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  • Writer's pictureHolly Corbett

7 Pivotal DEI Moments From 2023: A Look Back On This Year's Stories

Dec. 29, 2023

Rep. Zooey Zephyr hugs a supporter
Rep. Zooey Zephyr hugs a supporter at the Montana State Capitol in Helena, Mont., Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Tommy Martino)COPYRIGHT 2023 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The movement for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) hit plenty of road bumps in 2023. This year saw a mass exodus of DEI leaders from companies such as Netflix, Disney, and Warner Bros Discovery. The Supreme Court’s ruling this summer that ended affirmative action on college campuses spilled over into the business world, such as when a federal appeals court blocked a grant program for Black female entrepreneurs. This year, a record-breaking 510 bills have been rated as anti-LGBTQ by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The truth is that change with social movements is slow, nonlinear, and doesn’t happen all at once. Despite DEI efforts facing greater backlash this year, a majority of U.S. workers still believe focusing on DEI is a good thing, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. Companies who want to attract and retain Gen Z employees will have to act upon what the youngest workers value most, such as pay equity, inclusive culture, and prioritizing purpose along with profit.

As we head into 2024, here is a look back at some pivotal DEI moments I covered in my articles in 2023.

This autumn marked the sixth anniversary of when the #MeToo movement went viral, with much progress made in terms of laws at the state level. Six years after #MeToo, 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed more than 80 workplace anti-harassment bills. Just as important as changing laws is changing the culture.

“If I've learned nothing else over these last six years, it is that fixing laws and policies alone won't be enough, and that taking on our culture is going to have to happen alongside it in terms of how it is that people see and understand the issues of gender-based violence in this country,” said Fatima Goss Graves, co-founder of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “It will require all of us talking about things that people don't want to talk about. It's going to require continuing generation after generation to ensure that this is an issue that stays front and center, rather than in the shadows.”

The Israel-Hamas conflict is large and complex, and individuals may feel powerless to be able to make any impact at all. This belief is not true.

“Each of us is accountable, and sometimes the biggest challenge for any individual is responsibility,” said Professor Izzeldin Abuelaish, author of the best-selling book I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. “The easiest way to escape responsibility is by blaming others, or by underestimating your own actions. I can say, ‘There is nothing I can do,’ but that’s not true. Each of us can do a lot. By addressing the root causes of conflict, promoting understanding among nations and communities, and respecting the rights and dignity of all individuals, we can pave the way for lasting peace.”

One thing individuals can do to combat hate is to be mindful of the messages you’re amplifying on your social feeds, as ideologies of hate that condone violence can be amplified quickly. Do not underestimate the power that each social media user has to further fuel hate and violence, as well as to contribute to our collective humanity.

There are 21 million people working in the most underpaid, undervalued jobs in our country — and nearly two-thirds of these workers are women, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center.

Putting policies in place that pay workers a living wage or offer workers paid time off to care for themselves and their families isn’t a hand out. “Research shows that these practices not only benefit workers, but can improve the bottom line for employers as well by improving employee productivity and morale and reducing turnover costs,” said Julie Vogtman, co-author of the report and director of job quality and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

Paying people a living wage may also boost the economy: The Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025 could save taxpayers between $13.4 billion and $31.0 billion annually on major public assistance expenditures, all while increasing tax revenues since people are making more money.

Getting higher education has long been seen as a pathway to economic mobility. Yet for Black women who attain higher degrees—such as Master’s degrees, Law degrees, Ph.Ds, and M.D.s—the wage gap steepens as their education levels rise. Black Women’s Equal Pay Day fell on July 27th this year, which means Black women must work an additional 208 days to catch up to what white, non-Hispanic men made the year before.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day may be especially important in 2023 in terms of continuing to raise awareness about long-existing inequities. “We just had the Supreme Court's decision striking down racially-conscious admissions in higher education, which has spurred a lot of threats from the right wing about corporate diversity and inclusion programs, and conversation about whether maybe we're done with all that,” said Emily Martin, VP of education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “This Black Women's Equal Pay Day is a really stark reminder that we have a lot of work left to do. We have not achieved equality in this country. The wage gap is just such a clear calculation of the degree of inequality that remains, and you still see it when you dice it by educational attainment and by occupation, because Black women are being paid less in any of those comparisons.”

A new law went into effect this summer that expanded protections for working mothers after more than a decade in the making, and with bipartisan support. Called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), it requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations when workers need them because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, such as fertility treatments or postpartum depression.

“One of the things I find exciting about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is that it demonstrates that—even in an incredibly partisan time—there are places where bipartisan agreement around policies that make people's lives better are still possible,” said Martin.

Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the first openly transgender lawmaker in the Montana legislature who was elected with more than 80% of the vote, was blocked from participating in debates on the House floor for the remainder of the 2023 legislative session. Rep. Zephyr was blocked last spring after speaking out against those who voted to support a ban on gender-affirming care known as Senate Bill 99, which Gov. Greg Gianforte later signed into law, saying they would have 'blood on their hands,' in reference to the high suicide rate for transgender youth.

“I decided the moment the censure went through that it was unfair, it was undemocratic, but I needed to be as close to the House of Representatives if I was going to be at my most effective on behalf of my constituents,” said Rep. Zephyr in an ABC News interview, explaining how she worked from the hallway of the House chambers since she couldn’t go inside.

This January marked the 40th anniversary of when the bill to create a holiday in Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor was finally signed into law in 1983. Dr. King fought for racial equality, and also economic equality.

Businesses can use Martin Luther King Day as a marker to review their DEI initiatives and commitments. Without regular review, companies can’t know whether or not they’ve made progress, or take action steps on where to go next.

“It's an ideal time to be reminded to look critically at what DEI commitments your company has made, and, to circle back to Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, to ask, ‘Has the dream been achieved?’” says Kike Ojo-Thompson, CEO of KOJO Institute, an equity consulting firm. “What has changed as a result of your organization's one-year commitment or five-year commitment? There should be a tangible change in outcomes, such as in the overrepresentation of folks and the underrepresentation of folks, and the disproportionalities and disparities. This is the time to evaluate what you've done against those goals. And, if you're not getting to those goals, to change what you're doing. Martin Luther King Jr. held people accountable for their outcomes, and that's the major task for leaders in corporations today.”

*Article originally published in Forbes


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