by Joelle Emerson
Originally published: September 11, 2017
As organizations struggle with stalled diversity efforts, some are considering moving toward a “colorblind” approach: deemphasizing initiatives focused on specific demographic groups in favor of more general inclusion efforts. For some, this approach seems like an appealing strategy for engaging majority group members and company leaders, while reducing the tensions that can arise when efforts are focused explicitly on identities like race and gender. Some studies have shown, for example, that even though many companies’ existing diversity efforts aren’t helping more women or people of color to get ahead, they still make white men think they aren’t being treated fairly. But colorblindness is not the answer to this problem. It will almost certainly backfire, ultimately undermining the very inclusion efforts it’s designed to improve.
The move toward colorblindness emerged most prominently in Deloitte’s recent decision to do away with its Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). The firm’s reasoning for the change was threefold: (1) ERGs leave out white men, who have an important role to play in inclusion efforts, (2) ERGs aren’t effectively connected with corporate leadership, and (3) millennials, a growing segment of Deloitte’s workforce, don’t want to be defined by the demographic categories around which ERGs are organized. While these are challenges with which many inclusion-minded companies are familiar, a colorblind approach isn’t an effective way to address them.