But Are You ACTUALLY Doing the Work? Here's How You Know.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is different than any other work you’ll find in the world of business. It’s head work. It’s heart work. And most of all, it’s hard work.
We’re juggling so many audiences–the C-Suite who want to quell complaints and improve the bottom line, employees of color who have been passed over and “microaggressed” for years, employees who live in la la land and don’t believe there are any problems, employees who actively fight what you’re trying to do, and the customers and people you serve who might either be clueless or vehemently demanding change.
With so many deep emotional issues in play, it is easy to check out of the heart side of the work and simply bury yourself in data and research and planning. The head work is so much simpler. You convince yourself that you can convince people with numbers alone and not have to force a change of perspective and values.
But are you actually doing the work? Ask yourself these questions to determine if you need to dig a little deeper in your day-to-day.
Do You Consider The Role You Play?
No matter your identity, you’re a part of the system. Everyone has at least one privileged identity that they may or may not be aware of–whether it’s your race, gender, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, income level, physical appearance, or any other trait that our culture deems more worthy than others by arbitrary standards. This one was a hard pill for me to swallow too, but a very necessary one.
Being part of the system means that at some point you’ve either implicitly or explicitly been a part of the problem of oppression. It’s deeply embedded in our capitalist society, so if you are not consciously combatting your role in systems of oppression, I can guarantee you are perpetuating it.
I recently enrolled my team at Solution Co. in The Problems with Problems: Training the Trainers workshop through Equity Meets Design. Initially, I signed us up for the workshops as a means of training for my consultants (you know, that head work that is so much easier….). On the first day, Dr. Christine Ortiz asked our group to identify a problem that we deal with in our own company. What originated as a statement about feeling stressed about deadlines evolved into a realization that our stress is derived from participating in dominant culture norms like urgency and perfectionism.
It’s tough to look at yourself in the mirror, knowing that you thought you were “one of the good ones” or “woke.” It’s that very mentality that makes equity more difficult to achieve. Because the goal of DEI work isn’t to achieve some sort of status or level-up in your mentality and work–the goal is vowing to evaluate your words, actions, and thoughts daily and continually try to do better. You’re working toward a way of being that doesn’t have a finite destination.
That way of being includes knowing that you will stumble in your efforts to liberate yourself and others from oppressive forces.
Are You Owning Up to Your Mistakes?
What matters about those stumbles is what you do afterward.
When your heart is really in equity work, making a mistake can feel catastrophic. You know that you said or did something against your values and you likely hurt someone or a whole group of people in the process. You had the best of intentions, but the strategy you tried didn’t pan out. Before rushing to apologize to the people you feel that you hurt or who you feel like you failed, take time to sit in your emotions. Reflect on the situation.
- What external forces or past experiences drove you to your action?
- How did you feel before and after the situation?
- How were you privileged in that situation?
- How were others oppressed?
- If an apology will help the person or people you hurt and not just act as a salve to your own guilt and wounded ego, to whom do you owe apologies?
- What will you do in a similar situation in the future that would allow you to be an ally?
Forgive yourself. Mistakes are human. Making a mistake does not make you a mistake. Failure is expected. You have to know that the goal is not perfection but to make better choices than you did the day before. Progress over perfection. Take care of yourself and heal. It’s hard to move forward in the battle for equity with open wounds.
Are You Embracing Discomfort?
When my team and I realized at the workshop that we, as a DEI consulting company, were perpetuating the very dominant culture norms we’re trying to help others dismantle, you better believe it was uncomfortable! But it was so necessary. How else are we going to tear those norms apart if we don’t recognize that they’re there?
Working for liberation means that you’re going against the tide of centuries of oppression. Conflict and discomfort are a sign that you’re doing something right, even though it’s not going to feel good.
One of my consultant friends works with a group that recognized the need for a Land Acknowledgement as an organization but whose individual members struggled with it. Some people felt that reading a statement before a workshop would be a performative act and wanted other people to take the role at a meeting. But, because they were a group who was “doing the work,” they forced each other to confront the uncomfortable feelings, to go through the process of developing the Land Acknowledgment statement. While it would have been easier to just have someone else read the statement, leaning into the discomfort led to a learning experience for everyone involved.
So even if you’re getting paid to do DEI work and have a title by your name like “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator”, are you living up to it?
You’ll know that you are when it’s hard. Every. Day.
But that’s why you build up a supportive community and resources with other equity warriors care about you and will help you find your blind spots with your own privilege. Continual learning will arm you with the logical weapons you need for conflicts with others.