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In 2023, organizations and employees working on on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts had to work around new legislation and guidance that looked to dismantle some of their work. In Florida, DEI programming and activities have been banned from state universities. Last summer, the Supreme Court ended the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions, which overruled nearly half a century of precedent that many universities used as a tool they claim was essential in keeping their campuses diverse.
Diversity and Inclusion Professionals, also known as DAIP, is a Rhode Island-based nonprofit that for 10 years has supported those pushing to promote DEI efforts in their own workplaces across the country. Despite recent political pushback, DAIP president Kevin Matta said it’s time to “double down on this effort” and “show the courage that we’re not going to change this or stop the progress that we’ve accomplished.”
Matta, who is also the director of people and culture at the United Way of Rhode Island, spoke to Globe Rhode Island about DAIP’s plans for 2024.
Q: Briefly explain what DAIP is. How does it work?
Matta: We support professionals across industries by giving them access and insights to relevant and provocative information that’s going to help them launch — wherever they are within their career — into a more informed space as a DEI professional. We have networking events, formalized programming, and unfiltered monthly conversations where folks can assess what the state of DEI is for them within their organizations.
What’s coming up for DAIP for this coming year?
For a long time, DAIP has been known as the gold star in Rhode Island for DEI professionals. But this year, we want to be able to offer a designation for organizations in the state that are committed to DEI work. They would receive an accreditation through DAIP that tells folks externally that this organization has been validated by DAIP to be completely equitable and inclusive as a workplace of choice.
How would this designation process work?
That means we’d be looking at the accessibility to transportation for employees to get to work every day. It also means looking at the restrooms, and ongoing training and development programming that each and every one of their employees have had, among other areas.
How long would it take for a business or organization to receive accreditation?
If a business is already practicing this work, it would take about a month to get accredited. If a business is new to this work and has not started any of the practices, then that’s where we would really get to partner with them and begin to offer consultative work. I could see that happening for about a year.
How much will accreditation cost?
This won’t cost anything to businesses.
Are there any company policies or legislation in Rhode Island that have backtracked on their DEI efforts?
I’m seeing that some organizations that have previously doubled down on committing to diversity, equity, and inclusion are having to work around recent actions — such as the Supreme Court reversing affirmative action. It has become very fear-based, at some organizations, that if they were to fund any programming that was tied to racial equity, then they would be in trouble with the law. That is further complicating the ability for folks to be able to actually provide access to historically marginalized groups.
In 2022, a Harvard Business Review article said the biggest poorly kept secret among DEI professionals is that the actual efficacy of a large proportion of its “flagship” services — like unconscious bias training, racial sensitivity workshops, and the business case for “diversity” — is actually a lot lower than many practitioners make it out to be. What would you say to that?
I would say that I agree in some ways that it’s much lower in efficacy because folks are being required across their organizations to participate in these trainings. What we haven’t done well is launching into the human side of things first. When I worked at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to develop DEI practices, I spent a whole year first just talking about equity, justice, and diversity before launching into any type of formalized training. That way, the sound and tone didn’t feel like this oppressive, outside feeling. It sounded like something that already belonged within this space.
What challenges does DAIP have in 2024?
Dollars aren’t coming in the way that they used to. We have to apply for very strict grants that require a lot of information while we are a 100 percent volunteer-led board organization. It’s the first year we’re really asking for money in different ways.
How much does DAIP need in 2024?
What would these funds primarily go to?
We want to provide programming free of charge. We want to ensure that what we’re doing is accessible and that we’re not overcomplicating the journey of other folks becoming DEI professionals because they don’t have the ability to pay a membership fee.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.