The little things matter in DEI work
DEI concepts are easy to train on, but harder to put into practice. In our ever changing, bustling world of work, leaders are taxed with delivering optimal results and still creating a space where people want to contribute their time, talent, energy, creativity, and so much of themselves. Micro-experiences have a big impact on the big picture of DEI. As an ally, it is your role to help create and sustain seemingly small everyday experiences of inclusion.
Do not rely on others to educate you.
If you can Google search for something and find a reputable resource, then you should do your own homework first before engaging people that are already under-represented and often experience the adversity of diversity. This can be somewhat confusing for allies in training. At the beginning of the ally journey, we don’t know what we don’t know. But we have to be careful not to place the burden of our own lack of education on the people that are already burdened by the systems that keep their voices suppressed.
Learning is a key part of that journey. Education on diversity, equity, and inclusion has a high correlation to lower discrimination and higher inclusion. Oftentimes, we have to unlearn things we thought to be true based on our non-inclusive upbringings, education, and the systems that reinforce patriarchy and white supremacy.
We need to meet our allies where they are at. To facilitate this, familiarize yourself with these terms and share them with your allies, especially those that do not see themselves as “diverse.” Consider our diversity dictionary of key terms to know as an ally.
- Diversity: Different groups of people (i.e. gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, abilities)
- Inclusion: A sense of belonging for diverse groups of people
- Majority group: The group that generally holds the largest amount of power in society and in workplaces (i.e. white, straight, male, cisgender, able-bodied)
- Underrepresented groups: The groups that fall outside of the majority group by one or more factors (non-white, LGBTQ+, female, gender non-binary, disability)
- Intersectionality: The intersection of more than one marker of diversity (i.e. race + gender, disability + gay)
- Gender non-binary: A category for those that identify outside of the masculine or feminine gender boxes (synonym: gender-neutral)
- Cisgender: A category for those that identify their gender with the gender or sex they were assigned at birth
- LGBTQ+: An acronym that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and those that identify with other markers of difference in sexual orientation and/or gender
- People of color: People that identify as non-white
- White fragility: White people’s aversion to talking about race or apathy towards racism’s existence
- White supremacy: The belief that the white race is superior to other races
- Disabilities: Physical or non-physical differences from the majority group (i.e. mental health, limited mobility, visually impaired)
- Privilege: The advantages one has over others based on their associations with the majority group (i.e. white, straight, male, cisgender, able-bodied)
- Ally: One that leverages their privilege to help others that are underrepresented (i.e. mentor, sponsor, advocate, coach, challenger)
- Unconscious bias: The beliefs that one holds that they are often unaware about those that are underrepresented
- Mansplaining: Traditional male behavior that minimizes women by over or underexplaining something based on assumptions about gender
- Whitesplaining: Traditional white behavior that minimizes people of color by assuming they know what it means to be a person of color
- Bropropriations: Traditional male behavior that limits the power of women (i.e. interruptions, taking credit for ideas, mansplaining)
- Gender equality: The belief that all genders of humans are equal and should be treated equally
- Benevolent sexism: Well-intended behavior that limit women’s advancement (i.e. travel, promotions, caregiving responsibilities)
Embody allyship and resourcefulness by holding yourself accountable for learning and continued learning. It is not a one and done, check the box activity, this is a lifelong commitment.
Stay curious a little longer.
Change starts with individual leaders’ taking responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviors. For too long, leaders from majority groups have helped preserve the status quo, which favors them, by relegating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts to human resources instead of using their own power to effect change.
Being adaptive to the change necessary for DEI to work requires us to stay in a curious mindset. Oftentimes our brain likes to cement what it thinks we already know (also known as confirmation bias) and it’s hard to unlearn and learn new information especially if it’s contradictory to what we already think we know. For those that may be familiar with the myth of meritocracy that’s very ingrained in society as a whole, it can be hard to understand that people different from us may not have had the same chances. This could be based on their skin color or gender identity or disability. They may have had a harder road because of their diverse identities.
Instead of judging others that are different from ourselves, perhaps it’s best to be curious about the lived experiences of others instead. Consider the flip it to test it tool. If someone says something or does something that might be different based on someone’s identity, perhaps bias is at play. A perfect example of this might be assessing someone’s potential based on their gender. Saying something like “he’s a go-getter he’ll be a great fit here” or “I’m not sure if she has enough experience let’s see if she can do that again.” Flip the script. Would we say the same thing if someone’s gender identity was different? If not, you might be okay. If so, maybe there’s some curiosity work to do.
The small acts of inclusion matter to people most marginalized. That means keeping your ally radar up. Listening for things that are inclusive are inclusive. Recognizing and rewarding inclusive behavior and holding people accountable for exclusive behavior is important. Here’s some examples:
- A woman or person of color is interrupted in a meeting. An Ally might say “let’s go back to what she was saying.”
- A person with a diverse background shares an idea and it is not welcomed by the team. A few minutes later someone in the majority group shares the very same idea and it is suddenly validated. An ally might say “I think she made that point earlier, can she elaborate?”
- Someone with a diverse identity is not invited to the meeting. An ally might say “what perspective are we missing here?”
It is truly these small yet intentional acts of inclusion that signal to others how we want to be treated and how we behave as a team. The small acts over time lead to cultural transformation and a true path to inclusion. Everyone can lead from where they’re at despite their job role or position. We all have a voice and can lead from where we are at.
If you liked this article, share it with a friend, check out our Diversity Pivot Podcast for entertaining stories about inclusive leadership, or schedule time with Julie if you are interested in bringing this content to your organization. We also have a brand new virtual self-paced Lead Like an Ally course to check out!