Office of Inclusive Excellence

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion with LOVE

November 8, 2021

By Glodean Champion, Coach and Transformation Leader

I recently facilitated a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) workshop where one of the Black female participants (let’s call her “Lisa”) was expressing her experience as a woman in upper management in the company. I could relate because, as a Black woman who’d also been in upper management, I’d had the same experience. Being second-guessed. Subjected to stereotypical jokes under the auspices of “not meaning anything by it” and being accused of being “aggressive” or “angry”. One of the white female participants (let’s call her “Ann”) interrupted “Lisa” and said, “I’ve never had those experiences,” as if their differing experiences invalidated the “Lisa’s” experience altogether.

I gave them a few minutes to see if they could come to an understanding, but “Ann” was stuck in her opinion and refused to hear another version.

In response, the “Lisa” said, “How can I expect a racist to understand or even care about what I’m experiencing. It’s not you so it doesn’t matter, right?"

"I'm NOT a racist," the white woman screamed.

At this point, I knew “Ann” wasn’t going to hear anything else said because she was all up in her feelings, as the kids say. It’s typical human behavior. When attacked, defend. We're ALL guilty of it.

I immediately muted the entire group and said to “Ann”, “Captain Crunch and Lucky Charms are the best cereals ever. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

She nodded but I knew she didn’t really hear me, so I repeated myself. The second time she said, “I hear you but I can’t say I was listening. I’m sorry. Can you repeat it?”

I repeated it a third time and she looked into the camera, stunned silent and confused, then it occurred to her that I was pulling her leg. She laughed. Then we all laughed. Certain I’d pulled her out of her head and back into the conversation, I continued with the session. First, by revisiting the Rules of Engagement we’d created at the start of the workshop. I added, “Will not call anyone out of their name” and “Will not use ‘racist’ gratuitously.” Then instituted a new way of being for us, which started with understanding "racism" in a different way.

I explained that the minute we call someone out of their name, all rational thought and discourse goes out the window. And "racist" is a "fighting word,” as my mother used to say. Because it's heavily charged! Especially in these days and times.

To diffuse the term, I explained that I consider racism a "power" construct designed to deny a person of color access to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. It's more systemic than individualized.

So, I proposed we look at life like this:

When Karen (or Karl) calls the police on a Black person for no reason, that is an act of racism because policing in the US has potentially dire consequences for Black folks.

When Joe (or Josephine) gets promoted over a more qualified person of color, THEY aren't the racist, their manager is (and should be held accountable).

When Joe (or Josephine) says they "hate Black people" they aren't racist, they are prejudice or bigoted. If they refuse to hire or fire them based on the color of their skin, they are racist.

When Joe (or Josephine) can't hear the challenges of a Black person because they can't relate, they are selfish, close- or narrow minded, they aren't racist.

With that understanding/awareness, we had a very powerful session. In fact, “Ann” came around and realized that “Lisa” wasn’t just dealing with being a woman, but as a Black woman she faced a different set of challenges. What was most important was that “Ann” realized it wasn’t her job to compete with “Lisa’s” experience but to listen and accept what is.

Here's my point: if we are to make any progress in the area of DEI, or humanity as a whole, let's stop painting everyone with the same brush. All white people aren’t bad. All Black people aren’t angry or aggressive.

If DIVERSITY is the presence of differences within a given setting, EQUITY is ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual, and INCLUSION is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, that means we have to LISTEN to one another to gain UNDERSTANDING to make it work.

Let’s take it a step further. If we could LOVE one another we could learn to Listen, Open-mindedly with Vulnerability and Empathy.

LISTENING doesn't mean we have to agree with or even like what's being said. We just need to allow the other person to feel heard.

OPEN-MINDED listening gives us an opportunity to hear new thoughts and ideas,

VULNERABILITY allows us to ask questions to gain understanding and clarity, and

EMPATHY allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and show up with compassion rather than the need to be “right” or “win”.

And, who knows, we might even LEARN something in the process!