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Can Politicians Ban Diversity Training?

By: Erich TollDiversity Insights
Work training

First Former President Donald Trump, now Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Back in 2020, just months before the presidential election, Trump banned federal agencies from conducting any cultural sensitivity training. His claim? They were “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”

Now, two and a half years after Trump was booted from office, controversial Governor DeSantis is up to the same antics, and it begs the question. Can politicians ban diversity training? And if they really can, why are they doing it?

Donald Trump vs. Diversity Training

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have now become an entire industry that’s added thousands of jobs to the economy in the last five years. According to Harvard Business Review, 60 percent of organizations now have a DEI strategy in place, and that number is only climbing. Yet, that hasn’t stopped high-level politicians — all the way up to the former president — from trying to derail the work that these programs do.

In September 2020, President Trump made an announcement aimed at federal agencies, instructing them to “stop racial sensitivity training” funded by taxpayer money. In the memo, President Trump claimed that these sessions foster resentment in the workplace and that he doesn’t believe in systemic racism as an issue impacting the U.S.

Ron DeSantis vs. Diversity Training

In February 2023, Ron DeSantis stated his intention to ban state universities from allocating funds to DEI initiatives. He did that knowing that, without financial support, it will be difficult for these programs to run.

In the press release regarding the legislation, the governor’s office called DEI programs “discriminatory.” Furthermore, they vowed to prohibit universities from funding these programs even if the source wasn’t from the state. Then, on May 15, 2023, DeSantis followed through on his intentions and signed the bill into law.

The recent Stop WOKE Act also banned workplace exercises in diversity training as the Florida legislature believes it creates a hostile work environment.

The Hidden Agenda Behind Banning Diversity Training

When banning diversity training is done under the guise of “bringing people together” and “focusing on our similarities, not our differences,” it may sound like it has merit. But the efforts that DEI programs make in the workplace are valuable.

Yes, the processes that make DEI can cause people to have big feelings: defensiveness, doubt, guilt, shame, denial, resentment, pain, helplessness, and sadness. These can all be felt when confronting biases or while being on the receiving end of a bias. However, to process these feelings and sentiments, you must confront them. You cannot hide or ban them.

By banning a program — by saying “don’t talk about it” — these politicians are acting as barriers to building awareness of unconscious bias and cultural competency. These programs ultimately help employees feel more comfortable being their full and authentic selves in the workplace.

Final Thoughts

When he first took office on January 20, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that revoked President Trump’s ban. But it hasn’t stopped DeSantis, who has used his power in Florida to ban this within the state.

With at least 25 states considering legislation or other steps to limit how race and racism can be taught, it’s that much more important that we have strong DEI programs in place to help people navigate their complex identities in the workplace.

Are you interested in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the face of opposition? Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training Suite provides the tools and strategies to navigate challenges and create a more inclusive workplace.

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