net worth of all the teams in the NFL combined and then doubled.

Okay, clearly as someone who founded a DEI consulting firm prior to Floyd’s murder and who counsels executives around the world on diversity and leadership topics, I’m going to urge my fellow executives to not give in or take the easy route. If you haven’t yet launched a diversity journey, now is the time to begin. If you’re already on the path, double-down to signal the power of culture-centric leaders and companies.

Why stand and fight back?

Rather than a lengthy plea for “doing the right thing” or some other ethical consideration, I am providing two ideas that I hope you will weigh. One may serve as a near-term reason for diversity-led initiatives. The other is something for you to consider for the future.

How businesses can incorporate DIB (diversity, inclusion, belonging) to be the greatest force for good

First, I’ll boil it down to one simple idea – it’s not about diversity, DEI or woke ideology. The reason to create a diversity-centered culture is that it makes smart business sense when you align the work to measurable business objectives. Studies have proven the numerous benefits of a diverse workforce, including enhanced productivity, innovation, employee engagement and decision-making. The bottom-line ranges from better employee retention and brand perception to greater profitability and revenue.

Personally, I’ve seen this at the companies I have run, invested in, or sit on the board of directors. For years one of my slogans has been to tell executives that they could improve profitability just by promoting women leaders to board positions. The numbers don’t lie.

The second consideration is more esoteric, but no less significant. In five to 10 years, your workforce is going to be dominated by employees who not only demand that your organization is committed to DEI, but they will walk away if you don’t live up to your espoused values. Furthermore, your customers, clients, vendors, suppliers and communities are going to feel the same way.

Maximize your impact: How diversity and inclusion can transform your board

Some might see this latter view as threatening, and perhaps it is. But, if there is a generational “great reckoning” on the horizon, don’t you want to be on the correct side of history?

So, call DEI whatever you’d like. Heck, take “diversity” out of the equation if necessary, because really we’re talking about belonging and well-being for ALL employees as the primary measures of success for you as an executive.

“While feelings of belonging contribute to individual well-being, companies clearly benefit. In a highly competitive global marketplace, organizations that focus on the employee experience have an advantage when it comes to recruiting and retention,” explains Jackie Ferguson, TDM Co-founder and host of the “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox” podcast. “Inclusive workplaces that prioritize communication and collaboration ensure that hybrid teams work seamlessly to find innovative solutions to pressing challenges.”

These are real-world results we’re talking about. You can stand by and watch today’s (and tomorrow’s events) pass you by or swallow you up. Either way, your legacy and your organization’s future depends on what you do now.

What’s it going to be?

About Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 SE Award winner, founded The Diversity Movement (TDM) to fundamentally transform the modern workplace through diversity-led culture change. TDM was recently acquired by Workplace Options, which brings holistic wellbeing services to more than 80 million people in more than 200 countries and territories across the globe. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics.

Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. TDM has created LeaderView, a leadership assessment tool that uses cultural competency as a driver for improving whole team performance. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.