Do Not Forget Your DEI Mission Statement and Related Communications When Conducting a Compliance Review and Assessment
Nov 29, 2023
The firm’s DEI compliance practice group’s recent seminars, conferences, and publications have focused on providing information and guidance on the numerous legal and legislative challenges to diversity and inclusion programs and policies. Following up on recommendations for a diversity and equity program compliance review and assessment, we want to remind institutions that their review and assessment should also include their DEI mission statements and related internal and external communications.
Many of the lawsuits, and threats of lawsuits challenging DEI policies, focus on language in an institution’s mission statement and communications, which indicate a preference for certain racial or ethnic groups and women and, therefore, arguably individuals not in the listed demographics. Diversity and equity mission statements and communications can unknowingly use language or terms which are more likely to initiate a discrimination challenge from DEI opponents. Examples of such language include, but are not limited, to the following:
- An explicit preference for a person of a particular race, ethnicity, or gender.
- Preference for a person who has been historically underrepresented or disadvantaged with unclear definition as to those terms.
- A stated goal to increase the representation of a person by a specific percentage based solely on race, national origin, or gender.
- Language which tends to be exclusive rather than inclusive.
Institutions must be thoughtful and intentional in their formal and information DEI communications. Colleges and universities are best protected against challenges to their DEI mission statements by speaking to universal efforts to make recruiting, hiring, and retention more successful for everyone. Additionally, consider broadening your definition of diversity by using inclusive language which honors the diverse identities of every person. Mission Statements that include diversity of thoughts and ideas, while potentially controversial, are being used by many institutions to broaden the definition of diversity and take away opponents of DEI arguments that the institution’s push for diversity is illegally limited to racial or ethnic groups. Finally, ensure that employees charged with implementing the institution’s DEI initiatives or communicating internally and externally on the initiatives are well versed in the purpose and meaning of the language.