DEI Is Not Dead


From left: Natoya Walker-Minor, David Aldred, Tom Saenz, Michele Wong Krause. Photo by Steve Barrett Photography.

With several state legislatures enacting laws against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the workplace, could DEI become a thing of the past? Not if undertaken properly, attendees were advised at the Is DEI Essentially Dead? No! Here’s Why session at the APTA Mobility Conference. “We all see what’s happening,” said APTA Chair Michele Wong Krause, who served as moderator, encouraging attendees to collaborate with their fellow APTA members to keep it alive.

Telling attendees to “stay woke,” Natoya Walker-Minor, deputy general manager, administration & external affairs, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, explained “It has to be put in the business case.” Show how inclusion affects the bottom line in terms of profit and employee satisfaction.

Legal issues are here and will stay, though. Tom Saenz, president and general counsel for MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), said that while there may still be legal obligations to consider under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, only individuals have a race. Issues and subject matters do not but can and should be considered through racial lenses by transit organizations. Instead, Saenz implored to, “lead with equity. Equity is a broader principle than diversity.” It is also expressly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

That message was echoed by David Aldred, general counsel for King County Metro, Seattle, WA. Both he and Saenz spent the forum explaining how the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Students for Fair Admissions Inc vs. the University of North Carolina has had an impact on diversity hiring practices in the transit world, but that the ruling was not all encompassing and there are plenty of exceptions. “We need to be finding these exceptions. We need to be expanding them. We need to be claiming them, rather than just accepting this color blindness.”

What can be done? Make minority communities more aware of employment opportunities within public transportation. Unbundle larger contracts to make it easier for smaller companies to apply, then make navigating those bids on transit agency websites easier so that smaller firms are not discouraged by the process.

See more images from the conference.