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DEI As A Pendulum – Finding the Middle Ground

Create common ground for those with opposing views in DEI work

For those that experience the adversity of diversity, DEI work likely feels like too little, too late. For others that have not been impacted by their own lived experiences or the non-inclusive experiences of others, DEI work may feel like too much.

Yet, there can be middle ground more often than we think in DEI work. “I” stands for inclusion so it would be a shame to not include everyone in the conversation, regardless of where they are on the learning continuum. 

To help manage the DEI pendulum, consider these perspectives:

  • Acknowledge the pendulum and that it swings to extremes
  • Find middle ground through the DEI “why”
  • Focus on similarities, not differences 

The DEI pendulum swings to extremes

As a white, cisgender, straight, non-disabled woman practicing DEI work, I get it. Some of my recent social media posts have been met with opposing feedback – “not bold enough white lady” or met with fierce opposition – “stop talking about a problem that doesn’t exist.” In a recent DEI training session I was leading, a participant shared that they did not like that I used the word privilege because it was harmful to white men.

We cannot solve a problem we are unwilling to talk about.

When was the last time you solved a problem without action? Unless you caught a very lucky break, likely never. Doing nothing and expecting change is the definition of insanity. Most organizations, despite their best efforts, are not diversely represented, do not have as inclusive of a culture as they aspire to have, and have not addressed the systems of inequity that hold underrepresented groups back.

Diversity means change. Change can create fear for folks that don’t understand DEI. They likely need more information or education to bridge that gap and quiet the fear. Without context or personal lived experiences it can be really hard to foster a growth mindset for this work.

Find middle ground

Humans resist change, especially when it doesn’t seem to benefit them. Starting with the “why” helps people get more engaged in DEI work. For the majority group that may not see themselves as beneficiaries of DEI work, knowing why DEI is important is a critical first step. 

If your organization has yet to define the DEI “why,” think about some of these examples as starting points:

  • We want to better mirror the customers and communities we serve
  • DEI brings more innovation and better problem solving
  • We want to attract the next generation of top talent 
  • We want to be a leader on inclusive behavior in our industry

Middle ground can also be found in a candid conversation. Candid conversations are best framed with curiosity and exploratory open-ended questions. By learning more about what is holding folks back, you learn about what matters to them and can help pivot the conversation to a more positive place where DEI feels like something that aligns with their values.

Focus on similarities vs. differences

Calming the tensions of seemingly opposite viewpoints means finding more in common with one another. Cognitive dissonance makes it hard for our brains to reconcile two conflicting beliefs. I call this the tension of opposites in my training, also known as paradox. 

Inclusive folks know the power of paradox. Being able to sit with the discomfort of opposites is a practiced discipline. Consider these paradox examples:

They are a good person, AND they…

  • Made a mistake
  • Have different points of view
  • Said something unhelpful

That common ground means accepting others’ viewpoints without accepting their viewpoints as your own. You can listen and accept their perspective without internalizing it for yourself. Together, through conversation, find what you have in common rather than what you disagree upon. We tend to overly focus on differences vs. similarities. 

To pinpoint commonalities, think about:

  • What do you value? What do they value? What’s similar?
  • What would you like to see more of in the workplace? Less of? What do we have in common?
  • What would it look like if we could get more folks involved in DEI? What would we want to see? 

For getting folks more centered on the DEI pendulum, accept up front that there may be resistance and find middle ground, consider the DEI “why”, and focus on finding points of similarity vs. difference with those new to this work.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  Contact us today to learn more about our listening sessions solution. We’ve also developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with accountability for diversity. You can also check out all of our other virtual and live program offerings.