As the world is unfolding over diversity and inclusion (D&I) talks, solidarity is being shown and some actions are being taken (performative or genuine is another conversation), we see lots of articles and speaker events addressing such questions as “Where do we beging with this work?”, “What can leaders do to increase representation?”, “How can we better support our minority ethnic employees?” However, these questions are rarely followed by positive action.
D&I work does not reap the fruit overnight. Those doing this work, know that embarkong on D&I journey is a life long committment. 12 months might not be a long time when it comes to systematic change, however, it can give you a starting point to expand your knowledge, engage with communities that are different to yours, diversify your own ecosystem to welcome more varied stories into your life on a daily basis and learn. This is the foundation of this work, however, sadly, there has been very little noteworthy postive impact, let alone a systematic one, made.
D&I work does not reap the fruit overnight.
On a recent webinar where myself and my fellow pannelists talked about diversity driving innovation, I yet again heard the lifelong question of “what leaders can do” being asked. It is worth noting that, before we can do any ‘calling out’ and finger pointing, there is a lot of ‘calling in’ that needs to happen within our own ecosystems and spaces. This work begins with self awareness and education, and YOU are responsible of doing it. It is no one else’s responsibility of bringing it to you and serving it on a silver plate for you. This work does not lay just within corporate walls but is embedded in our every day movements and interactions, and ignorance is longer an excuse for ‘not knowing’.
This work begins with self-awareness and education, and YOU are responsible for doing it.
So, here is what you can do:
1. Train your muscles of agile learning. What I mean by ‘agile learning’ here is, being able to live with mindful curiousity. This work does not mean you have to lock yourself away for years to read every book on race relations, accessibility or being an ally. It does means that you have to welcome every interaction with an open mind and as an opportunity to learn. You have to ask open questions, actively listen, explore, hold space for the other person to tell their truth and their story. This does not mean that you have to understand or agree with everything, but simply find something you can learn from this interaction. It is an art to be able to speak with passion, own your truth and still walk away from the conversation with a mutual respect for each other.
2. Diversify your information channels. How does the information you engage with find you – what newagents, what social media sites, what groups of people? Do you find yourslef hanging around the same people and networks? Do you tend to have similar interests and views on the world as them? Is it difficult to find someone who openly raises a counter-opinion or disagrees? If so, you want to diversify your information channels. Find people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Clubhouse or any other platform, who look and think differently to you. Follow someone who you perhaps even disagree with. Most importantly, do it from a place of curiousity and willingness to learn. Swap out from your daily newspaper to some credible opinion pieces on the same topics to hear different points of view. Same goes for podcasts, films, books and other sources of information.
3. Open up your senses. When you enter spaces at your work, community centre, school, pay attention to what demographics do you not see around, Who isnt represented in the decision making spaces? Whose point is not being taken seriously? Who is constantly being interrupted? Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix suggests to using your privilege to point meeting interruptions out out by saying “Hey, I’ve noticed we have started interrupting people (this won’t single anyone out). May I suggest we stop that so all points are equally heard in full?” or “That’s a great point you’ve raised John, however before we dive into that, I’d like to revert back to Hannah so she can finish her saying” and similar. Walk into every space with all your senses present and open to receive.
4. Don’t just ‘auto-fill’ the gaps. Are you making decisions on someone based on the sound of their name or their looks? Can you already see pictures and bias popping into your mind of something or someone based on what you’ve been told by someone? Find alternatives. As much as you would not like to be defined by a single narrative that someone might have of you based on where you live or shop, or of who you remind them of, do not allow yourself to become that person, either. If you start seeing yourself filling in the gaps of the ‘unknown’, expand your knowledge and understanding through credible information sources, rather allowing your mind play games on you. Equally, empower people around you to do the same thing. None of us are a single story or a monolyth. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie famously said in her TED talk - thinking that we are is not only wrong, but also dangerous
5. Build bridges. The same way as you would network with someone from your circles, someone whose work you admire, someone whose passions or opinion aligns with yours, build such relationships with people who look, think and expereince world differently than you do. Listen to their stories to learn, build bridges and amplify their voices. Do you have a privilege to be in a space where certain demographics are not present or perhaps systematically kept out? It is your responsibility to bring their voices in this space.
There is little we can do about the history, however we are fully in charge of what future we write. It is also our responsibility to make sure we play our part in challenging the narratives unfolding on our watch. The change begins with you, so be the change!
My recent panel discussion on topic “How Diversity Drives Innovation”
*originally published in SOCIALight Magazine Conscious Growth column Issue 16. Link