As the world is unfolding over diversity and inclusion (D&I) talks, solidarity is being shown to historically marginalised and overlooked communities and some actions are being taken (performative or genuine is another conversation). We see lots of articles and speaker events addressing such questions as “Where do we begin with this work?”, “What can leaders do to increase representation?”, “How can we better support minority ethnic employees?” However, more often than not these questions and curiosity is not followed with the action and impact it requires.
D&I work does not reap the fruit overnight. Those doing this work will tell you that embarking on the D&I journey is a lifelong commitment. 12 months might not be a long time when it comes to systematic change, however, it can give you a starting point to expand your knowledge, engage with communities that are different to yours, diversify your own ecosystem to welcome more varied stories into your life daily and learn. Active listening and intentional learning are the foundation of this work. However, sadly, there has been very little noteworthy positive impact, let alone a systematic one, made.
On a recent webinar where I and my fellow panellists talked about diversity driving innovation (link below), we yet again were asked the lifelong question of “what can leaders do?”. It is worth noting that, before we can do any ‘calling out’ and finger-pointing, there is a lot of ‘calling in’ that needs to happen within our own ecosystems and spaces. This work begins with self-awareness and education, and YOU are responsible for doing it. It is no one else’s responsibility of bringing it to you and serving it on a silver plate for you. This work does not lay just within corporate walls but is embedded in our everyday movements and interactions, and ignorance is no longer an excuse for ‘not knowing’.
So, here is what you can do:
- Train your muscles in agile learning. What I mean by ‘agile learning’ is, being able to live with mindful curiosity. This work does not mean you have to lock yourself away for years to read every book on race relations, accessibility or being an ally. It does mean that you have to welcome every interaction with an open mind and as an opportunity to learn. You have to ask open questions, actively listen, explore, hold space for the other person to tell their truth and their story. This does not mean that you have to understand or agree with everything, but simply find something you can learn from this interaction. It is an art to be able to speak with passion, own your truth and still walk away from the conversation with mutual respect for each other.
- Diversify your information channels. How does the information you engage with find you – what news agents, what social media sites, what groups of people? Do you find yourself hanging around the same people and networks? Do you tend to have similar interests and views on the world as them? Is it difficult to find someone who openly raises a counter-opinion or disagrees? If so, you want to diversify your information channels. Find people on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Clubhouse or any other platform, who look and think differently to you. Follow someone who you perhaps even disagree with. Most importantly, do it from a place of curiosity and willingness to learn. Swap out from your daily newspaper to some credible opinion pieces on the same topics to invite different points of view. The same goes for podcasts, films, books and other sources of information.
- Open up your senses. When you enter spaces at your work, community centre, school, pay attention to what demographics do you not see around, Who isn’t represented in the decision making spaces? Whose point is not being taken seriously? Who is constantly being interrupted? Vernā Myers, VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix suggests using your privilege to point meeting interruptions out by saying “Hey, I’ve noticed we have started interrupting people (this won’t single anyone out). May I suggest we stop that so all points are equally heard in full?” or “That’s a great point you’ve raised John, however before we dive into that, I’d like to revert back to Hannah so she can finish her saying” and similar. Walk into every space with all your senses present and open to receive.
- Don’t just ‘auto-fill the gaps. Are you making decisions on someone based on the sound of their name or their looks? Can you already see pictures and bias popping into your mind of something or someone based on what you’ve been told by someone? Find alternatives. As much as you would not like to be defined by a single narrative that someone might have of you based on where you live or shop, or of who you remind them of, do not allow yourself to become that person, either. If you start seeing yourself filling in the gaps of the ‘unknown’, expand your knowledge and understanding through credible information sources, rather than allowing your mind to play games on you. Equally, empower people around you to do the same thing. None of us is a single story or a monolith. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie famously said in her TED talk – thinking that we are is not only wrong but also dangerous
- Build bridges. The same way as you would network with someone from your circles, someone whose work you admire, someone whose passions or opinion aligns with yours, build such relationships with people who look, think and experience the world differently than you do. Listen to their stories to learn, build bridges and amplify their voices. Do you have the privilege to be in a space where certain demographics are not present or perhaps systematically kept out? It is your responsibility to bring their voices into this space.
There is little we can do about history, however, we are fully in charge of what future we write. It is also our responsibility to make sure we play our part in challenging the narratives unfolding on our watch. The change begins with you, so be the change!