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After the brutal murder of George Floyd in 2020, many organizations and individuals could no longer ignore the reality of racism.
Organizations–both for-profit and nonprofit–across all fields began forming Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees. Sadly (but not surprisingly) many of these committees were woefully unprepared to address these issues, and caused harm that has not yet been acknowledged and accounted for.
As a licensed therapist, I frequently hear about how clients are hurt and frustrated by those who promise one thing and then do another.
Here are three DEI mistakes your company is probably making.
1. Tolerating behavior that works to take away the rights of others.
If the aim of your DEI committee is to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion, make it crystal clear that actions that work to take away the rights of marginalized people are not aligned with the values of your organization.
You need to be transparent that if any of your staff engage in these actions, the DEI committee will actively seek to educate them about the harm done—as well as offer opportunities for repair.
As I wrote in my blog post about Roe vs. Wade:
It’s one thing to disagree—it’s another thing to say, “You have to do what I do.”
In my therapy practice, I work with clients who have family members who voted to take away their rights—but cherish the relationship and do not want to cut it off.
This is what I tell these clients:
- Pick your battles.
- Hold them accountable.
- Take care of yourself while taking care of them.
- Set boundaries.
- Recognize the limitations of your engagement.
If you manage or lead valuable team members aligned with oppressive ideologies or public figures, this five-point framework is useful for addressing bigoted behavior with compassion.
Ultimately—you cannot tolerate ignorance in your organization. If you do so, you are actively undermining the initiatives of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The best strategy here is education.
2. Not doing work that levels the playing field.
Having a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee that does not actively work to level the playing field for marginalized individuals is an act of institutional gaslighting.
Gaslighting is when an individual (or organization) engages in actions that cause someone to question their reality, sanity, or competence.
In my therapy practice, I work with individuals who have been gaslit by friends or family–as well as workplace leadership that claims to care about DEI, but whose actions show otherwise.
Here are some examples of institutional gaslighting (these are composites, not actual quotes from therapy clients):
-Advertising doesn’t match the true diversity makeup of the company.
“I came to this company due to the diversity in their marketing. I get hired… and I’m literally the only Black person in the office. I swear I get dirty looks every day. I’m not crazy, right?”
-Advertising doesn’t match the true values of company leadership.
“I’m a lesbian and I took a job with this company because I was so impressed by their catalog showing different types of families. Then I find out that the CEO is a member of an organization that campaigned against my right to marry. Fuck this guy! I feel dirty that I gave so many hours to them and told people so many great things about what it was like to work here.”
-No marginalized (or multiply marginalized) individuals in upper management.
If you want to see an organization’s true platform on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, look at pictures of their leadership team.
Don’t buy the excuse that they can’t find the talent to fill those roles. Even predominantly white colleges that are a couple hundred years old produce brilliant BIPOC talent every damn year. What they’re really saying is this:
“We didn’t want to recruit at a school that had a bunch of [insert BIPOC/disabled/LGBTQIA+/women]… that would have been too scary and questioned the status quo too much.”
(There–you can use the time you would have used interviewing for that potential company and go to the beach, spa, or anywhere that can help you feel less angry.)
Malcolm X summed up institutional gaslighting in one quote:
“The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic equity and real justice.”
In summary–be careful of appearances not matching reality.
3. Failure to identify the signs of toxic behavior.
Narcissists, psychopaths, and other highly toxic personalities are of all colors, sexes, shapes, sizes, ability levels, ages, and sexual orientations. Unless your leadership is confident in identifying the signs of disordered individuals—as well as signs that your employees may be being abused—your DEI initiatives will lack credibility.
Unless your leadership can confidently use this knowledge, your organization will make the repeated mistake of automatically believing that in a conflict, the person with the most marginalized identity is always right, and the person of the most privileged identity is always wrong.
The person with the most marginalized identity is not always right. Around issues of diversity and inclusion, the most marginalized person is probably right due to their lived experience. However, if someone is being accused of creating a hostile or toxic workplace, it is best to find out the specific facts of the situation and check them against your behavioral knowledge. Is this person truly showing signs of narcissism, psychopathy, untreated addiction, or untreated trauma–or is this person being labeled as “difficult” because more privileged people don’t want them to be in leadership? Accusations like this are an example of what Dr. Koritha Mitchell calls “know-your-place aggression.”
Get DEI Right the First Time.
Work With Me.
I know you’re a leader who cares deeply about these issues—or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog.
I will be holding a VIP day on October, 8 2022 where ten people will learn how to avoid mistakes that drive top, diverse talent out of your organization—and get DEI right the first time.
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Disclaimer:This blog does not replace in-depth, individualized help from a health professional or provide any diagnosis or treatment. By reading, you understand this statement and commit to seeking psychotherapy or medication support if needed. You also understand that Mari Verano, LLC will not be able to intervene in a crisis or court situation. Please seek your own legal and/or crisis resources.