The Real Work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Real work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion means confronting your own unconscious biases
Diversity and inclusion has always been a passion of mine – particularly because I consider myself “diverse” in many ways. In plain terms, we recognise diversity in our day to day as any difference to the norm or “dominant” culture, which can range from how we think, how we communicate, how we look (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender, size, what we wear, etc.) our abilities or able-bodiedness, our wealth, to what our religious, cultural, moral or political beliefs are. More and more as our world becomes increasingly global and people leave their home countries for the possibility of a better life somewhere else (because, let’s face it, that’s the real reason for immigration), immigration increases our need to accept and embrace difference as they begin to more visibly intersect.
This is happening in our communities and in our workplaces. The more I facilitate workshops, the more I am hearing this need for “respecting differences”, “being inclusive”, and “embracing different styles and preferences.” The key is recognising that we need to focus on both diversity and inclusion as important. If you have diversity without inclusion, then you create segregation. If you have inclusion without diversity, you have groupthink. But, if you nurture both, you get the magic of innovation, creativity, and effectiveness. And isn’t this what all our clients are calling out for?
But saying you want diversity and inclusion isn’t as simple as checking a box. Many organisations fall into the trap of skimming the surface and not fully understanding the human work it takes to truly build a diverse and inclusive environment. I wanted to understand this more:
“What is the real work of diversity and inclusion? What mindsets and skills does it take to do this work?”
Thus, I went to study with my mentors, Amina Knowlan and Gerald Boyd, from the Matrix Leadership Institute in the USA. Because the real work involves opening our own awareness first. And wow, there were some big awareness opening moments. Many of them were confronting and may be confronting for you too, so read on with self-compassion and curiosity:
- When you have diversity with no real inclusion (which is many organisations and communities these days), you have oppression. The oppression of any marginalised group creates power over them to keep the dominant culture in place. And what drives this? Systemically, this is driven by wealth.
- If wealth drives oppression, who benefits the most? The dominant culture. In our western world, this tends to be white males. Thus, it is not surprising to see that white males hold most of the world’s wealth and therefore have significant power to create and sustain the systems that perpetuate their wealth.
- There are three types of oppression:
- systemic / institutionalised – when a system perpetuates a dominant group and oppresses marginalised groups
- individually mediated – when someone directly treats you as less than because of your difference
- internalised – when you begin to believe the messages about your marginalised group that are sent by the dominant group and begin to oppress your own group consciously or unconsciously
Most people understand individually mediated oppression, however most don’t understand it systemically. We need to be able to courageously ask ourselves how we are unconsciously participating in oppressive systems. For example, why are many of the best schools in primarily white neighbourhoods?
All three types of oppression can present a great threat to our society. However, the recent terms of “white privilege”, “white silence”, and “white fragility” begin to raise the importance of the role white people play in removing systemic or institutionalised oppression. Plainly stated, if you are in any dominant group, you have the privilege to walk away and ignore the oppression of marginalised groups. (Marginalised groups do not have the option of walking away from their oppression.)
You also have the power to walk towards the discomfort and try to change the situation.
This is called being an ally. Marginalised groups cannot ally for other marginalised groups as this could lead to escalation. If we truly want to drive systemic change, we have to be able to identify who is the dominant group and support them with the knowledge and skills to ally with marginalised groups to bring about change.
So what are the implications of knowing this:
There are so many implications in the workplace based on this way of thinking. The first is to get curious. Am I part of a dominant group? If so, how am I consciously or (most of the time) unconsciously contributing to perpetuating the systems and institutions that benefit me and my dominant group and marginalise other groups? Am I comfortable enough to talk about this? What skills do I need to be able to do so without guilt or shame? Am I willing to risk “messing up” or not saying the right thing as long as I know my intentions are good? This risk is the biggest question of all – because it is precisely this risk that prevents us from having the needed conversations about diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Where to start in upskilling yourself
The matrix dialogue process developed by the Matrix Leadership Institute seeks to help us have those conversations in a more meaningful and generous way. If we have the strength of our connections, then we can begin to connect as individuals in relationship rather than as categories/groups. We can also work to openly reprogram the biases we have about certain groups when we are in connection and get to know people as true humans.
If you are a leader, work in the Diversity and Inclusion space, or simply want to learn more about this topic, get in touch to have a conversation. This is the first big step in creating inclusion and true change.