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Settling for Hope Over Committment

By CRT, DE&I, Diversity, Education, Leadership, Workplace Culture

Is DEI Training Doing More Harm than Good?

 

This op-ed piece by Jesse Singal in The New York Times appeared today and before I had even read it, we had received five different emails, texts, or prompts, asking us what we thought about it. 

The piece posits that there is little evidence to show that diversity training – which reached its zenith in 2020 and 2021 in terms of dollars spent and employee requests for training – has any positive long-term effects. The piece also posits that some diversity initiatives worsen what Mr. Singal calls the “DEI climates“ of the organizations that sponsor them. 

Mr. Singal’s treatment of the topic and the citations he used are decidedly one-sided. In today’s “one and done” information environment it’s concerning that some may take his opinion as fact instead of as one perspective. Suffice it to say, organizations like Catalyst, COQUAL, and others conducted studies illustrating how DEI training has substantively contributed to positive gains for individuals and their organizations. 

Instead of taking issue with Mr. Singal’s assertions and claims about the effectiveness of DEI training now and then, or splitting hairs about what he means when he writes “positive long-term effects,” let’s talk about what we can learn from the piece in service of our work.

In general, I agree with one of Mr. Singal’s primary points –  if organizations want to generate ROI through a DEI&B strategy, training alone won’t work. Also, training that focuses on hearts and minds at the expense of behaviors and actions won’t change results quickly enough to make the grade in today’s impatient, profit-over-process, corporate environment. ©

Most DEI&B practitioners agree that organizations have to focus on changing processes and practices related to DEI&B in tandem with employee development and learning to achieve lasting results. But the reality is, it’s faster and strategically more practical to conduct an emotionally impactful – even transformative – learning event than it is to shift process and practice. 

The DEI managers I know report that it is easier to secure funding or support for training than for the complicated work of shifting culture. One is an event, the other is a process best measured over years or decades vs. months. Plus offering training might be rationalized as a reasonable alternative (or distraction) from the real issues. It is in scenarios like these where all too often, we diversity practitioners settle for hope instead of commitment.

But in the Spring of 2020 employees didn’t want to merely sit at their desks – alone and in their socially isolated homes – and work on changes in policies or practices. Amidst a backdrop of angst and images of worldwide civil rights protests, some wanted to talk about the years of suppressed daily lived experience of discrimination, hate, and bias at work they have been quietly living with. Hearing these stories, others wanted to better understand why they had missed seeing what their colleagues were going through. And, still others – craving the “good old days” – questioned the premise or need for the entire exercise. 

So what can we do to ensure diversity training makes a positive difference?

  1. First and foremost – and hopefully this is obvious – conduct training events in tandem with activities that implement well-thought-out changes in policy and practice. For example, pair up internal customer satisfaction initiatives with a learning experience on intercultural competency to increase listening and empathy with customers from other geographies or cultures.
  2. Hold managers accountable for applying the terms, concepts, and habits that foster inclusion. Include measuring how well they create and lead a diverse team, including their ability to attract and retain great people. 
  3. Resist the urge to prescribe processes and practices in a “top-down” way unless absolutely necessary.  Better to co-create activities and organizational practices that help everyone feel like they belong. One way to do that is to facilitate sessions where managers and specialists such as HR leads work to create the desired processes and practices, together. Research shows that managers and leaders do a better job of supporting or enforcing something they helped to create, so involve them in the creation phase. In general, train less – co-create more.
  4. To the degree that it is possible, eliminate compulsory DE&I training,  Getting people to see that which is right in front of them but might be invisible is hard enough, doing that with people who have a chip on their shoulders because they felt threatened into attending isn’t very inclusive. If you have no choice but to make DEI training compulsory make sure that whatever training you offer stays away from anything that takes a blaming or shaming tone.
  5. Ensure every training event is conducted with respect and openness. Beware of training that attempts to change people’s behaviors through guilt, embarrassment, or shame. Psychologists proved a long time ago that, over the long term,  these tactics do more harm than good.  
  6. Conversely, if someone is starting to feel or see something that has been invisible to them their entire lives, feelings of discomfort and “cognitive dissonance” may be normal. Acknowledge those feelings when they arise and offer reassurance. As someone once said, “the truth shall set you free, but first, it might make you miserable.”
  7. And, finally, if you are  of another marginalized group, be ready for dominant group members – white men and women in the US and men in general around the world – to feel a disproportionate amount of discomfort, angst, and disagreement in DEI&B learning. This isn’t intentional but it is also not unusual. Dominant group members routinely see and feel the impact of discrimination less often than their colleagues from underrepresented or marginalized colleagues. Give them time, and empathize with how hard it is to feel new emotions while they learn to empathize with what it has been like for you to carry a lifetime of harm and insult with you.

Framing issues in “more harm than good” binary terms makes for great headlines but is counter to progress. Embedding DEI in organizations is an imprecise process that ultimately and inexorably shifts organizational culture in virtuous and sometimes subtle ways. Let’s keep finding ways to make it better.

Setting My Inclusion Intentions for 2023

By Communication, DE&I, Diversity, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Workplace Culture No Comments

New Personal Inclusion Practices I (am determined to) Adopt

 

No More Using “Woke.” Derived from the term “awake” which is what people of color – especially black people – had to be in order to protect themselves from being attacked, murdered, or lynched, the terms “Woke” or “Wokeness” have been re-appropriated by people who use them to trivialize the actions of those who stand up for and support civil rights issues. For more on this, see my blog, “Understanding Wokeness.”

Managing My/JMC’s Use of Social Media More Responsibly. We are learning more about the algorithm every day and how it intentionally hooks us with emotional content and moral outrage, prompting us to respond with more emotion and outrage. I am guilty as charged. Of course, there are pros and cons to social media. In this country, social media platforms have served as venues for social activism (such as the Black Lives Matter movement) for many years. However, social media platforms have also united anti-vaxxers, election conspiracists, and white nationalists, helping to brew the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Until we find ways to manage social media AND preserve everyone’s 1st Amendment rights, it’s on each of us to manage the madness caused by our use of social media.

Slow Down. I can rationalize my high bias for action and off the charts “D” behaviors (if you know the DiSC profile) all day long, but the truth is, I have a terrible habit of reacting and responding and acting too quickly. Somehow I’ve fallen into the mindset that every issue is a fire and I have a bucket of water. In 99.9% of the situations where I slow down and mindfully contemplate what is happening, or just allow things to transpire a bit before I jump into the fray, slowing down has been a good decision. I’m committed to changing this mindset this year and, frankly, I’m a bit ashamed I’ve been so slow to improve on it.

Keep Bringing (and Asking for) Vulnerability. For me this means learning to name and claim my emotions and talk about them, especially when I’m afraid of being judged or misunderstood for feeling unsavory emotions that might make people think less of me. I’ve made progress on knowing how I am feeling faster, so owning my feelings when doing so is appropriate feels like a good next step.

Interrupting and intervening on men who mansplain or cut women and others off in meetings AND continuing to notice and control my own mansplaining tendencies.  I don’t want to be perceived as being the great corrector as if I am better than everyone else (I’m not) but there are a number of people in my life – men, women, and everyone in between – who still mansplain. It’s patronizing, rude, and shuts down healthy dialogue. I notice how few people actually intervene on mansplainers – they don’t want to be rude, I suppose – but I’ve decided the risk is worth the reward most of the time.

Sharing my story with others and building better partnerships.  I’m great at getting others to talk about themselves and much less good at sharing my own stories. Two-way sharing of important stories helps foster connection. Pummeling people with questions about themselves without sharing anything about myself is some sort of weird unconscious control game I have learned to play. I have lots of excuses for why I do this, but I also have lots of data that tells me reciprocity is a key element of partnership.  

Improving and addressing my unconscious bias about non-binary, gender fluid, and gender queer sexual expression. I forget to use the pronouns people ask to be called by. I sometimes forget to announce and name my pronouns when meeting people as if it should be obvious to everyone what my gender identity is. I continue to talk about men and women as if gender is either/or versus a continuum, even though I know and believe it IS a continuum. Worst of all, I minimize the impact my bias has on others, assuming they’ll not be offended when I misstep. I’ve been aware of this dynamic for well over 10 years, and dammit, it’s time to commit to changing my mindset about it.

That’s a pretty ambitious list for this old dog, but I know I can make progress on it if I set my intention to do so. 

Do you have personal practices that you’re committing to changing in 2023? Let me know what you’re working on if you can, or feel free to comment on how you made progress in some of these areas if they apply to you.  

The State of DEI: Six Questions Every Leadership Team Needs to Answer

By DE&I, Diversity, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Workplace Culture

 

Recently, a Workday study on the state of DEI came out. In this study, they surveyed over 3000 HR and business leaders from 23 countries. Here were a few of the top line bullets the survey data revealed:

The top four key reasons that make up the business case for DE&I are:

  • Improve staff wellbeing – 41%
  • Attract and develop talent – 40%
  • Attract and recruit a diverse workforce – 38%
  • Improve employee engagement – 38%

The DEI initiatives most commonly undertaken are:

  • Positive action: to encourage diverse applicants – 36%
  • DEI training – 36%
  • Positive action: to support development and promotion – 36%

I hope that somewhere in this data one of the areas of focus is not only retaining and attracting talent in a diverse workforce, but also creating a culture of belonging and inclusion where people are treated equitably.

I hear the word “culture” referred to less today than in the past, but it’s the engine that helps to sustain positive resultseven when it comes to DEI&B. And therein lies the opportunity and the challenge. Culture sustains DEI&B and DEI&B is one of the elements that spark the development of a healthy culture. If you’re not sure what to talk about in your next leadership team meeting, try out these six questions:

  • How would you define the culture in your organization?  
  • Is it conducive to creating a sense of belonging and the kind of attentiveness that lets everyone feel seen and heard? 
  • Who’s out and who’s in, and how does that dynamic impact results?
  • What is the organization doing to have the outsiders feel valued and appreciated because they are outsiders?
  • Do the outsiders stay or leave?
  • If they stay, are they able to be themselves or did they have to shape-shift to fit in?

How are you doing in terms of creating a culture of belonging and inclusion in your workplace? Please reach out to me—I would love to hear about your challenges and successes!

Disagree with Someone at Work? Try Having a “Gap Conversation”.

By Communication, CRT, Diversity, Leadership, Workplace Culture

“Gap Conversation” (noun) Definition: A high stakes conversation where you and someone with whom you have and want to maintain a positive relationship discuss what has previously been considered an undiscussable topic (the Gap). Gap Conversations are inherently risky, but they often deepen connections and relationships when they go well.

 

Let’s say you’re having a conversation with someone you have a good work relationship with. Before you know it, the conversation has taken a turn into a subject that you suspect you and the other person disagree about, ideologically. Maybe it’s about the importance of unions, maybe it’s a disagreement about the need to have workers return to the office, or maybe it’s about the importance of DE&I.  

You have a choice: change the subject quickly or enter into a Gap Conversation, hoping that your suspected disagreement becomes an opportunity to deepen and strengthen the relationship through mutual understanding. 70% of the time, research shows we avoid the conversation, and there is good evidence that the more we avoid, the more likely we are to accidentally create a toxic work culture. 

If you are saying to yourself, “Forget it, Gap Conversations don’t work, and they are not worth the risk. Those people have their minds made up. There is no point in even trying…” 

 

I invite you to consider whose mind is made up: yours or theirs? 

 

I’ve been practicing having Gap Conversations a lot these days, and I would say my success rate is just over 50%. Given how difficult it is currently to “close the gap” with people who feel differently, I think it’s worth the effort.

Here is what I am practicing and how it’s going:  

Suspend the desire to be right

I am learning to suspend my desire to be right, especially when I feel I have a more accurate grasp of the facts and data. I get really irritated when someone cites something that they heard on a tabloid news network or read on social media, as if the data is real when it isn’t. These sorts of conversations are not about facts or data, at least not at first. In my case, I think my desire to be right is tied to some old “not good enough” wounds from being a kid with an undiagnosed learning disability in elementary school. When my “I am right” switch is on, I muck things up pretty badly, so I’m working on noticing my level of activation and not allowing it to drive what I do or say.

Restrain and redirect my moral outrage

I recently talked about moral outrage in another blog I just wrote. It is the strong emotion that we feel when we experience or see an injustice, which we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, it’s tempting to resort to shaming or attacking the wrong-doer as if we’ve caught them in the act. For example, I remember how it felt when I first watched the infamous video of a white woman who, in 2020, falsely called 911 on a Black man who had confronted her for unleashing her dog in a leash-required part of Central Park. I’m pretty sure I posted something about it that expressed my moral outrage at the transgressorthe white woman. I wasn’t alone, and the video of the event went viral in ways that were life-changing for her. There is no doubt that her actions were dangerous and egregious and speak to the very worst in us, but when I look back on that moment, I wish I could have found something constructive to say, or to have said nothing at all. I allowed my moral outrage to mindlessly take charge as I piled on with millions of others.  

Start with listening to their story, all of it

I try to really focus on listening in every Gap Conversation. Under the surface, everyone has a unique story, and if we look at the pushback and backlash that DEI is getting right now, a LOT of it is coming from disenfranchised white people who feel that the hardships they overcame are not being considered. I’m not listening so I can agree or disagree with them. I am listening to understand and be empathetic to what created the feelings the other person is dealing with.  

Remember (and prioritize) what matters

It helps me to stay centered on my ultimate priorities, which in most cases is to be in a positive relationship with people, even if we disagree. I don’t have to sacrifice my values to get along with someone, but remembering that relationships are as important as sharing “my truth” helps me be more empathetic and accessible to others. I try to start Gap Conversations by laying out the context as we start: “My relationship with you is importantcan we talk honestly about (this topic) even if we disagree?”

Slow d o w n

My sense of urgency and drive can be helpful traits, but my bias for efficiency and speed can also be a real liability, particularly when it comes to listening and understanding the perspectives of others. I’d say I need to work on empathy, but for me, I need to work on the step before empathy which is to slow down enough to really get where people are at and understand what they’re feeling. I’m finding that I have some real stuck patterns around my urgency and turning everything into something that has to be attended to NOW. I’ve even engaged a coach to help me work on this, and I can see and feel the difference with people when they know I am present for them.

Share my own vulnerability

This is where I talk about what’s true for me, including disclosing my fears, anxieties, and concerns I have about whatever we are discussing. When I’m able to be vulnerable and to talk about my own storyeven when the story describes my own made-up interpretation of an eventthe very act of my owning my misinterpretation becomes a statement of my desire to have trust.

Redefine what “success” means

Having let go of the need to be right, we can also let go of any attachment to needing to reach an agreement. Gap Conversations are successful when each person has a better view into the way the other person views the world, and why. Even best friends may have to agree to disagree about some things. Pinpointing the specific issue can be liberating; it allows us to maintain a collegial relationship in spite of our disagreement. 

Having an effective Gap Conversation doesn’t mean that one or both parties need to agree that both sides are equally valid. They may not be. The facts underlying the ideological divide in our society on topics like who won the last presidential election, or the nature and history of racism, don’t equally support both perspectives. But just because the facts are on our side doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t listen to the perspectives of others. Beneath the data lies the real fear or mindset that can only be resolved through empathy and communication.

Business is such an important driver of commerce AND culture in our society. Even when we are at work and the issues are messy, let’s ask ourselves, “How can I engage in more Gap Conversations instead of pretending that they’ll go away on their own?”

They won’t.

For more on closing the Gap, consider picking up Jim’s book on Amazon, “Gaslights and Dog Whistles – Standing Up For Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World

Moral Outrage and the Algorithm – Two Small (But Mighty) Steps

By Education, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Uncategorized

In the first article of this blog series, I talked about how some families in my hometown of Bend, Oregon are “quiet quitting” public schools in favor of homeschooling. There are several reasons behind this. One is that some parents don’t want their children to have to learn about enslavement, social justice, civil rights, or the history of discrimination in the United Statesnot because they are making a conscious choice—but because they have read/heard quotes about Critical Race Theory and its supposed negative impacts on children.

The second article in this series turned out to be about a tragic event that also happened in Bend when a young man went into a Safeway store armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun and killed three people before taking his own life. The thing I focused on from the story was the now predictable profile of who the shooter was: a young, isolated, depressed, and angry white man. 

I’ve used up, if not exceeded, my time talking about the problems. Here are two things I’m going to do in terms of trying to make things better; join me if they make sense to you:

1. We have got to learn to deal more constructively with our moral outrage. And what exactly is moral outrage? It’s the strong emotions we feel when we experience or see an injustice that we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, we often resort to shaming or attacking the wrongdoers.  

Though I can’t prove it, I think it’s highly likely that many quiet quitting school families are keeping their opinions to themselves, so they don’t have to suffer through the judgments and moral outrage of their neighbors. We don’t know the motivations of the Safeway shooter, but his social media posts and reports from people that knew him suggest he felt isolated and unable or unwilling to express his feelings out loud. 

In my own extended family, I notice how one group of relatives whom I know feel differently about a number of societal issues than I do rarely allow our conversations during visits to stray into current events, politics, or personal beliefs. They’ve also witnessed my hyper-verbosity and intensity when I unbridle my moral outrage. That preview alone would probably be enough to keep them from ever wanting to engage with me on topics which we disagree about. 

For me, the solution is to remember that relationships and connection with other people is one of my primary espoused values, and allowing my moral outrage to take control is counter to those values. Also, if I tell myself the truth, my moral outrage is harmful to other people; there is nothing constructive about shame or guilt. I can’t let myself go there, no matter what the injustice or wrong is.

2. Less is more: I need to pay attention to how and when I use social media. Of course, this is a huge topic, but in this context all I’m talking about is what I need to do to build better partnerships with people who see the world differently than me. The way I use social media—including how I express my own moral outrage on occasion—also does a lot more harm than good. The anonymity of digital communication can enable us to behave pretty badly towards one another if we’re not mindful of it. 

I’ve been reading The Chaos Machine – The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher. Fisher talks about the physiological response most of us have to social media posts that prompt different feelings, including moral outrage, and the data is not good. There is a lot of creepy stuff that social media companies do to keep us engaged—and it’s engagement that is the key to them making money on us—but we can’t blame them for creating the algorithms that hook us; it’s still our choice. 

Since reading the book and noticing my own unconscious response to different stimuli on social media, I now catch myself before writing and sending snarky responses to complete strangers. I also notice that most of the snarkiness comes from other white men, and Fisher’s research also confirms this.

I’m noticing social media is an accelerant for creating and maintaining polar differences between us. It’s hard for me to even find or get access to groups whose members see the world in a different way than I do. The algorithms I experience on Facebook and Google are almost impossible for me to break out of. It’s not hard to see why those politicians who take pleasure in fomenting the polarization are also heavy social media users.

The world’s got big problems, and these are but two small (but mighty) behavior changes. Still, imagine what would happen if all of us actually committed to making them.

Note: Along with these ideas, there are some additional tools and tips that you can try. These are described in my new book, Gaslights and Dog Whistles: Standing Up for Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World 

 

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.)

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?”