For many people and corporations, the events of this year have brought forth a strong desire to elevate conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Words and promises are no longer good enough. People want and expect to see action and results from brands they love and especially companies they work for.
While the passion for DEI is stronger than ever, in many cases, it is tempered by an uncertainty about where to begin. At a recent IFT DEI Discussions virtual workshop, Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lead Sabina Gebczyk from Ingredion and Dr. Alexandria Graves from NC State University shared their experiences implementing their companies’ DEI journeys and offered advice that others can use to engage in the process within their own workplaces.
Embed DEI in Corporate/Institution Values
Many companies and academic institutions have incorporated DEI into their values or promises. “Include” is one of IFT’s strategic promises, for example, and its principles are embedded in each of its values—community, integrity, passion, progress, and respect. One of Ingredion’s values is “Everybody Belongs.” At NC State, “Respect—for cultural and intellectual diversity” is one of its core values. By clearly articulating promises and values in this way, the community understands this is more than just talk. There is an expectation to live up to these commitments and be mindful of the space we take up in the global community. It is important to make sure you name the expected behaviors and outcomes related to your values. It helps create alignment within your organization and makes it easier to communicate more clearly with others.
Start with Why
Before you can begin your personal DEI Journey, it is imperative to be clear about why you are doing what you’re doing. Are you trying to increase your impact on the world? Do your motivations stem from personal experience? Are you trying to better understand what colleagues, classmates, or friends that have different identities experience? Is your why aligned with creating a more equitable and inclusive community? If you aren’t grounded in your why, there are more chances that your good intentions may inadvertently have a harmful impact.
Contribute to an Improved DEI Environment
Once you are clear on your why, the next step is to immerse yourself in learning opportunities and connect with others that are working on DEI efforts from a personal or professional standpoint. Are there things that need to change in your environment? Are there efforts that can be implemented or expanded upon? Do you know who is not included when decisions are being made? People are comprised of different identities and should be able to bring their whole self to the classroom or office. It is up to each of us to create an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves and experience a sense of belonging.
Meet People Where They Are
People are at different stages in their DEI understanding and journey, which means they are going to have different comfort levels engaging in certain conversations or topics. Additionally, the culture in many of our organizations are more harmful to traditionally underrepresented communities. Considering where we are as a country right now, there will be some people who will never be on board with DEI and there is nothing we can do about that at this moment. There are also some people for whom DEI is deeply personal, reduces the harm they experience, and hopefully rectifies injustices. The most important thing is to always approach others with curiosity and understand how our words impact one another. Showing care and concern for our colleagues goes a long way.
Create Brave Spaces
It is important to recognize that people are experiencing and being affected by the world, the media, and what is happening in their local communities every day, and they bring that with them to work or school. Because of that, it is important to provide safe spaces where we can have uncomfortable conversations without fear of judgement. When you see people feeling things at a different or deeper level than you, consider that maybe there's something in their personal experience that's different from your own or that you are not aware of, and rather than condemn, be open to engaging in a dialogue. When people from different walks of life are able to come together and support each other through the discomfort of sharing their voice and perspective, that’s when inclusiveness starts to occur.
Encourage Courageous Conversations
It’s important for people to feel as though they can speak up and speak out for what is right, and it is especially important that people in positions of authority take the risk of doing so. We have realized there are important topics, such as privilege, institutional racism, and microaggression, that might be uncomfortable, but they need to be discussed. When you have a team where people know how to support each other, it's a brave space to have those conversations. It is also important to recognize the goal is not to convince anyone of anything. That’s not what it’s about. Whether you agree or disagree, the important thing is to try to understand the other person’s point of view. In doing so, perhaps we can reach a point where people with different perspectives can understand what is needed to fully uplift each other’s humanity rather than demonize each other.
The Way Forward
Many people were brought up in an environment where you go to work, do your job, and your emotions and personal life remain separate. Now, we realize we can't expect people to leave their experiences and identities behind when they come to work or school. Engaging with people who hold different worldviews is complex and oftentimes requires a high level of discomfort. But it is so worth it. It is in those moments, when diverse thinking, experiences, and ideas are presented and engaged, that we gain cultural competency and truly see innovation come to life. That’s when great things happen.
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