Chances are you know someone who’s had to attend DEI training at their work, only to be met with the same tired colloquies on American race relations that just so happen to ignore the nation’s largest minority–Latinos.
And chances are that your Twitter feed’s been bombarded with anecdotes of DEI deans’ coddling defense of university students disrupting an invited speaker’s discussion, and a cavalcade of conservatives cursing Bud Light’s LGBTQ-focused marketing campaign by shooting up their beer water with rifles.
Whether it’s business or higher education, then, anything related to DEI is facing mass scrutiny at a national level. Stuck in the middle are Latinos, who are ostensibly targeted in corporate and academic DEI policies that haven’t yet demonstrated that they can deliver for them.
What Is DEI?
Following George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests and rethinking (among some) of race in America, some have expressed greater interest in DEI policies.
Researchers tend to define the “D” in DEI, diversity, as referring to traits such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender as they exist in organizations. Then there’s equity, which broadly connotes a goal of eroding traditional barriers that prevent groups from experiencing fair outcomes.
Inclusion has to do with an organization creating a welcoming environment that supports each person as unique, with their own specific strengths.
Latinos & DEI In Business
It’s easy to see how the kumbaya-singing and “thank you for sharing” stereotypes of the consultant class wouldn’t appeal to Latinos. We’re used to being ignored, preferring this to the alternative of goofballs trying to connect with us based on their love of taco trucks, or worse, their Portuguese grandma who allegedly made a mean caldo verde. Those conversations make us want to DIE (apologies).
But more so than the occasional annoying conversation, it’s not clear that Latinos have benefitted from DEI in business even as Latino entrepreneurship is on the ascent, with their businesses growing at a faster clip than their counterparts, according to Stanford’s 2022 State of Latino Entrepreneurship report.
And yet, a joint report by DEI firm Kanarys and Hispanic-professional group Prospanica revealed that not only are Latinos underrepresented in corporations and executive boards, but Latinos in these positions tend not to assert their identity and often feel as though they’re held responsible by management for DEI while still left out of DEI trainings.
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It’s not that these policies couldn’t positively affect Latinos. Corporations view DEI policies and trainings as good for business and will continue to do so. Raul Pereyra is the founder of RTP Learning, a DEI consulting firm based in California that offers training focusing on diversity in a holistic way that’s inclusive of Latinos.
Businesses hire Pereyra when they want help in implementing these policies, and he lends a Latino perspective to a field that tends to ignore use. He takes a deep dive into organization’s demographics, pay equity, employee surveys, and analyzes levels of engagement, but also discusses employee feelings in a way that they don’t have to worry about being reprimanded and “cancelled.”
Overall, the goals are “recruitment and retention,” in which employee engagement is an instrumental step.
“I like to think about employee engagement as a major principle in DEI, in addition to diversity, which is really counting numbers,” Pereyra said. “Inclusion is about making those numbers count, and equity is about getting people…the resources they need to succeed.”
Latinos & DEI In Academia
With stories of universities doing things like firing a professor for showing a painting of Muhammed in class, there are some who have gone too far in trying to implement DEI to the point at which diversity statements and the creation of safe spaces can clash with the heralded liberal norms of academic freedom and freedom of speech.
The academy is not a place that’s supposed to be a shelter from uncomfortable ideas, but a place where students should be challenged so that they can thrive in a pluralistic, liberal society.
The values of DEI, then, should always be subordinate to those of academic freedom and free speech. This is a current concern, especially as free-speech advocacy organization FIRE (Foundation For Individual Rights and Expression) has reported that DEI policies have often superseded these traditional liberal values on campuses, as well as having chilling effects for both students and faculty.
This doesn’t mean that the actions of some on the right are justified. DeSantis and his acolytes at the conservative Claremont Institute are set on eliminating DEI policies from Florida universities, claiming that admissions aren’t merit-based, that diversity statements on faculty job applications serve as litmus tests for progressives, and that costs are skyrocketing due to the creation of DEI positions.
There’s not a clear problem statement here, though, and besides figures offered from conservative sources such as the Heritage Foundation that make vague references to “America” and “patriotism,” there isn’t evidence that these policies represent a problem.
A clear view of what DEI means at the university system level can be found in the University of California system’s statement on diversity in their 2022 Accountability Report. Diversity in this report is clearly referenced within the framework of merit—that is, the focus is on admitting a diverse body of students who demonstrate merit, because the goal of any university is to serve the actual people in their service area/state.
With California being so diverse, it makes perfect sense that diversity would be a priority.
But even in California, there are issues with representation. In 2021, the Campaign for College Opportunity found that Latinos are still underrepresented, and other reports have similar unfortunate findings.
DEI hasn’t yet delivered, but it does hold promise. Latinos are the largest minority group in the U.S. at this point and need to be better represented in positions of power, because we are a part of this country. The key is balance, and with a focus on placing DEI in its proper place subordinate to the liberal values we hold most dear, the hope is that Latinos will benefit.