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The Utah House of Representatives passed a controversial bill titled the “Equal Opportunity Initiative” (HB 261), which prohibits diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in public institutions like schools and government offices in the state. The bill aims to eliminate what it calls “discriminatory” DEI practices, including diversity statements in university job applications. It also seeks to maintain “neutrality” on college campuses and allocate funds to student success centers that avoid differentiation. When Representative Katy Hall, the bill’s sponsor, was asked about data to support this bill, her response was alarming:

“Hall responded, ‘I can’t say I have data for or against.’ She said, instead, she’s heard from students and professors who feel stifled, like they can’t express their views and ‘are afraid to speak up’ because they don’t fit in certain ideologies or offices.”

This shows threats of anti-DEI sentiment can take wings. With no data, Utah lawmakers took opinions of some students and staff to make decisions that will affect the entire state – and out-of-state students and professors potentially interested in Utah universities. As the bill moves to the Senate for a decisive vote, all organizations should use this as a signal to fortify their DEI initiative. In the face of anti-DEI sentiment, organizations should ensure that they clearly articulate values, goals and success metrics – proactively preparing for criticism, collaborating with legal teams, and projecting a genuine understanding the role of DEI in their organization.

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The Editor

Ngozi Okeh is an experienced leader with a history of driving efforts to conceptualize, define, assess and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as strategic business processes. Ngozi is currently the Director of DEI at a leading marketing technology company where she develops and executes enterprise-wide DEI initiatives through rigorous strategic planning efforts, community partnerships, leadership collaboration, strategy evaluation, and careful management of communication and buy-in as well as policies and procedures.  Previously, she worked at an independent mortgage bank, where… View Profile