COLUMBIA — In 2023, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and language are at the center of many Missouri lawmaker and business owner conversations.

DEI terminology and programs, according to certain Missouri leaders, must be implemented in organizations to encourage a variety of people to join a team.

Research from Gartner reveals "differences of age, ethnicity, gender and other dimensions foster high performance." The research also said that through 2022, 75% of organizations with diverse people on its decision-making teams exceeded their financial goals. 

McKinsey & Company research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

The city of Columbia announced the hiring of its first DEI officer in April. D'Andre Thompson's position will help protect DEI business policies and language.

D'Andre Thompson Headshot

D'Andre Thompson

Last month, 150 Missouri businesses delivered a letter to every state senator requesting that Rep. Doug Richey's proposed anti-DEI language be removed from the final version of the budget.

Before the language was officially removed, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce released its "job killer" list, which contains the state's "top job-killing business requirements." 

One of the items on the list was Richey’s language ban.

"Rep. Richey’s language bans state government spending on staff, vendors, consultants and programs associated with diversity, equity and inclusion," the list said. "If passed, this will bring Missouri’s government to a grinding halt. The language threatens a countless number of existing state contracts with private sector companies that provide vital services for Missourians."

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri's Chamber of Commerce, said the list is based on its members' reactions. 

"It would inhibit business from operating in the state of Missouri, whether it's the labeling bill, or vaccine mandates, or whatever it might be," Mehan said. "The big one was, if a company has a DEI policy, they would be disallowed to do business with the state of Missouri. We've been able to strip that out of the process and pretty much bottle up the other job killers that were out there."

There are several city of Columbia departments working to balance their own responsibilities with initiating DEI efforts, according to Thompson. He said it will start with an equity audit, then they will come up with shared language. 

Thompson said he plans to look at what DEI looks like for the city, and then he will establish norms around those concepts.

"Hearing from the community themselves," Thompson said. "Where are the expectations for some of these adjustments or changes. Really being very collaborative and open to that process. I think internally, it just starts with some of these steps." 

Because people are used to things being a certain way, Thompson believes some resent DEI policies and language. 

"They completely barricade if you will, or shut themselves off from that possibility of understanding," Thompson said.  

Despite annual threats to eliminate DEI policies and language, Mehan said it's not going anywhere. 

"Whether you're for it or against it, companies have adopted it. It's here to stay," Mehan said. "Luckily, the people that are responsible and responsibly leading this state are able to keep them at bay, keep them bottled up, so it doesn't inhibit our ability to compete globally, and in around the country for opportunities for economic development for job creation and expansion."

Another Missouri leader said he came to America seeking opportunities based on his values and skills, not his skin color. 

Missouri State Treasurer Vivek Malek came to United States 21 years ago for his education. He is the first person of color to hold a statewide position in Missouri.

"I never felt race was an impediment for me," Malek said. "I always believed that, what I can deliver, what I have achieved through my skill sets, through my hard work, that is what I'm going to deliver." 

Malek said WOKE (Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees) DEI training does not unite people. Instead, he said, it means division, exclusion and intolerance.

"It divides us. Puts us in different groups, hyphens and politics," Malek said. "WOKE DEI excludes those who value hard work and personal achievement based on merit and character, WOKE DEI, for me is intolerant of disagreement, or independent thought."

Mehan said there's a variety of reasons why businesses implement DEI policies and language, but mainly it's to stay competitive and to attract a wide range of applicants. 

"We all know that every employer out there is struggling to fully staff their operation with the right people, the people most qualified," he said. "DEI just opens it up to all varieties of people that are out there, and it says you're open for business." 

When Mehan is hiring for a position, he said his team tries to hire the best person, regardless of demographics.

"Having a DEI policy simply says, you're open to all people," he said. "The pressure really lies in finding the best fit for your position. Finding the best fit to accomplish the task that you're hiring for." 

Malek said WOKE DEI inserts factors that undermine the values of hard work, vision and achieving based on merit, without regards to race or hyphens.

UM System changes hiring practices

In March, a letter from UM System President Mun Choi said all four universities, including MU, reviewed and changed its hiring practices for new staff. 

According to the letter, instead of asking candidates for a statement on DEI, people responsible for hiring in the UM System will only be allowed to ask prospective employees for a “values commitment” statement. Instead, those in charge of hiring in the UM System will only be allowed to ask perspective employees for a “values commitment” statement.

MU spokesperson Christian Basi told the Columbia Missourian the change will also address “inconsistencies in terms of the language surrounding (diversity statements)” that the administration noticed during a review of hiring practices."

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