Championing Equity and Inclusion: Reflections on DEI Initiatives and Building Inclusive Company Cultures

July 25th, 2023

Championing Equity and Inclusion: Reflections on DEI Initiatives and Building Inclusive Company Cultures

Championing Equity and Inclusion: Reflections on DEI Initiatives and Building Inclusive Company Cultures

POSTED IN Zen & the Art of Legal Networking

If you’re connected to me on LinkedIn, you know that one of my favorite places to find thoughtful content about doing business in the modern world is Harvard Business Review. Not only do they offer articles that make me think critically about the way I’m leading my own organization, but their authors often offer practical, pragmatic advice on what to do better or differently – particularly when it comes to those things that we can be tempted to read about but not create any actionable change, like diversity, equity, and inclusion.

One of the things I often do when sharing the articles is add my own thoughts to them, and I realized that while that has some utility, what I really should be doing is taking those thoughts and resharing them here on my blog. I have privilege as a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman. I’m currently reading Trudi Lebrón’s The Antiracist Business Book: An Equity Centered Approach to Work, Wealth, and Leadership (not linked on purpose so that you can look to a small bookstore to purchase it – some of my favorites are Brain Lair Books, Mahogany Books, and Fulton Street Books) and she talks about encouraging her clients to write a privilege statement – so here is mine. As I mentioned, I am a white, cisgender, heterosexual, non-disabled woman who was raised by two parents who both spoke English. I am a citizen of the country I reside in, and so are my parents – though my dad became a citizen of this country when I was a teenager. Importantly to add to this too, as I’ve learned from friends of mine, I also have thin privilege because I can go into a store and buy things off the rack – this particularly affects me in business, because I am taken more seriously and have more opportunities as a result of it. It impacts my ability to travel, and how people perceive me when I speak publicly.

I say all of that because it is important background before I share my thoughts and opinions on the articles that I plan to be posting more regularly here. My favorite quote is from Anaïs Nin

We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

And so when we do anything, including our work, our careers, we are coming into it with everything that we are – all our biases. I don’t say this as a criticism; just as a fact to be aware of. One thing that I have learned is that we may not be responsible for our first thought, but we are responsible for our second. This means that if I hear something and get defensive, I then need to sit back and wait a moment before responding because perhaps the reason I’m defensive is that the other person is right.

The Success of DEI Initiatives

Mostly, we’re going to focus on the article that I read last week, which you can read in its entirety here. Note that HBR (Harvard Business Review) has a limit on free monthly reads and after that you have to subscribe. I am a subscriber, but that has no bearing on how I feel about their articles – I have just read enough free articles that I finally subscribed because I really respect the quality of their authors and work.

The article suggests that the success of DEI initiatives relies on the support of those in power. And of course, that idea makes sense. However, others have suggested and I agree, that when you treat DEI as an “initiative,” it’s always going to fail. defines “initiative as:

an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficulty or improve a situation; a fresh approach to something.

This makes it sound like inequities are something we need to “solve” rather than a deeply rooted and ingrained societal issue. And listen, this isn’t something I’m going to solve in a blog post. I’m one white woman and I’m DEFINITELY not the one with the answers – that would actually be how we got here in the first place if I tried to do that.

So let’s instead agree that the idea that initiatives are problematic and just agree that company cultures are what need to change. We can discuss that more another time. In the meantime, always start by listening to the actual marginalized people.

The “Isms” are BAD

“Because managers identify with their company, in ways that lead them to consider the company’s good traits to be reflections of themselves. As a result, maintaining positive views of the company becomes vital to their sense of themselves, at times warping their perspective.”

This was one of my favorite quotes in the article because I really GOT it here. This is the same idea that stops many people from seeing societal inequities because we believe that racism, homophobia, sexism (insert your “ism” here) are “bad” and we don’t want to be “bad.” So rather than accepting that it’s systemic and we ALL get to interrogate the systems that we have been raised with and are part of, and the thoughts that we have and react to in order to ensure that we really ARE being inclusive and equitable, we automatically respond with, “well, of COURSE, I’m NOT a racist! Racists are BAD!” When it would be MUCH more helpful to listen and say, “You’re right, I can see how the thing I said or did was a microaggression. Thank you for being willing to educate me. I’ll be more mindful going forward.”

This goes back to what I said earlier about how when I immediately feel defensive, I need to first pause, rather than react, and ask MYSELF whether the other person might actually be right. Not all criticism is meant to turn into a fight – a lot of it is meant to help all of us get better. A lot of it is meant to be a call-in, and not a call-out.

Rah-rah, I LOVE my company!

Companies are the same, and leaders are treating their roles in companies in the same way:

“Our research suggests that managers view their workplaces as equitable because they want to have positive views of their organization — and in their minds, “good” workplaces are those where inequity doesn’t exist. Such an outlook makes acknowledging inequity hard, even for people who believe in working against it.”

People in senior roles are thinking of their companies the way they think of themselves – the “isms” are BAD and I wouldn’t want to work at a place that is BAD, so of COURSE this company isn’t BAD! Ergo, we’re not racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.

But when someone raises a criticism, it doesn’t mean you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater – it’s an opportunity to do better. Rather than, “oh no, we CAN’T be this way, that person must be LYING,” which is going to not only cover up the behavior further but is also going to other that person, people like them and ultimately create a workplace that is not diverse and is pretty uncomfortable to work at because everyone is going to feel like they can only share ideas that the managers support and like, INSTEAD, it could be more like “wow, I didn’t realize that was something we were doing – I really appreciate you pointing that out. We’re going to stop doing x and do more of y so that everyone feels more comfortable being here.”

It’s not a touchy-feely way of doing business. It’s a practical, pragmatic way of making everyone feel welcome bringing their whole selves to work – a place where we spend the majority of our lives – so that we can bring creativity, enthusiasm, engagement, and loyalty.

Those things make us ALL better at work.

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