Everyone can’t be a DEI Practitioner.
There. I said it!
It is a revelation I came to a few years ago. I noticed an influx of people coming into the profession because it was:
- an ‘easy’ way to get into a more senior role. (very few organizations to that point had anything more than a director-level role unless it was pretty advanced in their organizational journey or academia)
- starting to get a bit more visibility from those in the C-suite, which goes back to #1
I noticed a group of people coming in but had zero experience – professionally or personally in the space. They had ‘passion’ for the one aspect of diversity they identified with and very little else.
The popularity of DEI
That was until the summer of 2020. Within a few months, we saw the murders of Amaud Aubrey, Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd take center stage as the nation grappled with the reality of racial inequities. Companies quickly posted their’ thoughts and prayers’. As a show solidarity and that Black Lives Matter, they painted their social media profiles black. They expected what had always happened – kudos and positive PR touting how ‘woke’ these companies were. Wha they didn’t expect was the push back of Black employees stating they were not seeing the same reactions internally. Their Black employees were still experiencing the otherness that was always there. There was no solidarity with the Black community if there wasn’t solidarity with Black employees.
The singularly focused DEI practitioners were lost. Not only had many of them dismissed the previous cries for support before, but they also had no clue what to do at the moment. Leadership was asking for a plan, and there was nothing.
So what should organizations look for in hiring a DEI practitioner or consultant?
In this conversation with Cornell Verdeja-Woodson, we unpack what it means to be a holistic DEI practitioner. We discuss the need for self-awareness and what companies serious aboutchanging their company cultures need to look for in those hired to do diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
“the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
Unpacking our Intersectional Identities
Now common language, Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw first coined the term in 1989 when she realized that the discriminatory experiences of Black women lived at the intersection of their racial and gender identities.
As practitioners, it is our responsibility to understand but acknowledge how our intersectional identities shape how we operate and experience the world around us. We must realize that everyone’s identities are unique in intrigue and can not be bucketed to make our jobs less complicated. For far too long, organizations have explicitly focused on gender as a critical driver for diversity initiatives. But in focusing on the broad topic of gender, they have missed the unique experiences and nuances of other marginalized identities that intersect with gender, such as race, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Additionally, we can not focus on one aspect of marginalization without acknowledging how the other elements may cause harm to others. For example, suppose the default for gender-focused programming is white, straight cis-gendered women. In that case, we miss the complicated relationships of race, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. We may cause more harm than good for any woman who falls outside the default.
Discomfort and understanding our privileges
With the increased focus on diversity in the workplace, topics that have been considered taboo are no longer secret conversations. There is an expectation that people leaders can hold space for conversations that go beyond the nature of their work to create team inclusion. It is the role of diversity practitioners to help guide managers to the new normal of inclusive workplaces.
But for us to help managers and leaders, we must first take the uncomfortable steps of doing the internal work ourselves.
Building as we grow as DEI Practitioners
Cornell and I discuss the importance of not only pushing our clients outside of their comfort zones but having the ability to do the same ourselves. In doing this, we must be comfortable stepping into moments of vulnerability and sharing where we have and will need to continue learning and growing. One way we can do this is by listening to the experiences of others without interjecting our own thoughts or experiences, especially if they differ. We must learn to provide space for vulnerability and growth while showing grace to those brave enough to share their journeys.
Where can you find Cornell?
LinkedIn – Cornell Verdeja-Woodson
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Looking for support for your organization’s efforts? Schedule your consultation with The Equity Equation today – https://theequityequationllc.com/dei-consultation/
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