If you build it, they will come. So get started by cleaning up your culture.
Some folks have come forward and have asked me what can they do to bring more diversity into their group. First, seeing that every group is different with various dynamics and such, please understand that I can’t really answer that specifically for you and your org. What I can do, is share at a high level, a sort of philosophy I have around increasing diversity. The reason I want to do this is because some people are too afraid to do anything, or some are too gung-ho, try too hard and may end up making the situation worse.
Remember that time this was a really big topic?
The impetus for this post comes from the recent fallout of the RWA’s RITA Awards. If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, you can read my previous post, “How a DEI Advocate Case Studies the RITAs”. Though these discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion are both frustrating and often uncomfortable, they are extremely necessary. They are necessary because now I see people actually taking a moment to stop and actually question their surroundings.
More people are opening their eyes and finding out that racism did not end after the Civil Rights Act. That even now, people of color are not treated fairly. LGBTQ+ are still treated with discrimination (and legally in many states). That people with disabilities (both seen and unseen) are still often ignored and/or stigmatized. Granted, these conversations often shake out the clueless, the bigots and racists which usually complicate the discourse. But, I like to see it as their appearance providing validity to my argument that such people still exist that contribute to these problems.
So, okay, you may be looking around your team or group and notice, “Hmm. there’s not much of a mixture. Not much “diversity.” You acknowledge it. Great, right? But now it’s, “So what can I do to change it?”
Diversity cannot be achieved without inclusion.
If your culture doesn’t recognize it, support it, expect it from all its members and live it in it’s day to day, then nothing you do to bring in your “diverse” members will retain them. Work on your culture first.
When someone tells me they want to bring more diversity into their group, my question to them is often, “What’s your retention plan?” Believe it or not, diversity isn’t the hardest part, inclusion is. You can attract and proactively go to recruit from underrepresented groups to get diversity. But if they feel unwelcomed, unheard, and/or left out, they’ll leave and you’ll be right back where you started. Building an inclusive culture is your retention plan.
This will take time, because not everyone in your homogenized group will agree or understand. Some may even leave. That’s okay. If this is a huge part of what’s part of your org or group and some cannot handle, then it’s best this way as they maybe were not the right fit. Being inclusive is a mindset and attitude, and some may not be ready for it.
Sooo, what is an inclusive culture?
- It’s the habit of being mindful of not only the differences of individuals, but respecting the challenges they face.
- It’s having the emotional IQ to think of others and ensure there’s room at the table for everyone to sit.
- It’s calling out areas where the org can better support and include those who feel they may not have a voice.
- It’s acknowledging people’s personal situations, whatever they may be.
- It’s providing opportunities to those who suffer social disparities so everyone works on a level playing field.
- It’s being transparent with your teams successes and failures.
- It’s taking the time to get out your own introverted bubble to connect with someone new.
- It’s practicing empathy.
That last one is a doozy. You may not understand what it’s like to be black or brown, LGBTQ or any other marginalized group. But I’m sure everyone has experienced a time in their life where they were excluded. When they were the “only.”
A time where you were forgotten, ignored and/or left out. Take a min to reflect on an incident like that. Remember those feelings? Bookmark it. Those feelings really suck. So, in knowing that, we can hopefully make choices to prevent it for others. Damien Hooper-Campbell, the Chief Diversity Officer at eBay, has a great presentation on getting at the heart of inclusion and losing the idea of it being about quotas, numbers and metrics.
Once you create a welcoming, collaborative culture, you’ll attract like-minded, folks from all types of backgrounds (including those from marginalized groups).
What are you talking about when you say “Diversity”?
I hear it so much, I sometimes feel it’s a really cool buzzword that has a lot of baggage. There’s the simple textbook definition and then there’s what most people mean when they say “diversity.”
Diversity, by definition, just means “differences.” I warn people that the word by itself is dangerous because it has such a HUGE scope. How big, you ask?
Welcome to the Wheel of Diversity
Below is called a “Diversity Wheel”. It comes in various styles, but it’s used to illustrate how complex the word diversity truly is and in turn, how complex a person can be. Look at all the facets that define us. All the sides we identify with that contribute to how people see us and how we see ourselves.
I really don’t wanna lament on this too much, but this is important. We’re so much more than what people see, it’s truly a shame we allow bias to dismiss all of what’s below for just one or two sides we want to acknowledge from someone. We’re diamonds.
Okay, so looking at this, I hope some can also understand why being inclusive is so critical. Look at all the various perspectives you’re potentially rejecting just by not including someone? Just by allowing bias to take the wheel, so to speak. Truth be told, not all great minds think alike; great minds challenge each other. You can’t have challenges without differences.
When most people refer to diversity, it’s referring to the Primary level of the wheel (Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation, etc). These are what is commonly seen as the underrepresented or marginalized groups. Ever wondered why these topics of discussion around these particular identities are so uncomfortable? Well, because they are the closest identities to your core self. These are the glaring pink elephant in the room — they are a huge part of who you are, but let’s not dare talk about them!
- You were judged and assessed on these your whole life.
- You were granted or denied privileges because of them.
- You have belief systems about every single one of these and you feel attacked when your belief systems around these are challenged.
They truly matter.
So, with that said, I hope I no longer hear, “I don’t care if you’re black/white/purple/gay/straight/man/woman or other…yada yada.”
Stop dismissing it. It’s important to care, because it’s a part of who that person is. Saying it doesn’t matter to you, says that you don’t respect it and are not aware of the challenges someone with that identity endures. Don’t we all deserve to be acknowledged and respected for our differences?
So, if you want more diversity, work on your culture (how you recruit, how you acknowledge, how you collaborate) first, then, you can build a plan to proactively seek out people and talent from underrepresented groups. You can’t do this if you’re not genuine. You can’t do this if you’re trying to meet a quota or get a token. [Note: Just…Please don’t do this. It’s insulting, lazy and pointless.] If you’re going to meet them where they are, you need to be vulnerable, patient and ready to bring them into a welcoming group where they can grow. Don’t do outreach just to bring them into your broken org, group or company to feel better about yourself. You’ll only cause more damage to your org’s reputation.