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Jim Morris

Lowering the Walls that Divide Us

By Leadership, Men's work, Racism, Uncategorized

Courtesy, Central Oregon Daily News

Two weeks ago,  I talked about my hometown of Bend, Oregon and the silent move over 1,000 families have taken to pull their kids out of schools and opt instead for homeschooling, as many of them don’t like what the schools are teaching when it comes to critical race theory, racism, or the unpleasant elements of U.S. history.

My plan to follow up that post with a how-to post changed when, last Sunday night, a young man from a nearby neighborhood walked into a Safeway with a shotgun and an assault-style rifle, shot a few rounds into the air, and then walked into the store and killed two people before taking his own life.  

Our town was rocked, as was I. At the time of the attack, a buddy was across the parking lot in a Whole Foods grocery store. His recounting of being on lockdown in the store for 90 minutes made the experience even more visceral, more real. 

The murderer’s online manifesto revealed a rageful, isolated, hopeless young man who consciously used the event to take his own life. He was in his early 20’s, and he was white. It’s not a coincidence that so, so many of the people committing mass murders in the U.S. are white men; over 80% of them are. 

It’s not like the struggle with identity or the depression and anger white men feel is new. It began during the financial crisis in 2007-08 when so many people suffered catastrophic financial losses in their savings. White men in particular felt like their shot at the American dream was lost, along with their savings. 

The crisis made the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us more real. For many, the crisis provoked a loss of confidence in our financial system, economy, and even the government. Social psychologists suggest that some white people weathered the blow worse than other groups because they sensed that their race gave them an advantage in our society. Their loss, some suggest, was harder due to a sense of entitlement. Whatever the reason, individually and as a group, we white men have been in trouble ever since.  

I won’t recite all the statistics, but on a per capita basis, we’re more likely to commit suicide or acts of violence—especially with assault-style rifles—than any other group in the U.S. We use more prescription drugs, and we are less likely to ask for help or seek therapy. 

We don’t know what the Bend murderer’s life was like, but it’s a good bet he didn’t have the level of mentoring or support he needed to cope with the stresses he felt. He may have had underlying mental health issues that weren’t treated or addressed, which also could have contributed to his death. 

In the hundreds of sessions I have conducted with the thousands of participants over the past 20+ years, I have noticed that many of the angriest white men I’ve worked with feel they’ve been labeled as “white” and that, to them, being white hasn’t felt like an advantage whatsoever. 

They hate the term “white men” because it represents a stereotype of a middle-class and up, suburban-raised, liberal arts-educated person who only had a job in high school so they could buy gas for the cars their parents lent or gave them. Meanwhile, the other group of white men—the ones who were not born into as much money or convenience as others—often worked to contribute to their families from an early age, or they wore hand-me-downs to save money, or their after-school social lives were limited because they worked five days a week after school.

And now, here I am, lecturing them on who does and does not have privilege, as if I know anything about what their lives were like. 

Often they don’t see or believe that racism, sexism, or homophobia is as real as people like me think it is, but they sit through the session, afraid to voice their skepticism or reveal their truth, as they risk being labeled, or worse, being told they discriminated against someone at work. 

So here we are: on opposite sides of a deep canyon created by economic hardship and disparity, and a different view of if it is caused by individual random acts or some larger system. Our ideological differences also keep us apart, even though many of those differences stem from a belief system we inherited because of where we were born and who we were born to.

 

Here’s one first step we can take to lower the walls of the canyon, whatever our position on these topics: we can work to suspend our moral outrage, the feelings that convey an “I’m right and you are wrong” message, even if we don’t say it. Our beliefs—whatever they are—don’t make us better than anyone else, so let’s stop acting like they do.  

We don’t need to get better at debating the issues. Debating more often than not turns into an argument about who is right and who is wrong, and right or wrong in this context doesn’t help.  Moral certainty in any of us —the belief that we are in the right and others are not—just deepens the canyon and makes bridging it almost impossible. 

The tragedy of the shooting in Bend isn’t just about guns or mental health or class; it is also about the ways we marginalize, demonize, and vilify people not just after they have committed a heinous act, but when they simply tell us they disagree or they don’t see it our way.

I LOVE being right. It makes me feel better to know I KNOW something. It alleviates some of my chronic self-doubt. But if I bring that righteousness to my relationships, it will lessen my connection with others instead of enriching it. 

We know the positive behaviors to embrace that can help whomever we are “in the canyon” with climb out; empathy, compassion, care, and the gift of listening. 

We will never know what would have happened if someone could have touched the heart of the man responsible for the murders in Bend with care, listening, and compassion. I hope people tried. I hope he wasn’t made to feel small or less-than because someone was more interested in telling him he was wrong than telling him they cared.

Caring about the outcome and deepening our connection with others instead of making someone feel less than—that will make it easier for both of us to climb out of the canyon, won’t it?

 

(This is part two of a three part series by Jim.)

Here’s Why Some Families Are “Quiet Quitting” Public School

By CRT, Education

This story is part 1 of a 3 part series.

In my hometown of Bend, Oregon, the Bend-La Pine school district is experiencing an unusual decline in its student census this year compared to last year. So far, over 1000 fewer students are registered. Deschutes County is experiencing demographic growth that should, if anything, show a trend in the opposite direction. In fact, the demographics for the four-county area called the “High Desert Education Service District” show a 500% increase in homeschooling since 2019. 

Something’s up…

Obviously, a lot of the change has to do with the coronavirus, but according to Paul Andrews, superintendent of the four High Desert school districts, of which

 Deschutes County is one, there is another factor at play: “School curriculums related to the role of race and racism in the U.S. haven’t changed in the last year, but what has is the attitude of some parents towards it.”  

What I am hearing from my neighbors and friends who teach or work in public school administration here is that a lot of families are pulling their kids out of school to homeschool them because of fear and discontent about teaching critical race theory. 

I’m curious what these families think critical race theory is and what they’ve been told about it. What is it they are so concerned about that they would prefer to homeschool their kids rather than use the educational services their tax dollars already pay for?

My next reaction is to over-simplify a solution, thinking all we need to do is get more and better information on what critical race theory is into their hands so they can see it’s nothing more than an exploration of how systems sustain themselves, which makes systemic issues like racism or sexism very hard to undo at a societal level.

But there is a deeper issue at play here: many of these families feel marginalized and unheard about their concerns when it comes to topics about race, immigration, history, education, the pay gap, and class. Add to their anxiety the stories they are hearing about how “liberals” are trying to replace them with less expensive immigrant workers and that our schools’ history curricula are designed to assault their children’s self-esteem and confidence.

In Bend and nationally, this group has learned to identify people like me from a mile away. They know to avoid talking about what concerns them for fear of being judged as “Trumpers,” or ignorant, or racist, or anti-vaxxers, or worse.

I’m not reading new stories about incensed, outraged, and upset parents who are pulling their kids out of school because they feel marginalized. Many of them are just quietly taking action. Why should they hazard the kind of eye-rolling judgments people like me have been making about them for so long?

If we liberal or progressive people really want to create a world that works for everyone, we better start by practicing the tenants of diversity on ourselves. We’re not morally superior because we believe in equity or civil rights, or justice or democracy, and acting more right than others just drives them away. We reek of judgment when we objectify and make fun of them. The way we look down our noses at them sends a message about who we think is better, even if our words don’t say so. And this same group of people—the ones who are afraid of their kids learning CRTwill also tell us they believe in a similar set of pro-U.S. ideals. 

Yes, some folks choose to believe that news is more entertainment than fact, and they don’t appear to be open to feeling or seeing how stunningly disproportionate discrimination and bias is on men and women of color, or on white women, or on LGBTQ+ folks. However, they aren’t going to find their empathy or look at the data as long as they feel our supremacy over them. 

Through their votes and decisions, this group is tacitly showing us that they are willing to forgo democracy if it gives them a better chance to catch a small piece of the American dream. It’s our move, and we are failing at it. 

Let’s get to work on learning to create positive partnerships with our embattled, disenfranchised white neighbors. We don’t have to agree with them or pretend to adopt some of their points of view to get invited to dinner;  we just have to be curious and nonjudgemental enough to listen to their storiesall of themabout what they are afraid of and who they think is to blame for it.  

There are a lot of things to do after we learn to create positive partnerships, but let’s start there.

Leading and Sponsoring the DEI&B Journey: Four Experiences That Help Leaders Get There

By Diversity, Leadership

“You’ve got my supportwhatever you need,” the CEO of the company proclaimed. That’s the sort of statement we would want to hear from a CEO—whatever the issueright?  

My heart sank; his newly appointed VP of Inclusion had just spent an hour taking the combined executive and senior management teams through her draft plan to advance the organization’s inclusion journey over the year. Her plan was impressive—it detailed how the company would form and charter employee resource groups, identify key performance indicators, and connect them to a thorough series of activities and events that would ensure that the company’s inclusion strategy would be woven into their existing overall objectives and plans. She spoke with grounded surety, beginning her presentation by saying, “What I am going to show you will only get better with your input. We need to create this plan together and there is no one way to get there. Each of useach of youneeds to play a visible and distinct role in where we are going, and it’s up to you to choose how you will do that.”  


So what was the problem?  It was the CEO’s “whatever you need” comment. The VP of inclusion had just said, “Each of you needs to play a visible and distinct role…” Too often, “whatever you need…” is code for “I’m not sure what my role should be, so just tell me.” 

C-suite players are sometimes unaware that their employees will scrutinize every action, word, and decision related to a company’s inclusion strategy. Seeing an executive support DEI&B is helpful, but not nearly as much as seeing them take a distinct, active role in leading the effort. When I heard CEOs make this kind of statement in the past, it usually meant that the person in the VP of Inclusion’s role would have to hold the CEO’s hands throughout the process, which is not ideal. 

The CEO’s posture here should feel familiar to many of you, especially if you are a member of the dominant or insider group. Like this CEO, we’re sensitive enough to know that when it comes to DEI&B, we need to work with our colleagues from under-represented groups, and not take over the effort. We are also aware enough to know that there are things we don’t don’t see or experience in our workday worlds that our colleagues from other groups do experience, so we assume a more passive posture, hoping that doing so sends the right message.  

Striking the right balance between naming and owning the organization’s commitment to DEI&B and lifting up and holding others accountable for their contribution to the effort can feel like threading a needle. When in doubt, choose ownership over “just tell me what to do…” 

Share your expectations for achieving diversity representation goals, for example. Even better,  re-formulate or expand your team in accordance with those goals, THEN invite others to do the same. More personally, accept the possibility that an element of unconscious bias may be at play in your thinking. When you discover those elements, talk about your discovery and what you will do about it.  

Leading and sponsoring DEI&B is a leadership competency unlike any other. Acquiring the skill requires learning from the following experiences:

  1. Discovering our own (unconscious) mindsets: Examining one’s own lived experience when it comes to the messaging, socialization, and conditioning with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, class, and ability. Each of us inherits programming—the issue isn’t if we have it but how it impacts our credibility as leaders.
  2. Misstepping: A developmental step in learning this leadership skill requires doing it wrong before knowing how to do it right. Once we become aware of our mindsets, we must practice catching ourselves reacting to a situation based on our conditioning in ways that are counter to our espoused DEI&B values. This takes insight and courage.
  3. Owning and Recovering: Learning to name our missteps and take steps to recover from them.
  4. Noticing and Intervening when others make similar missteps.

Here’s the catch—you can’t learn from an experience you don’t have. Notice if you have a tendency to not engage in some DEI&B activities because you don’t want to misstep. Step IN: leading in DEI&B doesn’t mean you have to do it perfectly. You will misstep, but when you do, own it and keep going.  

We know how hard taking these sorts of risks can be, so we designed a special workshop on how to lead and sponsor DEI&B activities in your organizations. Our Leading and Sponsoring the DE&I Journey workshops—when delivered with teams of leaders all working in the same organization—can accelerate the experiential learning cycle and hyper-lift your organization’s engagement in the critical actions necessary to make the workplace an environment where everyone can thrive. 

Effective DEI&B leaders don’t wait to do it perfectly; they take action and course correct as they go, humbly making amends and repairs when needed. Instead of asking, “Tell me what to do,”  ask, “Do you have any feedback for me on my most recent DEI&B effort?” 

Let’s Start a Men’s Movement! Mandatory Vasectomies for All!

By Men's work, Women's Rights

Let’s hear it for Chaz Stevens. 

Never heard of him? I haven’t either, until today when a colleague told me of his story. Chaz, it seems, wants to ban the Bible in Florida public schools.

Chaz questioned the age-appropriateness of the Bible, pointing to its “casual” references to murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and fornication. “Do we really want to teach our youth about drunken orgies?” he said. He also noted the number of Biblical references to rape, bestiality, cannibalism, and infanticide.

I’m not against the Bible at all. But I am for the establishment clause of the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) and I am most definitely for Mr. Stevens who—no joke—- petitioned 63 Florida school districts to ban the Bible. 

What’s more, in Broward County, he also petitioned to ban the Oxford Dictionary, calling it “a weighty tome over 1,000 years old, containing more than 600,000 words; all very troubling if we’re trying to keep our youth from learning about race, gender, sex, and such.”

I am finally seeing a white man who isn’t a movie star or politician (though he is a self-described satirist and “stunt activist”) express his outrage at policies like the Florida state law that makes it easier for parents and county residents to challenge books in schools and having his views make the news. He didn’t just get on the news; he used his time, energy, and resources to put his idea into action.  

In light of my continued frustration at men’s complacency over the Dobbs vs. Jackson Health decision that overturned Roe v Wade, I was inspired by Chaz Stevens’ courage and creativity. What keeps the rest of us from taking a Chaz Stevens kind of step, including me?

Chaz Stevens at the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee, Fla., in 2013. Brendan Farrington/AP

I have an idea, finally: Men, let’s get organized and suggest to our state representatives that we introduce a bill that requires all men to get a vasectomy or use a male version of the birth control pill until they want to have a child when then they can apply somehow for permission. Of course, this will be almost impossible to enforce, so we’ll have to require all pregnant women to register pregnancies and claim who the father is—then the government can prosecute him/them. And for convicted rapists or deadbeat dads who don’t pay child support, let’s give them vasectomies as well. It’ll be an elegant solution for overpopulation and a strong deterrent for those who have perpetrated violence on women. Maybe the new law will soften the blow for the majority of women in the US who are outraged that their government is telling them they cannot have sovereignty over their own bodies. It’ll be a quid pro quo of sorts. 

In the name of equity, one could argue that women should also have to go on birth control and face sterilization for rape, but of course, that isn’t really necessary. Men rape women in our society, rarely is it the other way around. Yet women are the group who get penalized for being the parent nature assigned to carry a child.

If you are a man, and you read the preceding paragraphs thinking, “wow, dictating who gets sterilized and making men use birth control feels like overreach for a country like the U.S.”,  the truth is, it’s not overreaching since we overturned Roe. We now have a precedent for how far into our lives the government can exert its influence, thanks to Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health.

MEN, if we don’t fight for women’s reproductive rights, we’d better be ready to deal with the consequences when the tables are turned on us. 

But I know you don’t really believe the tables could be turned, do you, men? Yeah, neither do I. 

A lot of other mindsets and cultural beliefs—some of which are 500 years old—would have to be turned upside down before we need to be worried about government-mandated vasectomies or birth control for men. 

But reproductive rights are just the tip of the iceberg.  

What about the default view that in our society, women raise children regardless of if they are employed?  In our society, women are expected to have TWO jobs—one that takes care of domestic issues and child-rearing, and frequently, another income-earning job as well. Yes, that’s shifting some; thank God for millennials and Gen Zers—but we have a long way to go.  

What about pay equity for women at work?  Oh, that’s OK, we don’t have to pay women as much because they can’t work the same long hours as many men since women shoulder more of the domestic obligation, even if they don’t want to. This “motherhood penalty” is why mothers make 70 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. It’s clear that employees need to update their policies to reflect the reality of today’s working moms and dads.

What about single women who don’t have children? They aren’t impacted, are they? They will be now if they need an abortion and live in a state where they can go to jail for getting one. 

No matter what the issue is, there are layers upon layers of embedded cultural habits and beliefs that help sustain the status quo, which in this and many cases in our society, benefit men and disadvantage women. And our U.S. Supreme Court just made a major contribution to ensuring women will be in this weakened position for at least another generation.

Fellas, we better start lobbying now, or we’ll be next.    

On some basic level, I’m betting Chaz Stephens knows how systemic all of this is, hence his strategy: they want to ban reading books like “Gender Queer –  A Memoir” because if kids shouldn’t be exposed to LGBTQ+ issues at school (even if they are queer or gender-fluid) then we better ban the book where all of these elements are first described. 

Thank you Chaz for your courage. I’ve been stuck and struggling with where to begin. With all the social media and news I consume, yours was the first white male voice I have heard that really speaks to these issues.  

Maybe we’ll call it “The Chaz Act” when we legalize mandatory vasectomies. Won’t that be an honor for Chaz? Hmmmm.

Never mind, I’m off to write to my representative

 

**Special thanks to Peggy Nagae from The Diversity Collaborative for her ideas and positive provocation and conceptualization in the creation of this piece.

IS THE GRASS REALLY BLUE? Why Challenging the Anti-CRT Lobby Is Worth It

By CRT, History, Racism

If the assertions of the anti-Critical Race Theory lobby are largely baseless distortions of reality, then doesn’t defending critical race theory and addressing baseless claims just bring legitimacy to an otherwise illegitimate argument?

I had to  consider this question before deciding to publish Gaslights and Dog Whistles.  One colleague – someone I very much admire whose opinion means a lot to me – read the entire manuscript and suggested that I not publish it at all, or if I must, to take out references to critical race theory, white supremacy, and patriarchy. His sentiments were similar to some but not all of my colleagues  – mostly male and all white – who also felt that arguing the case might bring more attention to a baseless argument. 

Then, a friend sent me a story I had long ago forgotten: the parable of the donkey, the tiger and the lion. In it, the donkey claims that grass is blue and tries to convince the tiger to see it the same way.  The tiger – in spite of the pressure the donkey puts on him to agree –  just can’t bring himself to do it. A heated debate ensues. Frustrated, they decide to bring the matter before their supreme ruler, the lion.

They approach the lion.  Overwrought with his desire to win the argument, the donkey scrambles to approach the lion, whining ′′Your Highness, isn’t it true that the grass is blue?” 

The lion replied: “If you believe it is true, the grass is blue.”

The donkey adds: ′′The tiger disagrees with me, he contradicts and annoys me. Please punish him.”

The lion then declared: ′′The tiger will be punished with 3 days of silence.”

The donkey jumped with joy and went on his way, content and repeating ′′The grass is blue, the grass is blue…”

The tiger asked the lion, “Your Majesty, why have you punished me? After all, the grass is green!”

The lion replied, ′′You’ve known and seen the grass is green.”

The tiger asked, ′′So why do you punish me?”

The lion replied, “The punishment has nothing to do with whether the grass is blue or green. The punishment is because it is degrading for a brave, intelligent creature like you to waste time arguing with an ass, and on top of that, you came and bothered me with that question just to validate something you already knew was true!”

The point the parable makes is that intelligent people shouldn’t argue over a point that is nonsense because it lowers them. Also, why bother arguing with somebody who has no interest in the truth or the facts?

I understood the parable’s parallels to my quandary. The grass IS green; racism and discrimination in the U.S. is a real and important chapter in U.S. history, and the chapter is still being written. Why continue to discuss or argue about the obvious?

For me, it is a matter of magnitude and impact.  The “grass is blue” strategy – as baseless as it is – has activated fear and avoidance in executives in the private and government sectors to the degree that some suspended or camouflaged their organization’s work towards inclusion to avoid scrutiny or the risk of being defunded.  35 states are considering banning the teaching or reading of the history of slavery and the struggle for civil rights in the US and around the world. These actions make the assertions of DE&I detractors seem reasonable, lending credibility to the” grass is blue” strategy.

If the only voices being heard are theirs, then how does what has and is happening in history survive?

Mei Ratz, a colleague and brilliant coach and interventionist, poignantly said “Bending history is dangerous because it contorts the lessons we are meant to take from it. If we bend history to protect the abuser, we erase who they abused entirely.” 

It should come as no surprise that almost 100% of the ban proponents are white.  What does that tell us? What color is the real “grass” in this debate?

Go ahead. Tell me I am the tiger. I agree.

There is a difference between protecting our pride and defending our dignity and I think standing up for the facts and for real history – however embarrassing and shameful it is – need not reduce anyone’s status or self-respect.  It takes courage to take responsibility, so call us “tigers” all you want.

We need to remember the grass is green, no matter what some say.

bans off my body

Not My Independence Day

By Women's Rights

The Supreme Court has decided to strike down Roe v Wade, according to an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and obtained by Politico [File: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

What Men Can Do to Stand Up for a Woman’s Right to Choose

Well, at least I waited until after July 4th to publish this. We all deserve a break, but now it’s time to get back to work.

I struggled mightily to celebrate our independence this year. Was it hard for you?  I hate to say it, but  I hope it was. I hope I am not alone. 

It’s hard to celebrate our collective independence when I feel like our independence as a society is shrinking, or maybe it’s just that our interdependence is shrinking. 

Perhaps we should rename it “Interdependence Day” as a reminder of what makes us and keeps us strong…

I used to be able to convince myself that being male insulated me to some degree from any direct impacts of the overturning of the Roe v Wade (Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization) decision. But in truth, I am impacted, and so is every man.

We now live in a society where fully one-half of our population has fewer rights and freedom about their own bodies than they had prior to Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. They have less independence or “agency,” as the dissenting judges named it, to make decisions about what to do if they become pregnant. Meanwhile, there isn’t a law or statute in the land that makes their male counterparts responsible—even just a little—for impregnating them. Living in a country where half of the population is experiencing direct marginalization due to ideological overreach is something I feel and notice. As the saying goes, “some of my best friends are women.” How could I not be impacted by the decision, knowing and seeing the impact of overturning Roe v Wade has on them?

Is my sense of freedom and independence lessened by the decision, when every woman in my life now has less independence? Of course it is. All the women in my life are feminists and are outspoken advocates for women’s rights. It doesn’t matter if they are beyond childbearing years or not.

This Supreme Court decision is heartbreaking for women in ways I can only begin to fathom. 

I’ve been in three different discussions in as many weeks with groups of men in which at least one of them has said that women “…just need to speak up louder about their rights” in response to the ruling. To me, their advice goes beyond the pale—it’s egregiously inappropriate. There is no excuse and no reason to say it, and claiming innocent ignorance won’t get you a pass with me any longer.

Throughout my entire life, women have been fighting for their rights, not only for reproductive freedom, but also in regards to pay equity, family and parental status, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and women’s health. The issue isn’t how loudly or how many of them speak up—saying as much perpetuates the idea that these issues are theirs to solve. The issues, I submit, are also OURS to solve because it’s us—men—that have the firmest grasp on maintaining the status quo, and it is we who continue to do and say the most things that minimize the issue and degrade progress.

In a variety of ways, we’ve been telling women to speak up their whole lives. When we give them career or professional advice, we often tell them to be more assertive—to be more like us. When it comes to sharing their opinions, we are far more likely to harshly judge or challenge women than we are our male counterparts. And literally, when they are in meetings with us, we tell them to speak louder because we can’t hear them over the volume and frequency of our own voices and the amount of time and space, proportionally, that we take up compared to them.

Independence? I don’t think so…not today.

Men, here’s what I am trying/doing/experimenting with to find out what helps the most:

Listen with empathy. This is HUGE. What I hear from the women in my life as they don’t necessarily need me to fix the problem, but they do need me to listen to their experiences. I have to admit, listening to anyone tell me about their problems without rendering a suggestion for a solution makes it hard for me to stay present. However, I’ve been repeatedly told they don’t need my opinions, they need me to understand and empathize with their reality.

Become more aware of the power that is yours because you are a man. Notice what is easier for you either because of your own physical power or because of the prestige or credibility that your gender gives you. This applies to everything from how car salesmen treat you to your own assumption that women just have to be more assertive. Those are examples of your power talking. And incidentally, stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re more powerful than a woman. Overall you aren’t, but there are ways in which society values and favors our strengths versus women’s strengths, and that unfairly tips the scales for us.

Become less tolerant of men who are unaware of their own sexism or misogyny. I’m not saying you should pick a fight with them or intentionally insult or abuse them, but it’s time to take off the kid gloves when men make ignorant statements about women. You’ve seen it, the uncomfortable situation where a man says or does something you just know he would not do in the presence of women, and he expects to get away with it because he is in the safety of only men. Don’t collude anymore; call him on it. The era of silent collusion needs to be over.

Publicly intervene with yourself when you say things or behave in the ways that you’re critical of other men for doing. Call yourself out publicly; the intent here isn’t for you to practice performative self-flagellation, but rather to model and practice your own developing self-awareness. If you want to be a model for other men, do so by correcting yourself when you blow it, not just by proving how aware or sensitive you are.

Stand up for women in leadership roles and notice your own and other men’s tendency to be (overly) critical of them. I’m fatigued hearing men talk about “strong women” in ways that also degrade them for being too much like a man, or too “butch” or just too assertive. Let your observations about women’s leadership stand without needing to offer a critique to offset their attributes. I notice that as males, we do this a lot more with women than we do with other men.

Loudly voice your dissent and dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court’s decision. Don’t assume that the way things are is just the way things will be. We simply cannot allow the Supreme Court decision to stand without vehemently but peacefully protesting our discontent with the decision. We also must pursue all available means to overturn the decision in ways that reflect the popular opinion of most U.S. citizens.

Let’s work alongside women to help find ways to change things, now. We owe it to their—and our—legacy of interdependence as a democratic society. 

If not now, when? sign

Tips on Starting a DE&I Office in an Organization

By Diversity

It’s a phenomenon that happens every day—more frequently since the heightened focus on racial justice and diversity, equity and inclusion began in the spring of 2020:

well-meaning organizations rushing to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion function or office that is embedded in their business.

The goal of such as DEI office is to not only help with compliance issues like hiring and employment practices, but also to promote positive employee engagement activities such as employee resource groups and diversity councils that advise and advocate for equity across the enterprise.

I’ve got several clients and even friends who are Chief Diversity Officers or Senior VPs of diversity in their organizations. Some of them report making great progress in key areas such as representation, employee engagement and creating real business practices that promote equity and diversity. Others work to manage their frustration with the unrelenting resistance and skepticism they encounter from their peers or senior leaders. As an outside observer, their roles appear to be very stressful. Most of them become the voice for minoritized or underrepresented group members within their organizations, and they have to manage the paradox of gently (usually) leading their colleagues and CEOs towards their vision of DE&I for the organization on the one hand, while hearing personal accounts from employees on how they don’t see or feel inclusion efforts are really making a difference. CDO level turnover rates are high, and when they leave, they are less likely to take another diversity chief role, opting instead for a different type of job that is less stressful.

In 2021, hiring of diversity chiefs tripled within Standard & Poor’s 500 index firms, according to a report by Russell Reynolds and Associates. However, only about 53% of S&P 500 firms have a Senior Diversity role, up from 47% in 2018.  Given that CDO roles have been common in corporations for two decades or longer, one has to wonder if organizations who are just now creating an executive-level diversity function are doing so in part to keep up with the competition and pursuit of the best talent, or if their efforts aren’t more about optics than about a commitment to equity and the tenants of inclusion. I’m pretty sure if I asked the CEOs of the Fortune 100 companies I’ve worked with if they felt their commitment to diversity was more about optics and appearances, all of them would take great offense. But given the struggle to make progress in representation numbers in all but a few sectors, this adage applies: “if you want to know where somebody really stands when it comes to commitment to DEI&B (Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging), look at their feet,” meaning judge them on what they are actually doing versus what they say they want to do.

Is taking a rushed, unmethodical approach to setting up a new diversity function wrong or bad given what’s happening in the world? My answer is “No”, even if the organization is late to engage or if their commitment feels tentative. Starting the process—however imperfect—has got to be better than doing nothing, right? Most of us in the corporate DE&I space have examples of ill-conceived or poorly executed diversity function launches that created scar tissue in the culture that took years to heal. To learn more about the dos and don’ts, I talked with a few of my CDO/diversity executive friends and colleagues about what they think executive teams need to consider when starting a diversity function, and what advice they would offer to the individuals who are placed in those positions. Here’s what I learned.

For executive teams and heads-of-entity:

  • CDOs or heads of diversity offices need to be not afraid to speak truth to power and to have the confidence to say what needs to be said. Change is not fun, so you have to be resilient and expect push-back and to be ready to apply the pressure, gently and at the right times. Being a member of an (underrepresented) group doesn’t qualify anyone for those sorts of jobs, even if we’ve got great leadership and people skills. You can start with someone like that, but they are going to need support to be successful. It’s always a team effort, and if they don’t get executive sponsorship and the resources to be successful, they will fail. There is a lot to know if you are in that role, especially when it comes to understanding the range of diversity dimensions, including Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, Accessibility, and Justice,” said Dr. Gena Davis of True Synergy, a consulting company that actually does outsourced Diversity function start-up and management for private clients in the entertainment industry and other sectors. ¹
  • Diversity chiefs need to develop and use their systems thinking skills to imbed diversity or “DEIBA&J.” It’s a multidisciplinary challenge involving change management, organizational development, professional and talent development, strategy, and execution. Setting priorities and connecting all of the actions into a coherent plan takes experience and practice.  

For example, I was brought in to deliver training to help a client engage senior leaders who were dominant group members of what the client called “non-diverse” leaders in an organization-wide inclusion effort. The client invested a lot of resources and energy into making sure everyone got a thorough and impactful introductory learning experience. As the last groups started to do the training, I was invited to a meeting with volunteers who had agreed to be “change champions” to help sustain the learning people got from the training. The executive sponsor attended the meeting and I could tell they were anxious by comments like, “We’ve invested a LOT of money in this,” and “People better start showing it was worth it.” In the meeting, we discovered that the training wasn’t linked to any tangible expectation or next step for the organization. The training was THE diversity strategy, period. The sponsor, DEI chief, and change champions all learned a valuable lesson: imbedding DEIBA&J needs to be composed of both events and internal activities that address the way people work, day-to-day.  

  • Avoid thinking that hiring a person or persons to work in diversity means that the executive team now doesn’t have responsibility for advancing it. The opposite is true; dedicating resources to diversity will only yield results if and when the executive team lives and breathes and behaves the espoused values of the organization with regard DEIBA&J. “We have a saying that applies to companies who do DEIBA&J effectively says Dr. Gena: ‘Make the company match the brand’ and we believe it.” 

For diversity chiefs, directors, or managers who were promoted from within: 

I asked Tanya Blackmon, the President of Auspen Consulting and the former Chief DE&I Officer of a large healthcare organization, to share what she knows.  Here are few of her gems:

  • Ask the executives, “What does that mean to you for us to ‘do’ diversity, equity, and inclusion?” Sometimes it really means, “Can you help us figure out what to do about important holidays like Black History Month, Cinco de Mayo, Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, and such?” Be prepared for their answers to be all over the map. It will give you a good idea of how you might be able to be an ally to them as they learn more about what you are doing.   
  • Set an intent and be ready for it to be a long-term journey. It’s important to take a long- term view of what you are doing and remember your ultimate intention, even if no one else does. You have to meet people where they are and realize that everyone moves on this journey at a different pace.” 
  • Be ready to encounter resistance and to expect and even invite it. If you don’t feel any resistance in your work, it may be because people have gone silent versus supporting DEIBA&J. I learned to view no resistance as a bad thing; it’s a totally natural reaction for people, especially if they are comfortable with the status quo. if you’re not feeling any resistance, chances are you’re not moving the culture.

Dr. Gena Davis offered a few great suggestions as well:

  • If possible, before taking the job, clarify the organization’s goals for creating a diversity function or office. The more specific you can make your questions the better. Here are a few ideas about what sorts of questions to ask.
    • What is the organization’s intent behind creating a diversity function?
    • How will we/you know if we are making progress and how will we be measuring it? 
    • What sort of financial resources is the company going to commit towards diversity?
    • How will the company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion be incorporated into the organization’s strategy?

Here are a few suggestions I’ve learned from others:

  • Go on a listening tour or set up listening circles to hear from as wide and diverse a set of employees as possible. This process gives you a chance to develop dialogue and rapport with a lot of people, which also helps them understand what you see as the diversity office’s role for the company. To do this, identify the key questions that you want to ask everybody. Tanya once told me her last listening tour encompassed feedback from over 700 employees (in small groups and individually) in an organization of over 10,000 people.
  • Form a diversity (or DEIBA&J) advisory council. They can become your board of directors of sorts and give you input and feedback in the direction, focus, and effectiveness of your department. Make sure the committee is composed of passionate key players, and don’t limit it to people who are thoroughly familiar with diversity, equity, and inclusion. If they are capable senior level professionals, they will learn their way into being an Advisory Council Member.

There is no one way to start and lead a DEI office or function, no prescribed or guaranteed formula. Each diversity chief has their own strengths, limitations, experience, and knowledge that they need to humbly and attentively pair with what they perceive the organization’s needs are. What’s clear is that the world is becoming more diverse, and companies who do DE&I effectively will have the competitive advantage. 

They already do.

 

¹ Remembering to use this long acronym “DEIBA&J” is another piece of advice I got from Dr. Gena. “If we’re going to talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we can’t leave out access, which is such an important and overlooked element of diversity, both in society and in organizations. When we look at all of those different dimensions together, we create belonging, which is why we include the “B” and for progressive companies, even in the for-profit sector, “Justice” is becoming more and more important to them, especially the new Z demographic entering the workplace.”

Leaders: Don’t Shy Away From Talking About the Buffalo Shooting at Work

By Racism

If you’re a leader or business owner working in the US and you think that coming back to work today was just another normal day, it wasn’tat least for some folks.


On May 14th, a white supremacist committed yet another mass shooting in Buffalo, killing 10 people. Like many other mass shooters with a racist agenda, he was young
—only 18 years old. He traveled several hours to get to the location which was carefully selected for its proximity to communities of color, ensuring there would be plenty of unarmed, unprotected, un-expecting victims. Like many of the shooters before him, this mass shooter referenced the idea of replacement theory, a made-up piece of pure fiction designed to stoke white fear and racism based on the myth that “white genocide” is being used to replace white people in the US with people of color. In spite of the attention replacement theory is getting on one conservative news channel, it carries about the same level of credibility and proof as the flat-earth theory

It’s gaslighting at its most toxic and deadly. 

The message this shooting sends to so many employees is that no place is safe, including the workplace (keeping in mind that the definition of “workplace” has and is shifting).   Some of you may be saying, “Well, that’s not going to happen where I work,” and that might be truefor youin your neighborhood or community. 

Just because you may not feel afraid at work doesn’t
mean everyone shares your sense of safety. 

Now more than ever, every business leader needs to think about the physical and emotional safety of their employees. All of us should pay attention to and work to alleviate the disproportionate impact, stress, and trauma that men and women of color are experiencing because of the devastation and volume of events like the shootings in Buffalo.

 


At the risk of explaining the obvious but in the spirit that it is better to be empathetic than unaware, here a few suggestions for those of you who are people leaders in businesses today:

  1. Don’t assume that because nobody’s talking about the mass shooting, people aren’t impacted by it or aware of it. More than likely, someone in your group, team, or organization is watching to see if you notice what happened on Saturday and if you’re willing to speak about it. And by “speaking about it,” I mean, are you willing to go first by being vulnerable and sharing how the Buffalo shooting impacted you?  Describe the fears that this kind of event engenders in you and your loved ones. After all, there is enough gun violence in this country to make all of us afraid.

     

  2. If you are going to talk and share, talk to everyone, not just people of color. People who are on the outside because of their race or ethnicity may feel they are “othered” all the time—singled out as if they are the only ones impacted. Be inclusive.Talk about how you are feeling about what happened and invite others to share, or not share.

     

  3. Do your best to stay away from cerebral conversations about politics or gun legislation, or survey and polling data that show how violent 2022 is compared to previous years. Folks who are afraid need to hear and feel your empathy, not your mastery of the data or facts. What fears do events like what happened in Buffalo this weekend bring up in you?

     

  4. While you’re at it, now would be a good time to think about what “being safe” might look and feel like to a member of an underrepresented group working in your organization. Does your workplace have security protocols in place to ensure that whoever comes in your workplace is there to conduct business with you? Is the parking lot well-lit and are there security precautions in place for people who fear for their safety at night or after work hours?  Ask yourself this question: how is your place of business unsafe? Use your answers to help develop a plan for making your workplace safer.

     

  5. If you don’t actually understand what it might feel like to be a black or brown person  coping with the trauma, grief, and terror associated with a racially-motivated mass shooting, don’t pretend you do understand. It’s okay to say, “I can only imagine what it might feel like to be you given what’s just happened. How can I support you?” Some may look at you quizzically as if they don’t understand what you’re talking about. Others may feel like you’re calling them out just because of their race or ethnicity. These are all valid observations; there is no one way to be inclusive and understanding. Be ready to apologize (especially to yourself) if someone takes offense. But keep in mind that there will always be people who will appreciate your honesty and gesture of support, regardless of whether they need it or not.

     

  6. Don’t make generalizations about how black people feel based on what you hear from one or even several persons.  I can remember a black colleague of mine who was brave enough to tell me that asking him if “All of you feel the same way…” was not only racist, but downright insulting, as if each person can’t have their own, unique perspective and response.

     

  7. Connected to the point above, be ready for a variety of reactions when you initiate a conversation with people at work about the shooting. Some may feel indifferent, while others may be relieved you’ve created space to talk about it. Some may feel uncomfortable sharing anything. Suspending judgment about what is being said is also a really important step towards making work safer for everyone. 
I don’t know what we can do to end these sorts of horrific events, or what needs to happen to help us as a society find a way to evolve out of them. I do know that when I authentically engage with people not only about how they feel, but also about how I’m feeling, neither of us feels as alone, and somehow that makes me feel more hopeful and less despondent about the future.