Shifting Priorities: What the Departure of Diversity Heads Reveals About Corporate Commitment to DEI

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

Is corporate America’s focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion on the way out? Recent reports of various DEI professionals exiting their positions have sparked speculation to this effect, especially amid widespread backlash against the progressive left’s ideas on diversity. Some on both sides of the debate seem to believe that companies – especially those in the entertainment industry – are rethinking their stances on DEI and other “woke” practices. But there might be something more at work here.

Four prominent diversity heads have recently announced their departures from major entertainment companies, which many view as a significant shift in the diversity and inclusion landscape. Latondra Newton, the chief diversity officer at Disney, is leaving the company after a controversial six-year tenure.

During her time at Disney, Newton spearheaded various initiatives aimed at promoting inclusivity, such as introducing gay, lesbian, transgender, non-binary, and other minority characters into Disney’s animated series and films. However, these efforts were met with criticism from some of Disney’s core customers, who felt alienated by what they perceived as the company’s “woke” agenda.

One notable change implemented under Newton’s watch was the removal of traditional gendered language and roles in Disney World. For example, the greeting “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” was replaced to promote inclusivity, and gender-neutral titles were adopted at dress-up boutiques. These changes were supposedly aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for all guests and employees. However, they sparked debates and intensified the cultural divide surrounding diversity issues.

Similarly, Vernā Myers, the head of inclusion strategy at Netflix, will be stepping down from her position. Myers was the first person to hold this role at the streaming giant and made significant contributions during her tenure. She led strategic interventions, raised awareness, and released Netflix’s first inclusion report. Under her leadership, the inclusion team at Netflix grew, and culturally relevant practices were implemented in various aspects of the company’s operations. Wade Davis, who has worked under Myers for the past four years, will take over as the vice president of inclusion strategy.

Jeanell English, the executive vice president of impact and inclusion at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has also resigned after only one year in the role. English played a role in the Academy’s efforts to address underrepresentation in the film industry and oversaw talent development programs. Her departure comes at a time when diversity and inclusion initiatives are being closely scrutinized in the industry.

Karen Horne, who led Warner Bros. Discovery’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion division for North America, is leaving the company as well. This comes amidst major restructuring and layoffs following the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery. Horne’s departure is part of a reimagining of the DEI division and does not appear to be directly related to the broader staff retrenchment.

These recent departures have prompted discussions about the future of DEI initiatives in corporate America. However, it is important to examine these developments within a broader context. While controversies and customer backlash have surrounded some diversity-related changes, there are other factors showing that these departures likely had little to do with the backlash against diversity. In almost all of these stories, these roles are being filled by other individuals, meaning that these companies are not eliminating these functions.

What is a more significant element in this equation is that there has been a sharp decline in job listings for DEI roles and layoffs of DEI professionals in the tech industry. Indeed, last year, job listings for these positions fell by 19 percent in 2022.

This suggests that the significant growth in DEI positions seen in recent years may have been driven mostly by the national outrage over the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent calls for racial justice. Amid nationwide protests and riots, companies created these positions as a way to virtue signal to the rest of the world how much they supposedly care about the plight of black Americans. Now that the initial fervor has subsided, and corporations no longer have to pretend they are concerned about racial minorities, there is no reason to focus as many resources on keeping up the illusion.

To put it simply: These companies were never truly serious about diversity, equity, or inclusion in the first place. It was only a way to stay in the good graces of the woke Sanhedrin and avoid the heat of the Cancel Culture Community™. The ESG movement has been growing in power, which has contributed to the growth of woke corporatism as well. While there are certainly true believers in the boardrooms, many of these companies are simply maintaining a façade designed to preserve their bottom lines. This will continue to be the case until these executives fear those pushing back against wokeism more than they fear the hard left.


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