1. Leadership must understand “why” DEI programs are necessary & be ready to allocate resources
From my experience, I’ve learned that procuring buy-in cannot be solely based on the financial implications of not doing D&I. Leaders must: believe systemic oppression exists; care and understand why we are in this position today; and support action needed to make a demonstrable impact, through investments in time & money.
A huge issue, as we’ve seen in recent media reports, is senior executives being so far-removed from the issues affecting DEI, that they misinterpret the root causes. One example is with diverse hiring and the notion that there is a limited talent pool. We must take action to increase the database of candidates with the understanding that there are plenty of qualified diverse prospective employees; one must show intent with finding them. In some cases, we must be agile and revisit stringent qualifications to see where we can make adjustments that lead to greater access for prospective employees. Leaders have to support targeted recruitment efforts with the understanding behind why: marginalized groups have not had access to the same resources and opportunities due to systemic racism. This is crucial as we learn to hold hiring managers accountable to objective practices, rather than subjective, and increasing the candidates to select from is an important first step.
2. Change begins first with self-reflection: understand & address your own bias to truly be anti-racist
We must get comfortable with accepting that bias is inherent in all of us, even when we have the best of intentions. This doesn’t mean you act on it, but for true growth and allyship, we must be completely self-aware. For example, do you feel comfortable with your white male gay colleague, but discomfort with a trans POC? We need to understand that we have been socialized from a young age to believe what is the acceptable standard for appearance, behavior and social norms. We must get out of our comfort zones and move past this.
We also have to consider all marginalized groups: POC, generations, LGBTQi, people with disabilities, women, and even different shapes & sizes. For example, someone who has experienced ageism may not empathize with the issues affecting other groups, and a result could be a lack of emphasis with ensuring inclusivity for all. This needs to be a “we” vs “them” problem.
I’ll use myself as an example. I grew up in a diverse environment, where I saw my friends experience racism & prejudice, and was well-aware of white, cisgender privilege. As a result, I compartmentalized myself as “getting it,” when in fact, I was only exposed to the experiences of my close network of friends, who were predominantly Puerto Rican and Asian.
I also thought that addressing systemic racism and oppression in conversations with non-marginalized groups was enough. I now realize that I am a part of the problem and not the solution if I don’t educate myself on all issues and hold myself accountable to being an anti-racist.
3. DEI: Focus is on diversity, but lacks equity and inclusion
We cannot make diverse hires without implementing measurable outcomes for equity and inclusion. Otherwise, retention will suffer, you will see high turn-over, and not be successful in recruiting top talent. If we hire a young POC and they don’t see people who look like them earning senior roles, why would they feel this is a supportive environment conducive to career growth? I have a friend who is a first-generation immigrant and when discussing salary and the negotiation process for a role, she shared that she was raised to appreciate the opportunities her parents never had. An unintended outcome was her accepting initial job offers where the salaries were well below market value. This type of dialogue is crucial with leadership &those making job offers; companies need to be held accountable to fair and equitable pay practices.
Next comes inclusion: we need to keep an open dialogue loop with marginalized groups - listen more, talk less and take more action. It’s not enough to make assumptions that because there is no overt racism, that there are not underlying issues and micro-aggressions. All employees need to have a seat at the table. Studies show that even top performers don’t contribute to their full potential when they feel their voices aren’t heard.
We also should prioritize progress made on a company-wide level with achieving measurable DEI goals, before touting donations and awards.
There are so many resources available that I have yet to tap into. I’ll share what’s made an impact on my journey thus far.
● eCornell’s two-month D&I course
● Inclusiveness leadership training from experts in DEI such as Your Choice Coach & Bellatrix Group
● Speaking to friends & colleagues to be aware of the experiences people go through. If you don’t go through them yourself, you won’t ever know unless you ask.
● Get out of your bubble and put yourself in situations that are outside of your comfort zone.
● Work or travel abroad in local non tourist areas vs resorts.
In college, I spent a semester abroad in Spain and it made me self-aware to my own preconceived notions of “correct” social norms. My first few weeks living in Madrid were full of judgment. For example, I was accustomed to having more personal space when I rode subways and people tended to sit very close, which I found awkward. I wasn’t used to public displays of affection on the level I was seeing and associated this to be rude. The lightbulb went off when I realized that my initial discomfort with behaviors signaled something was wrong, and I changed my thought process to it being different and unfamiliar to me.
I also learned over time that while I was treated well, marginalized groups living and visiting the country had different experiences with racism. I asked questions to deepen my understanding of how some people were treated, and it really opened my eyes.
Bias really came full circle when I watched the news on different global networks and learned that what I had been exposed to vastly differs outside the US. The narrative greatly impacts your stance on issues and is not always black and white. I relate this to what we’re seeing today in news reports and on social media.
Before and after my travels to Spain, I’ve enriched my life through exposure to different cultures, which has increased my awareness of colorism and understanding microaggressions. We’ve been socialized to believe that lighter-skinned shades represent beauty, and many face biases from people both outside and within their own culture.
These resources have been eye-opening in my journey:
● The Opt-In podcast
● “A Day in the Life” experiences such as Martin Tettey’s blog post on being Black
Saviorism typically comes from a lack of empathy and is deeply rooted in sympathy. As an ally, you have to stand up for a struggle rather than make it about you. There are varying levels of saviorism – some that are so apparent and others where it’s covert.
I think the first step is addressing your own bias to ensure your actions are genuine. Non-marginalized groups have held power for so long, one must assess if a superiority complex is coming into play because of fear with losing power. This is very common and leads to performative allyship, which often addresses an issue at the surface level, while continuing oppressive practices of marginalized groups. I.e. Appoint a diverse hire without giving them the resources, environment, and psychological safety to succeed.
I’m just beginning my journey and not in a place to share concrete advice until I’ve met some of my goals. As I see it, a leader gains an understanding of cross-generational issues; is a curious, active listener; solicits input across all levels of an organization during regular check-ins; and is clear with intent.
Management needs to understand that we can’t just throw money into DEI, but rather, processes and procedures have to be in place to ensure we’re doing everything in our power to diversify the environment and make marginalized groups feel comfortable, supported and empowered to be their authentic selves. Additionally, we have to be mindful to the experiences with racism and prejudice that people go through outside the office on a daily basis, and use this to fuel our passion in making sure that coming to work is a safe space, with an inclusive environment.