Embrace Your Inner Equity Warrior
Probably most of us who are entering into the DEI profession have spent decades caring about and working for justice in our communities, but now our paychecks depend on making real improvements in our companies. You may be questioning your qualifications. You may not even know where to begin. But that’s why my colleagues and I are around. We can guide you into the steadfast confidence you’ll need to be effective if you start with these building blocks.
First of all, kick that imposter syndrome to the curb. You know when something is unfair and harmful. You’ve been noticing it since you first arrived at the company. Now you’ve been given the green light to do something about it! So pick one of those practices you’ve noticed, and start there.
- Did you notice that everyone with you at the new employee orientation was white?
- Is everyone very hush-hush about yearly bonuses because they’re based on the manager’s opinions of people and not on data?
- Does everyone who gets a promotion happen to look alike?
- Do you always notice that certain people are quiet in meetings but have excellent ideas when you’re chatting at the water cooler?
These patterns you’ve noticed are symptoms of systemic racism, whether you consciously knew it or not. Make a list of all the things that didn’t sit quite right with you. This is one way to find your starting point.
Build Trust with Others
Building trust is a little different than building a relationship. I can have a relationship with the gentleman who runs the convenience store down the block, but he probably wouldn’t trust me to tend to his cash register while he goes on break. Asking your colleagues to trust you with their emotions and thoughts about equity isn’t really much different. They need to know that they can lay all their thoughts about inequity out on the line and you won’t do something nefarious with the information you learned.
Because this level of trust will take time to nurture, you can begin by creating affinity groups for people to come together with people who identify (by race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) similarly to themselves. In their groups, they can talk freely about their experiences in your workplace. The key is that you set up the time and space for the groups to meet, but you only participate in the group that you identify with. Build in norms about keeping information confidential, and the trust-o-meter from members of the affinity groups will move a little further.
The people who voluntarily participate in affinity groups will probably give you more information than you thought you wanted. But you also need information from people who may be a little wearier about speaking up.
Just like you, your colleagues have been ruminating on inequities for months, years, or even decades. Give them an opportunity to anonymously provide information about their experiences. Remember to get both qualitative (e.g. descriptions, stories, etc.) and quantitative data (e.g. rating their feelings on a scale of 1 to 10, estimating the percentage of time they experience something, etc.). There are a lot of ways you can do this:
- Send out a survey that does not take people’s names or email addresses but does collect their demographic information. Don’t just do it once. Send out the same survey strategically to track the progress of your DEI efforts.
- Create an anonymous suggestion box in the break room.
- Create another anonymous suggestion box on your company’s internal website for employees.
- And create another anonymous suggestion box for external stakeholders and customers on your front-facing website.
By reaching out in these ways when you first start, you’ll start to gain the trust of your colleagues who are ready to see some change.
Through surveys, suggestion boxes, and affinity groups, you’ll identify an issue to work on pretty quickly.
- Maybe everyone in the Latinx affinity group is experiencing multiple microaggressions from the same manager on a weekly basis.
- Maybe the women in the Black affinity group are spending all kinds of time and money to comply with the company’s discriminatory policies about appearance.
- Maybe your survey data shows that 90% of Native employees are actively looking for employment elsewhere.
These are all symptoms of a problem you can design a solution to, and you know you are working on something that directly impacts people.
Action is key. You cannot just nod your head, lend an ear and a shoulder to cry on, and then wipe your hands of the matter. Listening is just the first step. You might start brainstorming about ways to address the problem with questions like:
- What policies can be revised, introduced, or abolished?
- Which specific managers and employees need real consequences for their words and actions?
- What kind of training can employees at all levels receive?
- How can our systems change to allow for individual and cultural differences?
When you narrow your brainstorming down to a plan, make sure to check back in with the people who made you aware of the problem in the first place. Is your solution actually addressing the issue they told you about? Again, the trust-o-meter moves a little further along.
Broadcast Your Work
I know for some people, this part feels icky. After all, you are in this profession to help people, not to make a name for yourself. But try to contextualize it this way–you have to continually renew the blessing of decision-makers to keep your work afloat, and you have to make sure that the people in your company know what you’re doing.
You build their confidence in you by showing that you are gathering qualitative and quantitative data all along the way. You get to celebrate the positive outcomes with the people your actions helped, and you get to show off why you deserve a raise to the people above you. Here’s what’s tough, though–you have to tell them what you’re doing even if the action you chose to pursue didn’t give you the results you hoped for. You will not have a 100% success rate. The key is that you learn and iterate on the choices moving forward (and tell people about that, too!).
So make a plan to hold regular meetings with your company’s leaders to keep them engaged. Remind them that equity is good for business! And publicize your work to everyone else in the company through newsletters, infographics, emails, presentations, or informal conversations in the breakroom–whatever grabs their attention.
So, Equity Warrior, do you feel a little more prepared to get started making real changes happen in your organization? You’ve got this. Remember–trust yourself, build trust with others, gather data, take action, and shout about your progress (whether it’s good or not so good) from the rooftops.
To learn more in-depth information about what strategies work and what strategies to avoid from The Solution Consulting Co.’s equity strategists and from your peers in the space, join The Equity Impact Hub. There, you can also take the self-paced course called “Identity, Power, and Privilege” to discover more about the interpersonal dynamics you may experience as you work with colleagues in equity endeavors.