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Dan RobertsonMay 3, 2024 5:28:16 AM4 min read

Navigating the culture wars and the rise of identity politics through inclusive decision making

Navigating the culture wars and the rise of identity politics through inclusive decision making  

Over the last few years, we have witnessed a rise in global identity politics, from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, to gender identity debates and the response to these movements from more conservative sections of society. A key moment in the DE&I backlash was when James Damore, a then Google engineer, wrote a memo in 2017 accusing the Tech giant of promoting an "ideological echo chamber". Damore's memo was written in response to Google's diversity programme that seeks to promote gender diversity and inclusion.  

In the US, former president Donald Trump pushed an anti-immigration and anti-trans narrative that still makes waves to this day. And, his 2024 Republication challenger, the Florida governor Ron DeSantis was on a similar page, vowing to sign a bill promising to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programmes in public colleagues. These constitute a clear attack on the ED&I agenda.


On the other side of the Atlantic, the UK government signalled that it intends to amend the UK Equality Act to clarify the definition of 'sex'; this has widely been interpreted as a rolling back of trans rights. Government ministers have also publicly criticised diversity efforts within the civil service and in March 2024, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, told councils in England to cut spending on consultants and diversity schemes, again signalling that DE&I is surplus to requirements.


Identity politics at work 

This external cultural and political environment has a direct relationship to perceptions of what can be expressed within the workplace. The biggest single strategic error that global organisations are making to date is a failure to recognise how these external 'culture wars' are creeping into organisational cultures, and the need to position human connectivity and workplace cohesion as the cornerstone of any DE&I strategy.


Key to this is the development of an equity-based approach that has a zero-tolerance to hate speech, discrimination and exclusion. Currently organisations are fundamentally failing in such an approach. They too often consider hate speech or discriminatory acts as freedoms of expression based on conflicting rights with equality legislation - for example when persons of a religious identity expressing faith-based homophobia. Internal experts - HR and indeed many DE&I colleagues, view such instances as dilemmas to be navigated with care, as opposed to acts of overt discrimination. These responses are based on a false idea of freedom of speech - the notion that an individual has the unlimited right to express a personal viewpoint, specifically if this viewpoint is connected to a protected characteristic. Many legal frameworks would suggest that freedom of speech is indeed a myth and that speech is indeed regulated under the legal principles of workplace equality.


5 stages of inclusive and principle based decision-making

In order to navigate these perceived dilemmas, organisations should adopt principle-based inclusive decision-making, which is governed by 5 key stages:


Stage 1: Define the principles

Set out with clarity what behaviours are expected by all employees under key concepts such as fairness, equity, inclusion and anti-discrimination. This sets out the community contract between employees and acts as a framework for expected ways of interacting and engaging with each other. These behaviours should be designed with the complimentary balancing principles of respect for all and anti-discrimination.


Stage 2: Remove emotion

Relationships and affinity (or lack of) with certain communities can influence, either consciously or unconsciously, the approach when dealing with workplace conflict. Therefore, it is vital that experts remove emotional investment, or ingroup bias, when assessing against pre-agreed standards of behaviour and the extent to which these have been broken or otherwise. It's often useful to de-personalise cases by using a blind approach - replacing names with numbers or other anonymous labelling.


Stage 3: Create a values-based decision-making framework

Examine the evidence using a values-based system of decision-making. When making assessments it is critical that investigators use both legal critical and values-based criteria. This helps to ensure assessments of work-place conflicts are measured fairly and with as little subjective input as possible. This helps to control bias and unconscious prejudice.


Stage 4: Assess the impact

Ensure multiple stakeholder views have been sought when assessing the impact, as measured against the values-based criteria. Multiple stake-holder assessments together with the use of 'devils advocates' help to mitigate bias and thus are more likely to foster equity-based outcomes on thinking, acting and decision-making.


Stage 5: Communicate with speed

Once an assessment has been made, communicate the outcomes with speed and clarity. Avoid ambiguity of messaging - Clear messaging ensures all stakeholders understand the rules of behaviour and the consequences when these are broken.


By adopting such an approach, organisations will more likely successfully navigate the complexities of external environments and the rise of identity politics within workplaces. Principle based decision-making creates a framework for promoting community cohesion within a context of inclusion management. And this will be a critical strategic factor for all DE&I and HR professionals in the near-term and the long-term.


Want to explore identity politics in more detail? 

Join our webinar Why identity politics is a threat to DE&I progress | FAIRER Consulting. 


Dan Robertson

Dan Robertson is MD of FAIRER Consulting and Global Head of ED&I Advisory Services at Hays International. Over the last 15 years Dan has spent his time supporting global business leaders to transform their ideas into meaningful action, with a focus on inclusion as a strategic management issue, bias mitigation and inclusive leadership.