One multi-national corporation’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statement declares: “Our diverse perspectives come from many sources including gender, race, age, national origin, sexual orientation, culture, education, and professional and life experience. We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and always look for ways to scale our impact as we grow.”
A framework crafted by one American institute defines these terms as follows. “Diversity” means the “difference or variety of a particular identity”, which includes race, gender and sexual orientation. “Equity” refers to “resources and the need to provide additional or alternative resources so that all groups can reach comparable, favourable outcomes”, whereas “Inclusion” refers to “internal practices, policies, and processes that shape an organization’s culture”.
This sounds harmless enough, or even good? What, if anything, is wrong with DEI?
The devil, as the saying goes, is in the details.
Uplifting or Stereotyping?
Seeking to lift marginalised individuals and communities out of cycles of disadvantage is a noble goal. It is also praiseworthy to seek to provide equal opportunities to everyone, giving everyone a fair chance to succeed regardless of their background: You deserve to be employed no matter who you are, as long as you can do a good job.
But when companies and organisations pursue a socialist goal of seeking equal outcomes that are “equitable”, this is where problems begin.
Why Should We Be Cautious of Equity?
Taking race as an example, DEI policies send a condescending message that certain races are somehow less than qualified for the job, as companies hire minorities out of a desire to signal their compliance and virtue. This gives rise to the concept of a “diversity hire”, which is anything but a compliment.
Writing in New York Magazine, an anonymous “light-skinned East Asian man” wrote about how being a “diversity hire” in fact prejudiced him, being approached for jobs that he was “patently unqualified”, and being cited as evidence by his boss of a track record of recruiting minorities. “If I had had any delusions that I was in that room for my hard work and brilliant ideas, they would have been dispelled.” He adds, “that extra layer of racial consciousness cannot be peeled away”.
Similarly, some have called DEI training a “Trojan Horse”, promoting “racial stereotyping” rather than teaching people to put aside possible biases and to judge others according to the content of their character. Others have likewise called DEI a “Trojan Horse” for “Critical Social Justice”, which insists upon divisive, discriminatory prescriptions.
In the Greek myth of Troy, the Greek army secretly hid in a large wooden horse, and emerged when the wooden horse was brought into the city walls, thus destroying the city from within. Likewise, DEI is seemingly innocuous, but ends up subverting institutions and organisations from within.
What is Being Subverted?
DEI starts from the assumption that there are historically, socially and culturally marginalised people and groups that need to be uplifted out of cycles of disadvantage. Thus, according to the tenets of DEI, this applies to minority groups according to a list of characteristics such as race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and the list goes on.
In an essay titled “Why Diversity, Inclusion and Equity ideology must die”, Jordan B. Peterson wrote that, because of DEI (which he refers to by his preferred acronym “DIE”): “We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, “gender” or sexual preference is, first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person (just as the radical leftists were hoping) and, second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment.”
Think from the perspective of an employer: If I were trying to hire a new manager, should I hire someone just because she is a woman and therefore fits my DEI priorities, or should I hire her because she is the best person for the job?
The most obvious thing that is undermined when an employer hires any employee on the basis of DEI, is to reflect and send the message that this particular employee has been hired merely because of the employee’s minority status, rather than the employee’s skill, proficiency or professional qualifications in relation to the job.
Forcing Diversity on Sexuality and Gender Identity
Another subversive thing about DEI is to accept and impose left-wing ideology, and effectively remove any room for the expression of traditional or conservative views on matters including sexuality and gender.
Amazon – whose DEI statement is quoted at the beginning of this article – notoriously removed without notice from its listing Ryan T. Anderson’s book, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, a move criticised by the US-based National Coalition Against Censorship as one which “threatens the marketplace of ideas”. Amazon defended its actions on the basis that it refused to sell books that “frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness”.
Certain viewpoints are simply too offensive to be heard according to DEI ideology, even as books by Adolf Hitler such as Mein Kampf remain available on Amazon
For DEI proponents, all views are acceptable and valid, except those whose views disagree with DEI; the one unacceptable form of diversity is viewpoint diversity.
In the words of George Orwell’s political satire, Animal Farm, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”
Is the Trojan Horse in Singapore?
A joint survey in 2021 by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and Kincentric found that 70% of employers (out of 186 surveyed) had yet to instate a formal approach towards DEI, while 62% of such employers have made a head start towards incorporating DEI as a factor of their hiring and promotion processes. SNEF and Kincentric jointly called upon Singapore employers to “proactively manage” DEI at their workplaces.
Characteristics within DEI policies in Singapore tend to follow local norms, at least for now. Thus, a SNEF-Kincentric research paper on DEI through the lens of employers focused on characteristics such as age, nationality, gender, disability, and family responsibilities. In its DEI policy, DBS Bank lists a range of characteristics that they do not discriminate against, namely: “age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, disability, or any other status protected by applicable local law.”
However, as there is no limit to the list of personal identities and characteristics that may be included in DEI, it is no surprise that LGBTQ+ has become a growing feature in DEI policies.
For example, prominent local telecommunications company Singtel declared in their 2022 Sustainability Report that “DEI is core to our purpose at Singtel”, highlighting a host of steps they have taken, including setting up employee networks in Australia “to create an inclusive culture for women, persons with various abilities and disabilities, people with different culture and heritage, LGBTQ+ individuals and veterans.”
More significantly, following the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, one organisation which calls itself “Singapore’s first LGBTQ+ and allied chamber of commerce”, Q Chamber, hopes to “champion diversity, equity and inclusion values towards greater equality and shared economic prosperity”.
In fact, there was a considerable effort made by Singapore’s liberal activists to force the inclusion of Sexuality and Gender Identity into the recently announced TAFEP Legislation. This explains why media outlets repeatedly commented on the nature of the legislation as being “tightly scoped”.
It remains to be seen if Singapore will continue to expand the categories of people included as protected classes in TAFEP legislation and associated provisions. Should categories begin to expand, it would also be important to consider how competing interests will be negotiated in Singapore. For instance, one tension which is ubiquitous in societies that recognise contested identities is that between freedom of speech and freedom from harassment. Singapore will therefore need clear definitions around what qualifies as valid speech and actual harassment.
Should the protected classes expand under the guise of plugging gaps in coverage, Singapore will also have to justify why some groups have been prioritised over other groups, in addition to needing to negotiate new identity politics tensions arising from groups emboldened by legal legitimacy.
Genuinely Helping the Disadvantaged
By pushing equality of outcomes, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion movements do so at the expense of others, and simultaneously disparages the very disadvantaged communities that DEI purports to help. A far more empowering solution is one that truly helps those who are “structurally” disadvantaged and is found in maintaining equal opportunities for all.
Rather than giving an artificial boost in an effort to achieve “equal outcomes”, it is much better to help marginalised communities succeed on their own merit by improving skills training, and enabling these individuals and groups to achieve greater social mobility and advancement.