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Navigating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conversations

Navigating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ConversationsWhat’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Why Should We Care About It?

It’s easy to talk about the things we have in common. When we meet people, we start with what we all relate to. “Is it still raining out there? Are you also flying home? ­­­You got tickets to Hamilton?!

It’s a lot harder to talk about differences.

It’s even harder to talk about differences when they’re about our identities. We’re sharing something personal. It makes us feel vulnerable, because we often don’t know how the other person will react. Will they actually listen to my story about growing up as a Chinese-American? Or are they just going dismiss it and ask, “But, where are you REALLY from?”

If it’s so hard, why do we need to talk about it? We may all be kind people with good intentions, but we all have blind spots and implicit biases we don’t notice.

Racial, gender, and socioeconomic biases are systematically embedded in our society. Because we’re brought up in that society, these biases are also ingrained in us—sometimes unconsciously. In college, my psychology class took Harvard’s Implicit Association Test to identify our implicit biases. We had all learned that we were unconsciously biased to some degree, but seeing my own test results wasn’t any less alarming.

Sometimes, we’re simply unaware of what other people need. Recently, a colleague shared the challenges of returning to work as a new mother. One challenge she shared was finding the time and space to pump breast milk. I hadn’t thought about the logistical difficulties new mothers face at all. After our conversation, I started to remind myself to consider these needs whenever I schedule meetings or use the conference rooms without glass doors.

If we don’t try to talk to others about their experiences and challenges, we’ll end up with policies and designs that are inconsiderate. Primarily, non-dominant groups such as women, people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities, among others, are the ones who are affected by this. We see this in society. People in wheelchairs suffer the burdens and indignities of having to ask their friends and family to lift them up flights of stairs and cram them through narrow doorways. We also see this in the workplace. Women aren’t guaranteed paid maternity leave. In fact, according to the Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private sector employees have access to paid family leave.

To fight our biases and blind spots, we need to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

How Can We Improve Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

Last year, we started the GuideStar Equity Team to improve our DEI practices, policy, and culture. Many of us have talked about DEI in the past, but it was the first time GuideStar dedicated a committee of staff to plan large-scale DEI conversations with everyone. I’m excited to be one of the 15 members helping to create change for GuideStar.

I’m learning a lot from my time on the GuideStar Equity Team about how to have meaningful conversations about DEI. Today, I want to share three tips:

  • Get on the same page
  • Step into your co-workers’ shoes
  • Keep building on your strengths but don’t forget about your weaknesses 

1. Get on the Same Page

We can’t talk about DEI without understanding what it is, why it matters, and how to improve it. So, the GuideStar Equity Team launched an organization-wide assessment to understand how staff felt about GuideStar’s culture of DEI and leadership development and opportunities.

The assessment showed that we’re diverse in many ways—by gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, and tenure. It validated that we’re doing some things right.

But, it also showed that we still have a lot of work to do. For example, on average, men at GuideStar are a lot more satisfied with their opportunities for leadership development than women. Data like these suggest that we’re not immune to society's biases.

It’s easy to think “this couldn’t happen here” when we don’t have data to confirm what our weaknesses are. The assessment forced us to take a hard look at our weaknesses and start conversations about them.

2. Step into Your Co-worker’s Shoes

Earlier, I mentioned my blind spot when it comes to the challenges that new mothers face. When we talk about DEI, we will at times hear about concepts and experiences that are new to us. It’s important to embrace new perspectives as they challenge us to see the world differently.

To combat our own blind spots, try on new perspectives and put aside doubts. If you catch yourself thinking “I’ve never seen this happen” or “This data doesn’t seem right,” try not to focus on that. Consider this: If it were happening, what would you do about it?

Encourage yourself and others to step into your co-workers’ shoes. We must fight the urges to dismiss others’ perspectives when they don’t align with our own. Only then can we begin to find ways to improve.

3. Keep Building on Your Strengths, but Don’t Forget about Your Weaknesses

People often feel more comfortable talking about strengths than weaknesses. It's especially difficult for people who haven’t had to confront these issues before. Only talking about strengths isn’t enough. But, there are opportunities to examine and improve upon the things we’re doing well.

Our assessment showed that, on average, our staff believes GuideStar has done a good job of attracting a diverse candidate pool. But while we’ve improved our HR practices there, we have yet to find a way to uniformly ensure that our hiring managers interview an equally diverse pool of candidates. We’re lucky that many of our hiring managers are aware of implicit biases and think about DEI when they hire. But if some of these managers leave, these good practices may leave with them. It’s crucial to institutionalize practices like these to ensure that we don’t lose what we currently have.

Talking about our weaknesses is important, but improvements can—and should—come from both our weaknesses and strengths.

Closing Thoughts

When people with strong feelings about DEI get together in the same room to talk about these intimate and challenging issues, tensions flare up. Getting on the same page with everyone, stepping into your co-worker’s shoes, and building on both your strengths and weaknesses can help ease some of these tensions. But talking about our identities and our weaknesses will be never easy. Despite all the discomfort, DEI conversations are important, because they help us address and recognize our biases and blind spots. Only then can we foster an environment that is equitable and inclusive of all identities.

Navigating Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ConversationsWynne Chan is GuideStars manager, strategy & finance.

Topics: GuideStar Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DEI