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Communicating Behind Closed Doors: Lessons from the Anti-D.E.I. Movement

A half yellow and half blue face, separated in the middle by doors

An in-depth examination by the New York Times of the nationwide movement against Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (D.E.I.) programs trains a spotlight on the attitudes and beliefs of the campaign’s proponents and finds an unusual mismatch in its public and private messaging, as found in more 5,000 pages of personal emails and correspondence. 

The piece, published last weekend, is an eye-opening reflection on the power that words have to help or harm, the importance of understanding differing views, and why honesty is crucial for ethical communication.  

Publicly, the movement’s proponents, a variety of think tank activists and academics, argue for diversity of thought and intellectual freedom, asserting that D.E.I. programs promote intolerance and division, and reduce merit-based opportunities on campus. Yet privately, some of them express views that are intolerant of liberal ideologies and anti-discrimination laws, and advocate for traditional gender roles, the Times report showed.

These views expressed in the private emails ranged from “a healthy society requires patriarchy” to “Indians are Asians who are white-adjacent so at the bottom of the totem poll” [sic] and that Asian countries don’t have same-sex marriage, but “more wholesome policies like prison” for gays.

The Times’ report also showed that while the anti-D.E.I. movement has found success in certain states across the nation, it has not yet appealed to the broader electorate, which values equality and inclusion, according to some polls.

Let’s break down the implications of the movement and its messaging strategy, for the workplace. 

Societal values affect organizations. Clashes between traditional and progressive ideologies can pose a challenge for institutions committed to diverse and inclusive environments.

Social movements can be complex. The anti-D.E.I. movement appears to have a singular focus but is a combination of various ideologies and beliefs. Understanding its roots and nuances is important for meaningful dialog. 

Words have power. Phrases such as “a healthy society requires patriarchy” or views on race and gender roles are more than expressions of opinion — they can influence how we view and construct our social norms, opinions, and public policy. It’s a reminder of the responsibility that comes with speech and the power of words to either heal or harm the fabric of society.

Debates over different perspectives benefit from empathy and respect. The anti-D.E.I. movement's views starkly contrast with those advocating for greater diversity and inclusion. It underscores the need for platforms where different viewpoints can be expressed and understood with humility and empathy, so that debate can be constructive and respectful.

Ethics are an important factor in messaging. The divergence between public statements and private communications can raise serious questions about transparency, integrity, and the ethical responsibilities of leaders and organizations. It can also affect reputation.

At Alphy, we believe that communication connects or divides us. Our proprietary Reflect AI tools integrate with Outlook and Gmail to flag and detect harmful, unlawful, unethical, and respectful language in real-time.

Here is a small sampling of emails written by anti-D.E.I. proponents (obtained by the New York Times), along with the alerts that Alphy’s Reflect AI would have issued them before hitting the “send” button: 

“A healthy society requires patriarchy.” 

A warning emoji and the words "could this be sexist?"

“Feminism has made women more medicated, meddlesome, and quarrelsome than women need to be.”

A warning emoji and the words "is this appropriate?"

“Until we agree that homosexuals belong in the closet and a healthy society relies on the patriarchy... “

A warning emoji and the words "could that be anti-LGBTQ?"

“Gay men are much more prone to extramarital affairs.” 

A warning emoji and the words "could that be anti-LGBTQ?"

“Another curse of feminism”

A warning emoji and the words "is this appropriate?"

“Seeing all the nannies of color walking school children back to their apartments, it struck me again the bizarreness of females deciding that their comparative advantage is in being an associate in a law firm, say, and thus that they should outsource the once-in-a-lifetime unduplicable unrepeatable experience of raising a unique child to someone else, especially someone from the low IQ 3rd world while they do the drone work of making partner.”

A warning emoji and the words "racial discrimination?"

Bottom line: Ethical and transparent communication is critical in coordinated messaging campaigns, whether in business, public policy, or the shaping of perceptions. When advocating for change, doing so with honesty and ethical consideration is paramount in maintaining trust, credibility, and reputation in a rapidly evolving societal landscape.

Julian Guthrie is the CEO and Founder of Alphy. 

Reflect AI by Alphy is an AI communication compliance solution that detects and flags language that is harmful, unlawful, and unethical in digital communication. Alphy was founded to reduce the risk of litigation from harmful and discriminatory communication while helping employees communicate more effectively.


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