Jan 9, 2024 - Business

"You are a liar": Musk vs. Cuban DEI debate takes new turn

Combination images of Mark Cuban and Elon Musk. Photos: Christopher Willard/ABC, Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Mark Cuban and Elon Musk have publicly sparred in recent weeks over DEI initiatives. Their latest flashpoint: the airline industry.

The big picture: The two entrepreneurs have waded online into the growing debate in corporate America over workplace diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

  • Cuban has defended such initiatives, while Musk has equated the term "DEI" to racism.
  • U.S. companies have been navigating a new frontier related to DEI, in the wake of attacks against diversity efforts. The backlash marked a reversal from the explosion in corporate DEI after George Floyd's killing pushed companies to act to address racial inequality.

Driving the news: Musk responded to a post on X Sunday that quoted Cuban saying, "DEl does not mean you dont hire on merit. Of course you hire based on merit."

  • The post was accompanied by a screenshot of an article from the conservative outlet Daily Wire entitled, "United Airlines says it wants 50% of pilots trained in next decade to be a woman or people of color."
  • Musk responded saying, "The airline industry can't find enough qualified pilots even without insane DEI requirements!"

Cuban hit back with specifics of how the training school United Aviate Academy operates.

  • "BTW, looks like multiple layers of merit-based evaluations before they can fly for United," Cuban said, adding a link to the program.

Musk responded, saying, "You are a liar."

Zoom out: Airline staffing shortages led to flight delays, cancellations and lots of frustration for travelers after demand snapped back following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between the lines: Corporate America is navigating the minefield of DEI as attacks against diversity efforts intensify, Axios' Emily Peck reports.

  • But for many employers, maintaining a diverse workforce where employees feel included is a key part of attracting and retaining workers (particularly in a tight labor market).
  • Often the anti-DEI comments comments have come from CEOs who may not understand particularly well why diversity efforts might be important to women, or Black people or any other group.

Go deeper: DEI backlash hits corporate America

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