What a year we just came through. As if the COVID pandemic was not enough, our world witnessed and partook in a racial reckoning we have not seen in years, maybe ever. Yet, that reckoning led to something beautiful… conversation. Whereas race, racism, equality and equity have been pushed to the fringes as “political conversation,” in 2020, reality began to set in across the United States and the globe. The issues of racism, equality and equity came to be seen not as political issues but as human issues. For the first time, the beliefs and pains of a few became the beliefs and pains of the many. We have believed in the concept of “human rights for all” in our minds for many years. In 2020, this belief moved from our heads to our hearts.
Even more, it became personal for people of all colors, backgrounds and creeds. We witnessed men and women from all walks of life and from many countries around the world pushed to tears and movement for the cause of justice.
More than likely, it became personal for you.
The question is this, “Where do we go from here?”
Where do you from here?
Now that the news cycle has changed and the world has moved on – as inevitably happens – how do you leverage the experience of 2020 to enhance your own life and leadership?
I submit to you the opportunity to embrace a mindset of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Let’s begin by defining diversity, equity and inclusion and why these definitions, and the combined definition, should matter to you.
Diversity is the recognition and acceptance of the differences and uniqueness of each individual.
Equity is providing the necessary resources depending upon the needs of the individual.
Equity is not the same as equality. I like to state the difference between equality and equity in this way: Equality is making things fair; equity is making things right. Does that make sense? Equality refers to outcome. Equity goes deeper, providing the necessary resources so that every individual has the tools they need to be just as competitive and successful as the person next to them. Equality is group-focused. Equity focuses on the needs of the individual.
Inclusion is the action of accepting, appreciating, respecting and including all members of the group because of their differences, not in spite of them.
Please notice the one similarity in these definitions. Each definition is a verb and an action statement. It is not enough to simply believe in diversity, equity and inclusion; your actions – and the actions of your team and organization – will determine your true beliefs surrounding DEI.
Let’s put these separate definitions together to create a singular definition of DEI on an organizational level: DEI is the recognition, acceptance, appreciation and respect of the uniqueness and differences that exist within humanity and people combined with providing the necessary resources to ensure every individual has the essential tools needed to be successful and help the organization thrive.
DEI brings community and organizational success through the recognition and respect of the humanity of all individuals.
DEI is foundational to the success of the organization. The question is, “Why is DEI important to you?” Even more, why should DEI be important to you?
Developing the mindset of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will infuse greater reflection, compassion and examination into your life and leadership practices. Ultimately, I submit you will be greater leader and person when you cultivate a mindset of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Let’s discuss three tools that will help life and leadership evolve by gaining mindset of DEI through reflection, examination and compassion.
Do you know the exact definition – the original definition – of the word reflection? The word “reflect” was first used in the 15th century with the following meaning: “to prevent passage of and cause the change of direction.”
In its most basic form, reflection is the precursor to a change of direction.
Let’s face it; we all have struggle with unconscious biases. I say “struggle” because what makes these biases so dangerous to our communities, our organizations and ourselves is that we do not even know these biases exist. So, we move through personal, personnel and leadership decisions without fully understanding what drives our choices, both positive and negative.
Just the other day I was speaking with a consultant who is working directly with a high-ranking executive from a large company. This consultant was asked to work with said executive, who happens to be a black woman, because she is gaining a reputation as being “too bossy” and “too aggressive.” Yet, the evidence is simply pointing to the reality that this executive is simply ambitious, highly-driven and opinionated, traits that, when found in a male, are often applauded, even celebrated. What is the difference in the situation with the high-powered, black female executive? Without knowing all of the details, I cannot give a definitive answer. However, all the signs point to subconscious bias.
Could it be that one male’s deep seated issues surrounding women and people of color are causing roadblocks for a strong and visionary leader?
You get the idea.
Inward reflection could go a long way in helping this executive – and many others – get to the heart of why they are making the decisions they are making and potentially holding back the careers of others.
When you choose to have an intentional mindset of DEI, you will be forced to reflect often about your own biases and views of the world. This reflection could be a written reflection or done in the company of a coach. Either way, when you confront yourself you will come away with greater clarity of the roadblocks standing between your current state and becoming a fully inclusive leader.
Once you confront your own inner biases, the next step is to ask intentional and hard questions of others. To have, what we like to call, “courageous conversations” or “crucial conversations.” The hard conversation happens when you examine, admit and accept your inner biases and then face them head on.
In the case of the black female executive we discussed earlier, possibly her supervisor, who is experiencing frustration with her, takes some time to intentionally reflect and, in doing so, comes to realize some of his inner struggles surrounding racism. The only way past it is through it. If he is a smart executive, he will admit his reality, sit with someone who can help him better understand his struggle in connection with global black struggle and racism. He will only ask questions and then listen with earnestness to the answers seeking to understand. He will walk away from this conversation and ask even more questions. He will read empowering books on race, racism, diversity, inclusion and equity.
He will reflect.
He will change.
His mindset will change. His actions will change.
At least we can hope.
I digress… What about you?
Where do your subconscious biases exist? Who are the people you may need to sit with and engage in a crucial conversation in order to examine yourself and the world around you in a deeper way?
A mindset of DEI will lead to deep and empowering conversations on the path towards personal evolution.
With inward reflection and intentional examination comes change in the form of compassion. What is the meaning of compassion? Pity, concern and empathy for the suffering and misfortunes of others so as to act.
Compassion is not feeling sorry for others in a way that looks down on them. It is feeling the pain of others and then acting on this pain in ways that will bring greater healing, justice and equity. Compassion is not charity. It is not simply donating to a cause or marching for two hours before going back to your quiet house in the suburbs. Compassion is to see an issue and work to find a solution in your sphere of influence.
You may not be able to solve racism on a global basis. However, you may be able to enact DEI initiatives in your team or organization. You may be able to convince your organization to find a community in your area and work to bring long-term equity to a local school, community center or youth club. The opportunities for social justice are endless within your community and organization.
I need to say something here.
This discussion is not about affirmative action. It is about compassion.
This is not about race alone. It is about inclusivity for all people.
We used the example of race, but a mindset of DEI is much larger than race. A mindset of true acceptance and respect for all people combined with the understanding that you can learn and evolve to greater heights when you are surrounded by the vast diversity which surrounds you. The mindset of DEI is a mindset of openness. The mindset of DEI is respect. The mindset of DEI is one of humility; recognizing that wisdom comes from all directions and from every kind of person. The mindset of DEI is a global perspective; an appreciation for all people from every corner of the world.
Back to our original question: How do you leverage the experience of 2020 to enhance your own life and leadership?
You reflect inwardly. You ask intentional questions. You act with compassion towards yourself and others.
These steps will lead you towards a higher mindset; a mindset of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.