In the midst of the current social and political climate, I hear a lot about a need for “diversity.” Job postings are full of good intentions that go something like “X company is committed to hiring and supporting a diverse workplace.” Which is all well and good, except that most of the time the actual execution is…lacking.
Enthusiasm is a good start for getting these initiatives off the ground, but almost all stall out after the initial fervor has died down and those who were on the chopping block for the action feel the pressure subside and have to get back to running the company.
But enthusiasm isn’t the only problem with the longevity of these best-laid plans. The error I see committed pretty much every time without fail is a lack of actual skill building.
Here’s what I mean: A typical “Diversity Workshop” is a meeting of the whole company. They come together in their shared gathering place and get a lecture on the importance of diversity. Maybe they get some statistics about mitochondrial DNA, the pay gap between genders and races, and examples of how these inequities hurt not just those in the minority and oppressed identifiers, but also those who do the oppressing. (Here’s my recent favorite lecture about the impact of gender inequity on women and men. Watch this later.)
And then…nothing. Everyone goes back to their desk with this new set of information. Some companies end here and check the box and pat themselves on the back. Some want to move forward but can’t because of lack of funding (which is really another way of saying “we don’t value it”), but this is where most of these efforts end.
But let’s say you are not part of “one of those” companies. Your org is WOKE. It is FIGHTING. It is progressive in its politics and social plans and everyone walks around all day throwing around words like “oppressed,” “underserved,” “privilege,” and “racism.”
So you get a little more money thrown at this and your poor facilitator sets you up in small groups to talk about the impact of the stats you heard last time. You might get a reading assignment to talk about. Some people cry. Emotions are felt, there is backlash, there is backlash to the backlash, and then…nothing.
This is where almost all efforts like this end. If you’re a leader, you can really say, “We tried” when someone points out inequities and you can vow to do more hiring and swear the next time a less qualified POC walks through the door you will hire them for any job because you believe in training.
But what you actually done? You’ve stirred the pot. People are talking, but everyone is still stuck in the same cycles of POC, women, non-binary folx pointing out problems and inequities and white people (myself included) throw up their hands like “I don’t know what else I can do!”
Here’s what you can do: Hire someone to run a process that actually forces people to change. And the easiest way to do that is to get them to build a skill.
The conversations of race/sex/gender all require self-awareness, precise communication skills, empathy, and being able to see another person’s perspective without feeling threatened.
ALL OF THOSE ARE SKILLS. All of them we can use more of. I literally can’t think of a single person who couldn’t use more of them.
If your attempts at Diversity/Equity/Inclusion are failing, not progressing, or causing your workers who are part of oppressed identifiers to still feel disenfranchised, it’s because you have not actually built a skill for moving the conversation forward.
All you have done is made everyone deeply uncomfortable without the payoff of betterment. Skill building requires learning and, in the workplace, learning in public. If you’re going to force people into situations where they have to examine themselves at least do it with something to show for it.
Increased Diversity/Equity/Inclusion is the product of building a new skill. It is the product of increased self-awareness and understanding of the larger cultural soup we are living in. That is not something that gets assimilated through lecture-style presentations, that is something that takes repeated exposure, hard work, and a process of unlearning, which is often very painful. I was going to write “uncomfortable” but let’s be honest because we always are here, it’s fucking painful to unlearn the way you’ve always done something. (We’ll talk unlearning another day.)
So, if you’ve been at this for a while and your company meetings and brown bag lunches and “Equity and Inclusion Taskforce” can’t seem to make any headway, check on the methodology of how information is being disseminated. If it stops at the intellectual level and requires no work in the guts and heart, your work is pointless, congratulations for wasting a lot of money, now try on some skill building.