Returning to first principles of the DEI business case


Feb 09, 2024

By championing diversity, equity and inclusion, businesses have the power to become agents of positive change in an uncertain time, write John McNamara and Conor Hudson

Threats to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) agenda are only growing stronger. It is important to understand the context, but more importantly to remind ourselves of the gaps DEI seeks to close and – as members – strive to engage and communicate on these issues more effectively.

This year will be the biggest election year in history. More than 60 countries representing half the world’s population – four billion people – will go to the polls voting in presidential, government and local elections.

This is also perhaps the biggest test yet for democracy as we continue to see certain extreme views previously confined to the fringes of society migrate to the mainstream.

Most recently, this shift has included an anti-DEI movement that is now, perhaps unsurprisingly, featuring in the discourse surrounding the US presidential election due to take place later this year.

At its core, anti-diversity activism views affirmative action as being racist and DEI initiatives and targets as being discriminatory.

In the US, for example, there is currently a push from certain quarters to reduce funding for inclusion programmes in schools and universities. DEI resourcing levels are under scrutiny and there is also the ongoing weaponisation of transgender issues directly impacting the LGBTQ+ community.

So how should we react to this assault, particularly given the likelihood that it will continue to grow and spread?

Perhaps the answer lies in returning to the ‘first principles’ of the DEI business case whilst recognising the need to work harder communicating, explaining and persuading on the arguments that support DEI.

In particular, we need to ask ourselves: What role can we play as members in business and practice?

Force for good

Business can be a force for good and many business people are regarded with trust and respect. Businesses can therefore play a pivotal role in promoting DEI and serving as catalysts for wider societal change.

Embracing diversity within their workforce can foster innovation and creativity in companies, bringing together individuals with unique perspectives and experiences.

Inclusive hiring practices and equal opportunities not only give businesses access to a wider talent pool but also empower marginalised groups, helping to reduce social inequalities.

Moreover, businesses with inclusive policies tend to better understand and serve diverse consumer markets, increasing the likelihood of better financial performance.

Companies can enhance their reputation by prioritising DEI initiatives, creating a positive culture and potentially attracting top talent.

Doing so effectively is, however, about much more than simply adopting the signifiers of inclusivity (celebrating International Women’s Day or Pride, for example). It needs to be backed up by inclusive policies that are truly respected, accepted and enforced from the top down and right across the organisation.

By championing DEI, businesses can become agents of positive change, influencing broader societal attitudes and norms. These businesses can, in turn, expect to benefit from an enhanced public image and perception of their brand, which can improve their reputation and lead to greater trust.

So how can Chartered Accountants in leading business roles put us back on the right track?

To navigate the path to DEI and move beyond the anti-DEI movement, members and business leaders must be aware that individuals in their organisations will be at different points in their personal journey. They should also consider the following steps when implementing their strategy:

  • Offering a safe space for those with diverse perspectives so that they can ask questions and their concerns can be understood and addressed with empathy. Don’t allow DEI to become a “Them” and “Us” scenario.
  • Communicate transparently about DEI initiatives, identifying the gaps in the organisation and how DEI policies can close them. Ensure that the initiatives have a strategy focusing on inclusion. Otherwise, they can be counterproductive.
  • Implement fair and objective metrics for evaluating progress in reaching DEI goals; this helps build credibility and legitimacy, but avoid these KPIs becoming a box-ticking exercise.
  • Understand the experience of colleagues from diverse backgrounds in your organisation. Setting and reaching DEI goals related solely to the recruitment process cannot embed and maintain the culture needed to retain these new hires.
  • Collaborate with external experts or organisations in the DEI space who can provide the necessary insight, guidance and credibility to support a successful DEI journey.

Inclusion as a skill

In the face of the anti-DEI movement, the skill of inclusion becomes a crucial asset. Treating inclusion as a skill involves actively fostering environments where diverse perspectives are not only welcomed but also valued.

This skill requires empathy, open-mindedness and effective communication to bridge divides and dispel misconceptions that fuel opposition to DEI efforts.

Organisations can help develop these skills through unconscious bias training, promoting employee resource groups (e.g. LGBTQ+) and actively seeking diverse perspectives in the decision making process.

Inclusion as a skill empowers individuals to navigate conversations with those resistant to DEI, fostering understanding and promoting unity.

By emphasising the benefits of diversity and creating spaces where everyone feels heard and respected, individuals equipped with inclusion as a skill can play a pivotal role in countering anti-DEI sentiment.

John McNamara is Chair of BALANCE, the Institute’s LGBTQ+ allies network group and Executive Director and CFO at AIB life. Conor Hudson is a Finance Director and member of BALANCE.

This article was first published by Chartered Accountants Ireland at the following URL: