Ernest Owens headshot.
Mike Ekern/University of St. Thomas

Outside Consultant: How Can Organizations Create Equity in Their Structures?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Ernest Owens, an assistant professor of management in the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on March 7, 2022.

When the handbook/policy defines DEI, it is de facto predicated on a binary cist (male/female) majority system. When you have substructures throughout the organization that govern the outcomes, but each substructure is a very small microcosm of the whole, diversity is nearly impossible. When you frame the majority and minority in duality (50-50) structure, it’s easier to create a shared representation. If willed, the duality of male versus female can be relatively balanced across the subsystems.

However, when you fracture and reconstitute the participant groups into ages, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, social economic, ability, etc., you cripple the organization’s ability to create equity at the lower level of the system. You will always have more representation of the dominant group in the subgroups, yielding a structure that lacks equity and shared authority. Short of making a stronger effort for parity amongst all the subgroups, tokenism will become the natural order of events.

With too few participants in the minority groups in the organization, they will be overburdened with participating in the many subgroups. They are therefore taxed to add their voice to the various activities being managed within the enterprise. That tax comes in the form of reduced time to achieve the standards set by the enterprise to achieve rank/title. Minority participants cannot compete with majority participants based on their ability to allocate the time required to achieve rank/title due to the demands of representation in DEI initiatives.

This structural trap also limits the minority subgroups’ ability to add to their numbers because the majority group does not see a need to let go of its privilege. The only valid way to reduce the tyranny of the majority within the structure of the handbook/policy is to create another equal and valid pathway toward rank/title within the handbook/policy that gives equal value to the efforts of the taxed minority. The systems must define an equivalent scale of rank/title that values time to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization on par with other work. This pathway can be used to enable more members of other minority groups to become full rank/title members. Until this strategy is executed the dominate binary system of DEI will stifle equity for other non-dominant minorities.

Ernest Owens is an assistant professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.