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Shifting DEI from Dialogue to Action

Whether you are studying the science of food, conducting research, working in industry, or teaching the next generation of food scientists, you are undoubtedly familiar with the scientific method. This systematic approach to investigate, validate, or disprove a hypothesis is used in a myriad of ways in food research and development labs each day. A similar approach can be used as we aim to move diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) from initial discussion to sustained action.

Applying the Rigors of Science to DEI

Xavier Ramey, CEO of Justice Informed and featured speaker at a recent IFT DEI Discussions virtual workshop, explained that there is an assumption in DEI that if we diversify our spaces, we will create an equitable world where everyone gets along, but that’s unrealistic. It is very possible for people to have something in common, but still approach differences with fear, avoidance, and/or distrust. Diversity does not address the issue of conflict (how it is created and addressed) or redistribution of power and influence. Because of that, diversity can’t be the ultimate goal. To move toward our desired outcome— equity—we need a deeper level of engagement that includes adequate investment of time and resources (both economic and human capital), as well as power and credibility (who are the decision makers) that will make the conversation more honest and effective.

Ramey said a common pitfall in DEI work comes when we try something and find it doesn’t deliver the change that we expected, but instead of changing the methodology, we question our commitment with equity. When organizations and leaders do this, they “strip possibility from people's lives and it also slows down the pace of growth and equity. Why? Because the people who have the power and resources to make the change often lack the will to do the work again.”

Becoming a leader who advances DEI starts with understanding and aims for accountability. Ramey offered three action steps each of us can take to powerfully shift DEI into a lens that empowers, improves, and infuses every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

Step 1:  Set Your Heart

Equity requires us to be accountable on the impact that our actions or inactions have on others.  The first step is understanding your why, setting your intentions, and ensuring your values are in alignment. You must know what it is you to do in DEI and believe equity is possible and worth the effort to endure in this work. Passion, fortitude, and emotional dexterity are foundational to stay engaged overtime. People won’t always agree on the direction or destination, and they certainly won't always agree with the degree or pace of urgency, which can leave you feeling as though people are constantly attacking you or you aren’t doing enough. If your heart is solidly aligned with your goals, though, you’ll have the confidence and perseverance to carry on as well as the ability to engage when you are asked to be accountable for the impact of your work.

Step 2: Expand Your Mind

DEI is a lens, not an initiative. In order to apply a lens, you absolutely have to be fluent in the language of your practice. That said, there is no substitute for learning. Determine how much time you are going to commit to expanding your knowledge and then start reading, participating in book clubs, and watching videos. Research terms like microaggression, systemic racism, white privilege, and white fragility that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Your ability to understand the intricacies of DEI issues, expand your emotional strength, and stay accountable will enable you to become a transformative leader in this work in your home, community, and place of employment. But you can't skip the homework.

Step 3: Make it Personal

A strong personal commitment is needed to drive people in DEI work. “My view is shaped by the urgency of my identity. I don't like DEI. I need it. I need it for my family, my friends, and my community. I need it to be safe,” said Ramey. You can't demand a company or organization show concern for DEI when you don't model a personal commitment to it yourself. You are called to ask—what does the world need? DEI leaders will often be asked to justify either the direction or the degree of urgency the company needs to take. You may need to share stories to bring people along or invite people to the table to talk about DEI’s relevance. If the organization truly understands and believes in DEI and you personally model it, you will be in a better position to explain why this is so critically important. If it isn't personal for you, it’s going to be a challenge. 

Be the Change

Regardless of where you are in your studies or career, you’ve undoubtedly worked hard to get to where you are today. Sustained action in DEI requires the same preparation, continuous learning, and ongoing skills development as you put into your coursework or job. If you have a strong constitution, fully believe in this, and develop your skills, narrative, and personal stories, you will have the power to become a transformational leader both as food scientists and DEI champions. Take the energy you give to the science of food every day and put it on this new lens. 

On-demand access to the DEI Discussion session "Beyond the Crisis Response: Turning Initial Dialogue into Sustained Action" is now available.

To learn more about IFT's commitment to DEI or to participate in future DEI Discussions, please visit our web page.

About Xavier Ramey, CEO of Justice Informed

Xavier Ramey is an award-winning social strategist, noted public speaker, and conflict mediator. Combining his background in economics, extensive management and social impact experience, and direct action campaigning in the Black Lives Matter movement, Xavier leads Justice Informed, a social impact consulting firm, that brings a wealth of experience and network to clients seeking catalyzed strategies for DEI, community engagement, public policy-informed corporate social responsibility (CSR), and equity-focused philanthropy. 

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