The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Republicans: Attacks on diversity are attacks on a full and thriving economy

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File
FILE – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. DeSantis on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, announced plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory.

Republicans are escalating their political attacks on what they call “woke” diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs in the military, government, the private sector and higher education. The attacks are unfounded and harmful. 

But before I explain why, let’s define the three related DEI components.

Diversity means having people of different genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and other demographic categories in jobs and schools. 

Equity refers to opening up opportunities for different types of people to succeed and get their fair share of the American Dream. 

Inclusion requires creating conditions at work and school where all types of people feel welcomed, valued and able to make their voices heard.

Critics of DEI policies contend they give an unfair advantage to people of color, women, LGBTQ Americans and others long underrepresented in colleges and the workforce (especially in senior positions), and discriminate against white men.  

The critics claim that institutions and society as a whole are being harmed because members of underrepresented groups are getting favored treatment based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other factors, rather than their qualifications.  

This view wrongly assumes that white men get jobs and are admitted to colleges and universities because of their qualifications, while many other people are less qualified and advance only because institutions are being pressured to meet diversity goals.  

We saw this assumption surface recently in a March 23 congressional hearing by the House Military Personnel Subcommittee, when Republicans argued that the Defense Department is weakening military readiness by promoting DEI. 

Rep. Jim Banks, (R-Ind.), the subcommittee chairman, said in his prepared opening remarks that when he served in the Navy it was run as a “meritocracy,” where anyone of any background was able to “succeed [based on] hard work and determination alone” and where he found “no evidence of widespread racism.” 

“But we are now in danger of losing those meritocratic principles to the politicization of our Armed Forces,” Banks added. “Thanks first and foremost to the ever-expanding bureaucracy of Diversity Equity and Inclusion policies, regulations and trainings. This DEI apparatus is based in faulty science and misguided principles.” 

Banks is wrong.  

First, the congressman’s idealized view of the Navy was contradicted in 2020 by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, who said: “We can’t be under any illusions about the fact that racism is alive and well in our country. And I can’t be under any illusions that we don’t have it in our Navy.” Gilday created a task force that released 57 recommendations in 2021 to reduce racism and increase diversity in the Navy.  

In addition, numerous studies have found that diversity is an asset, not a weakness. We need to fully take advantage of the talents of women and minorities, who make up the majority of the population, in addition to the talents of white men. Increasing diversity doesn’t minimize the important contributions white men make; it simply strengthens our institutions by enabling others to make important contributions as well. 

Diverse workforces help businesses earn greater profits by giving them a competitive advantage and helping them recruit top-notch employees, a 2020 study by the business consulting firm McKinsey and Company found. The study examined over 1,000 large companies in 15 countries.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army four-star general and the first Black person to head the Pentagon, has said a more diverse and inclusive military strengthens our national security and better reflects America’s values. 

At a time of low unemployment, all the military services are struggling to recruit enough new members, with the Army recruiting about 15,000 fewer soldiers last year than its goal of 60,000. The armed forces have embraced DEI programs as a way of attracting and retaining more soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines willing to risk their lives to defend our nation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Education Department concluded in a 2016 report that college students get a better education and learn how to work with people of different backgrounds when they attend diverse schools. And opening the doors to college wider with affirmative action and financial aid programs helps make America the land of opportunity in fact and not just rhetoric. A more educated workforce strengthens our economy and national security and boosts family incomes and tax revenues.  

Yet despite the clear benefits of DEI in higher education, 15 state legislatures are considering at least two dozen bills pushed by Republicans to restrict or end DEI at state colleges and universities. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination, is seeking passage of one such bill in his state. 

Decades ago, women weren’t allowed to serve in the military and were largely relegated to low-level jobs in the private sector and government, or stayed out of the workforce to care for their families. The armed forces were racially segregated. Black people weren’t allowed to play in the top sports leagues. Many colleges and universities barred Black students entirely or enrolled just a token amount, leading to the establishment of HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities). 

Programs that brought more women and minorities into jobs and schools and made them feel welcome changed our nation for the better in dramatic ways. I look forward to more progress in the years ahead. 

And despite the alarmist warnings of the Republicans demonizing DEI, I know advancement in America is not a zero-sum game, where gains by women and minorities result in losses for white men. DEI is about expanding opportunity and not restricting it; combatting discrimination and not encouraging it; and making America “a shining city upon a hill,” as President Ronald Reagan called it, welcoming us all to build better futures for ourselves and our country. 

Donna Brazile is a political strategist, a contributor to ABC News and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is the author of “Hacks: Inside the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” 

Tags diversity and inclusion gender equity inequity Jim Banks Michael Gilday Politics of the United States racial equity Racism in the United States Ron DeSantis

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Civil Rights News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video