I recently met with a division leader of a large corporation about effective Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) strategies for his group. He shared that he recently implemented DE&I metrics in his division and was both surprised and disappointed at the amount of resistance and pushback he was receiving, especially from the white men. He went on to say how excited he was to begin implicit bias training with his team. While I applauded his initiative, I had some reservations about his approach. Implicit bias training, like other diversity “training”, is an essential element to raising self-awareness, but what it does not address is the motivation to do and be better. People have to care that they have biases and want to change. That will only come when there is empathy between individuals. If individuals are connected to one another and care for the well-being of each other, there will be motivation for change. At the heart of successful DE&I efforts are strong, trusting relationships.
How do I know this? My 24 years of experience in the field affords me some perspective on effective strategies for DE&I. I also have the benefit of having access to some of the best and newest approaches in the diversity field because of my continued involvement with law enforcement. Law enforcement is the recipient of cutting-edge training approaches and tools. From a statistical standpoint, these officers work with the most diverse populations daily. Furthermore, the topic of social and legal justice has been and continues to be key for law enforcement and community. In my own professional career, I have seen the employment of verbal judo, engaging in courtesy carstops, collecting carstop data, and training in Constitutional Policing, racial profiling, and implicit bias. There have been varying degrees of success, but it is clear that we continue to have a problem with bias in both individuals and the system.
In my perspective, the strategies are not necessarily bad, and in many cases I would advocate that they are absolutely necessary, but they are not sufficient on their own because they do not address the fundamental need for connection and care. If you look at the nature of these efforts, they are procedural or tactical approaches to a relational issue.
So, where do we begin? Start building relationships by increasing capacity for empathy. Develop empathy by becoming a great listener. Elevate your empathy by increasing awareness and expanding knowledge by asking more powerful questions. Show your empathy by being genuinely curious.
These conversations are not always easy, especially in the workplace. The topics of bias, bigotry, and prejudice can be triggers for some. Spend time preparing yourself for not only what you will say, but also how you might respond if something goes awry. Consider readying yourself to be able to say with deep conviction, “I had not thought of it like that. I understand better now,” or “I should do some more research before I argue this point.” Being able to expand perspective like this takes stamina. People should not give up on their relationships simply because of a bad interaction or two. Keep at it. Do not give up.
Creating an inclusive culture, which is the ultimate goal, is built on the foundation of relationship and trust. Focus on the fundamentals first. Cultivate the environment that will be receptive to more advanced initiatives. Set yourself up for success not only in the DE&I space, but also for your whole organization.