Back then, the intercultural field was not well known to most of my clients. They didn’t realize they had the option to get help building bridges between cultures. When I compare 2004 to today, my emotions are a jumbled mix.
On the one hand, my work, now mostly focused on DEI, has never felt more under attack, with some legislation banning its very existence. What’s far worse are the attempts to erase the identities of so many people through that legislation.
On the other hand, I’ve never seen clients more open to doing meaningful work around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I see companies going beyond lip service and make real change to policy, practice, and mindset. It’s inspiring.
As happy as I am to see this positive change, I’ve noticed a pattern that I feel is worth paying attention to.
Just because DEI work has gained momentum in a company doesn’t mean that everyone is educated about it. That in itself is not a bad thing, as education is widely available.
What I’ve observed, however, is a hesitance to ask questions or seek out DEI basics.
In other words, there’s a sort of shame nowadays in admitting you don’t know DEI, as well as an assumption that you should.
As a result, you get leaders who don’t know basic DEI definitions and concepts, and this knowledge gap can show up in harmful ways. Leaders are role models whether they want to be or not, but it may be hard for them to ask for guidance or to admit that don’t have certain “baseline” information.
That baseline could be anything. Are you confused about pronouns and gender fluidity? Are you unsure about the difference between inclusion and equity? I assure you, that confusion is common.
Do you know what diversity is and how to use the word in a work context? If you secretly answered “no” you are not alone.
Growth doesn’t happen through consistent shame or protecting our ego. Growth can only happen through curiosity, a learning mindset, and a willingness to make mistakes. People like me in the DEI field are no exception; we too have to constantly study, listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable when we mess up.
How do we foster an environment where it’s okay to ask questions? Or better yet, how do we create organizations where DEI flows through everything we do, and DEI education is a normal part of going to work?
The answers to those questions are complex, of course, but here are a few suggestions:
- When you orient employees to your DEI policies and practices, include basic definitions of any terminology. Don’t assume folks know what DEI-related terms mean. This article gives some good basics: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/mckinsey-explainers/what-is-diversity-equity-and-inclusion
- Measure your capability to navigate difference using the Intercultural Development Inventory to create an effective development plan (message me if you’d like to know more) https://idiinventory.com/
- Explicitly and repeatedly state that DEI is a growth journey for all. Provide multiple organizational channels for people to discuss or ask questions even anonymously using avatars or a general Slack channel. (One caution: be careful about burdening historically underrepresented groups with the education role.)
- Use your company All-Hands meeting as a visible representation of your DEI values. Reaffirm and role model inclusion in the meeting itself. Learn more here: https://chatwithleaders.com/people-first-elevation-team/
If you have DEI questions, ask them or message me! Or better yet, ensure that your organization provides the basics up front to everyone, including and especially top-level leaders.
Want to know more? Contact me! https://www.highroaders.com/contact/