Why diversity helps the University of Utah and the economy
One of the many controversial bills considered by the Utah Legislature this year was SB 283, “Hacking Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education.”
This past legislative session featured several bills intended to stoke national culture wars rather than address the real needs of Utahns. One such bill was “SB 283 Prohibiting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education.” While, fortunately, this bill did not pass committee, I fear it will be one of a series of proposed bills modeled after Florida’s “anti-voke” law.
While I am not speaking on behalf of my institution, I have worked in higher education for over 20 years, the last 15 here in Utah. From this informed perspective, I fail to see how anti-diversity and inclusion legislation will improve Utah’s universities, its economy, or the lives of its students, staff, administrators, and faculty. Bills like this not only potentially jeopardize the accreditation status and federal grant money of our universities (and/or embroil us in costly lawsuits), but they also make our graduates less employable and harm our campus communities. create a feeling of alienation for many members of the
I’ll talk about the potential economic consequences first. Many of our graduates find jobs with national and international nonprofits and businesses. These organizations value cross-cultural competencies in their employees. In fact, Utah Tech Leeds, a group representing Utah’s tech industry, spoke out against SB 283, for the same reason, “SB 283 isn’t just anti-diversity, it’s anti-business.” He objected not simply out of “political correctness”, but out of the knowledge that more diverse organizations are more effective and profitable.
Numerous studies have shown that organizations increase their profits and effectiveness by employing more diverse groups of people. A 2021 article in Forbes magazine cited research by Harvard Business School’s Paul Gompers and Cipla Kowli showing that venture capital firms increase their profits by hiring more diverse investment partners. McKinsey Corporation’s 2018 report, “Delivering Through Diversity,” drew attention to a data set from over 1000 companies in 12 different countries. Their research shows that companies in the top quartile in terms of gender, ethnic and cultural diversity on their leadership teams were 35% more likely to outperform financially than companies that occupied the bottom quartile. It is not just profits that grow. Other studies mentioned in the Forbes piece indicate that hiring more diverse leadership teams has a positive effect on the quality of job applicants and appears to improve employee retention rates.
We live in an increasingly multicultural world and our universities must help provide Utah students with the skills and abilities to cope and thrive in these environments. Graduating from universities with anti-diversity, equity and inclusion regulations does not signal to potential employers that our students are comfortable living and working with people who are different from themselves.
Equally important, this bill would have a devastating effect on our efforts to recruit and retain the best qualified faculty and students in our state universities. Why would faculty and students from diverse religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds choose to work or study in a state that passes anti-diversity laws? How does a law like this show our students and staff that they have found a home where they will feel welcome and valued? Why would faculty wish to conduct research and teach at schools where their ability to offer certain classes or conduct certain types of research may bar them from state law? Bills such as SB 283 run contrary to the ideals of academic freedom long established at most American universities.
I firmly believe that diversity is not a threat, rather it enriches our lives. The financial costs of running programs for diversity, equity, and inclusion are small and, in my opinion, are greatly outweighed by the benefits of such programs on Utah’s campuses. I am pleased that the Utah Senate rejected this unnecessarily divisive measure. I hope that future legislative efforts will help make our universities welcoming places for all faculty, staff and students in Utah.
Emily Dean is writing on behalf of the Iron County Democratic Party.
This article originally appeared in the St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Your Turn: Diversity helps the University of Utah and the economy