by Karl W. Reid, Ed.D.

Dr. Karl Reid

Undeniably, topics and conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), and anti-racism have gotten politically heated and legislatively active, particularly in pockets of the United States. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 state legislatures have proposed over 40 pieces of legislation that seek to outlaw different aspects of DEI programs, courses, practices, and/or positions in public colleges. While most of the laws are limited in scope, in Florida and Texas legislation signed into law restricts the use of state-allocated funds to increase the representation of students, faculty, and staff and the academic success of students who come from backgrounds historically marginalized based on their race and ethnicity.

The political motivation behind this movement flies in the face of a growing body of research, specifically, the increasing business case for diversity; a business case that has direct implications for higher education. This, given our purpose to prepare graduates to be engaged with and impact the world.

McKinsey recently released the latest in their Diversity Matters series which for the past 8 years has demonstrated the link between leadership diversity and company performance. Among a growing number of companies across numerous sectors, the study of over 1,200 companies in 23 countries shows a steady increase in the association between financial performance and the gender and ethnic diversity of their leadership teams. Over the past 8 years, the likelihood that companies in the highest quartile of ethnic diversity would outperform on key financial metrics than those in the lowest quartile increased from 35% to 39%. And the association between gender diversity and financial performance has increased more dramatically.

Banner about 'the business case for diversity on executive teams and financial outperformance', with two categories: women representation, and ethnic diversity representation.

The 2023 report also extends their study to include the “holistic impact” of diversity. A company’s impact on the community, workforce, and environment—all of which have close ties with employee and community well-being — are positively associated with gender and ethnic leadership diversity. For example, the most recent study found that a 10 percent increase in ethnic representation is associated with a 4-point rise in what McKinsey calls the climate-strategy scores, measures of “operational ecoefficiency” and “climate strategy”. The authors surmise that companies that value diversity and inclusive growth are also likely to prioritize combatting inequity (p.33). Here, the connection between diversity, equity, and inclusion is empirically proven.

The Path to Inclusion Begins with Diversity

Increasing the representation of dissimilar groups in the workplace and the classroom raises the prospect of meaningful interactions between individuals. This contact has a dual benefit: it reduces bias and fosters innovation. Why? Because, according to researcher Scott Page, “People are forced to think differently and harder when they’re around identity diverse people.” [1]

When we are intentional about ensuring that all members of our community can thrive, we benefit individually and collectively as we become psychologically and cognitively liberated to solve complex social and technical problems, some of which are confronting our very existence. We need to unlock the best minds to innovate and co-create solutions to relieve suffering where it occurs, raise standards of living, build bridges of opportunities between communities, and improve the quality of life of communities and nations around the world.

It’s thus hard for me to understand how state legislatures could expect their students, faculty, and staff to thrive if they walk back progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion. How can public universities expect to spark innovation and attract faculty and students in states that don’t embrace Scott Page’s notion of identity diversity? Will philanthropy and research funding be affected? What about staff satisfaction at these institutions, or even the ability to attract diverse athletes?

Fostering belonging at both individual and institutional levels is the keystone of inclusive environments that liberate everyone in the community to bring their best, most authentic selves to school and work. McKinsey’s latest report is yet another reminder that Northeastern’s choice to prioritize inclusion and belonging will put us on the path to achieving greater inclusive impact.