Organic DEI

Using business hours for diversity training polarizes people further.

image remixed from Memento Media on Unsplash

My husband is in meetings today. He generally spends his days in meetings, so that isn’t new, but the content of this day’s meetings is not business, operations, nor production. These day-long meetings are required training in DEI: diversity, equity, and inclusion. The talk is of microaggressions, stereotypes, and the ways in which the world must change to accommodate differences. There are many salient points made in the meetings which, if taught as better ways of doing business might result in fewer conflicts between people of different life experiences. However, the forced participation in lectures focusing on one particular group with a complaint against another group accused of purposeful exclusion does little more than create further polarization.

Today’s meetings are run exclusively by Black women. The target audience is primarily white, both men and women. If diversity is the desired outcome, these meetings fail to live out their expectations of others. Where are the Indigenous voice? Asian voices, both East Asian and South Asian, are also missing (which is ironic since this particular company includes more South Asian men than men of European descent.) Also missing is the queer voice and the recent immigrant voice. Diversity in today’s meeting is absent. While Black Americans have much to complain about racism, their voices should not be the sole representatives of diversity and equity.

There is no question that every human on the planet has biases. They come from home, community, and personal experiences. They develop through connection with people with similar experiences until the biases become convictions that prevent honest dialogue and understanding. Stereotypes are dehumanizing no matter who holds them.

I taught a teaching methods class a couple of years ago where we discussed bias and stereotyping. The class was diverse: foreign nationals, second generation Americans, Americans born of African, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent, Indigenous Americans (North, Central and South American), and queer (LGBTQ+). The lesson was on the importance of story and how story must replace assumptions when meeting new students. The class was small enough (about 25 people) that everyone had time and space to share their experiences. It was the perfect scenario for exploring story as foundational to cooperative teaching and learning.

There was a young woman in the class who listened for a long time about injustices toward and marginalizations of gay, Black, and Hispanic Americans. She heard the stories of her classmates as they described personal experiences of bullying, low expectations, and undeserved blame. When someone commented that it must be easy to be a white person, she asked the question, “How do you define white?” An interesting question. Her identity as a second generation immigrant from India was troubling to her because white people thought she was a person of color. Black people considered her part of the white culture because she didn’t have a cultural history of enslavement in the US. She was frustrated by biases that rendered her invisible.

DEI training that treats diversity as Black or White does the same thing: it renders invisible people who are neither black nor white by ethnicity or culture. A better approach may be to have a short survey that allows people to identify their own biases. I took one about political tribalism that had just a few questions and then, based on the answers, assessed my position on a scale of how dedicated I am to one political system or another. (It is here, if you are interested in taking it.) If companies are interested in reducing bias and eliminating stereotypes from the workplace, a assessment like this with a follow up individualized plan or authentic conversation with people who think and believe differently would be far more effective than lectures from people who have biases of their own.

Another option might be to focus on the job that needs to be completed and put DEI in its proper place: Human Resources. Interrupting a cohesive (and already diverse) group of coworkers who have never ending task lists only complicates communication. If groups are getting along in endless meetings and productivity goals are met, there is no value in polarizing lectures that foster an “us” against “them” mentality. Deal with issues as they arise.

As for individuals who think they are without biases and stereotypes, rewind conversations (not necessarily work ones) and count the number of times you said “they” or “them.” Define who those groups are and that will give you a clearer picture of your own habits. Then develop friendships (both virtual and IRL) with people from different backgrounds who have different experiences. Engage in respectful conversations. Share a meal. Walk together. See how long it takes for “them” to become “us.” Diversity, equity, and inclusion grows organically in relationships. Ultimately the more people absorb new stories into their points of view, the more inclusivity occurs naturally in the workplace, making it a better environment for everyone.

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Defaulting to Grace and other observations

By Stephanie Loomis: Lover of Jesus, Wife, Mom, Ama, Writer, Teacher, Photographer, Singer, Athlete, Artist...a modern Renaissance woman.