Racism Can't Be Solved With DEI Initiatives
Note: This blog post is intentionally not meant to provide readers with a check-list of Action items for ending (or fixing) racism with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The most important takeaway from this post, is to understand why focusing on Action is not the right place to start, and in some cases can be harmful.
The truth is, there are a myriad of ways an individual, a CEO, or an organization can “commit” to Diversity and Inclusion. Unfortunately, a majority of these ways are performative, and/or cause further harm.
I spent a majority of my career working at a major Animal Health Company, and one of the concepts that was ingrained in our culture, was the power of Why. Simon Sinek, the “founder” of incorporating the “Why” lens throughout organizations, states: "Our Why is the purpose, cause or belief that drives every single one of us.” So, when it comes to authentic race equity progress, the approach must be the same. Do you know why it is so important to explicitly name race equity as part of your DEI culture? If you find yourself avoiding “race”, or responding with, “all identities matter”, or something similar, you don’t quite understand why race equity is essential for all of us, at all levels, in order to thrive.
Lesson #1: Racism is systemic
It requires systemic change. Listening sessions, and additional DEI training are not going to bring impactful transformation to your organization. Authentic change requires a hard look at organizational policies and culture that continues to perpetuate racism while also investing in organizations and initiatives that drive systemic change outside of your organization.
I have had 100’s of conversations over the past year with business leaders, and the most common thing I hear goes something like this: “We’ve had listening sessions amongst our Black and brown employees, and it was so moving.” or “We realize we need to focus more on unconscious bias training, so have added that to our repertoire of DEI training required of all employees.” or “We’ve appointed a BIPOC to the role of Diversity and Inclusion Officer.” and, “What further actions can we take?” First, let me be clear. All of these conversations were coming from a place of good intent. But, what all of the conversations were missing, in my opinion, is a lack of understanding that their initiatives so far likely caused further harm and that none of these actions alone set them up for true success.
Lesson #2: You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand.
Understanding racism, race equity and racial justice requires an acknowledgement of the construct of race, power and privilege. And, in order to acknowledge those things, it requires the learner to unlearn many things they’ve been taught about the American Narrative which further requires deep introspection at an individual and organizational level.
One of the most profound things I have gained an understanding in is Racial Identity Development (for those who want to really dig in, I suggest to start with this video). Scholars for decades have studied this extensively, and in my opinion, understanding this for ourselves is a requirement, and the gateway to creating an authentic mindset and action in all areas of race equity. If you understand your own Racial Identity Development (hint...white folx...white is a race...you are a racial being), you will not question the truth that Racial Equity is at the heart of all DEI initiatives.
Lesson #3: The first step for any organization that wants to authentically participate in racial justice, racial equity, and transformative DEI initiatives is to invest in gaining knowledge on Race and Racism in America, and dedicating time and resources towards Introspection.
This is not just a sales-pitch. I quit my comfortable, well-paying job to devote to this work. THIS is how much it means to me! Too many times throughout my career, I witnessed harmful actions (and inactions) by CEO’s and middle-management when it comes to DEI. These are the same companies that proclaim a commitment to DEI, and not until 2020 National Unrest, publicly declared a commitment to Race Equity. And, for most, their public commitments and a few extra internal meetings/conversations were short-lived. They quickly (unintentionally) went back to status quo. I’ve even seen companies publicly declare their financial commitment and partnership to support organizations focused on racial justice (and a lot of these are great! So great, I’ve included a blog that links to some of them here), but those same companies have deep-seeded internal race problems. They perpetuate racism at every level they operate internally and externally.
Part of this work requires a humble recognition by CEO’s and middle-managers alike, that our goal isn’t to fix racism. It isn’t even to dismantle it completely. This work requires all of us to give up something. It requires all of us to be honest with ourselves, and address truths we rather never think about or talk about. It requires all of us to get comfortable with the uncomfortable...and for us to stay there perpetually. Because, if you are an American working and living in America, racism and White Supremacy is in your DNA.
What does working with 1619 Consulting look like? We guide you through our three-pillar racial equity framework, putting particular focus on Knowledge and Introspection, enabling you to focus on the right Action to realize transformational change. Below is a quick explanation of our Framework, which will give you an idea on what it looks like to work with us!
Step #1, Knowledge: We provide your Executive Leadership team with a common language and understanding of what race equity work actually means, why it’s important, and what to expect when there is laser-focus on Race Equity Initiatives.
Step #2, Introspection: We facilitate two assessments for your organization. The Race Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) assessment is adapted from several surveys measuring proxies of race-based discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion in work settings. The results are communicated across a continuum of 1-5 and considering six specific organizational areas. Consider this a less-harmful way to understand BIPOC employee’s experiences (compared to listening sessions). Unlike other assessments out there, the REDI gives you tangible understanding of race equity awareness and culture, at the intersection of all other identities.
The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assesses intercultural competence- the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities. A well-known, respected, and studied assessment, the IDI provides valuable insights into organizational (and individual) cultural competence, and makes for really great conversation-starters.
Step #3, Knowledge: Unlearning is integral to the work we do in racial justice, so before we recommend any kind of action, we encourage Executive Leadership and middle-managers to participate in a series of courses using proven adult learning techniques, while also creating brave spaces to get deep into the heart of race equity work. This allows all of leadership to engage constructively in race matters, using a common language and framework. These courses can also be offered to employees throughout the organization, and we recommend making this content available, as it is not content they receive from traditional D&I training.
Step #4, Action: Our experience is that clients come to us wanting help with their DEI initiatives because they’ve implemented a number of “actions”, but are not seeing improvement. Or, they have no idea if the actions they invested in are working. We provide thought-leadership to help you execute a well-thought-out DEI strategy, with a race equity lens. We recognize the issue of most of our clients isn’t a lack of action ideas, but rather a lack of insight into what ideas are the best ideas, and how does an organization move the needle over time.
At 1619 Consulting, we are equipped and honored to help leaders of all types of organizations navigate the overwhelm, and actively engage in constructive organizational change!