So your company has been interested in doing more DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) work for some time now, but the leadership team never got around to really committing to it.
Your company website’s career page has an upbeat vibe, stock photos of diverse teams, a non-controversial statement about diversity, perhaps a few quotes from your token employees of color, and some photos of office pets.
With the pandemic, you’ve had to switch gears to thinking about remote work, budget cuts, and supporting your employees adjust to the new ways of engaging.
And then a series of traumatic and devastating news hit.
First it was Ahmaud Arbery. Then Breonna Taylor. Then Dreasjon Reed. Then Nina Pop. Then George Floyd. Then Tony McDade. You see videos of police brutality circulating and angry tweets about Karens and Amy Coopers. #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is back everywhere and people are taking to the streets. Now it feels wrong to ignore and to remain silent. The leadership feels the pressure but they need guidance. We need to do something. Something tangible. Something fast. You see other companies releasing statements. Your company just released one and now you definitely have to do SOMETHING. Training? Yes, training sounds good. People need to learn how to talk about this stuff, you need to learn how to talk about this stuff. So let’s find a vendor who can do it. So you start Googling and you land here.
Well, welcome. I’ve been waiting for you. Alongside those who have been doing this work with companies for decades.
We’ve been waiting for you.
My company received a record number of contact requests in the past week. Other DEI educators and consultancies are experiencing a similar surge. We experienced a similar rush in 2017, when a series of traumatic political events occurred that shook and further divided the nation.
I have contacts reaching out rushing me to close that deal they had been dragging their feet around for over a year. I have over a hundred unanswered emails requesting anti-racism and unconscious bias workshops.
I am balancing both a sense of hope for this renewed display of commitment and a sense of cynicism, and frankly sadness, watching companies rush to care when just a couple of weeks ago, DEI was on the “low priority” list with budget cuts looming. Some companies had just laid off their DEI team. Oh, the irony.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion has always been important and it always will be.
Black people getting murdered by police is not new. This has always been urgent. The issue of racism and systemic oppression have always been urgent. The need for DEI education in the workplace has always been urgent and necessary, as was the need for leaders to acknowledge the daily marginalization of their Black employees inside their companies.
It guts me to know that for some, a series of high profile, excruciatingly painful and violent murders of Black people, accompanied by haunting videos, is the necessary wakeup call for change.
Despite this and my cynicism about the influx of outreach being a temporary bandwagon knee-jerk reaction, I believe the current surge of “courageous conversations” taking place at work is a good thing. I believe we have a time-bound moment of opportunity to assist organizations to get on the right, long-term track for sustainable, meaningful change.
Now that I’ve gotten my bitterness (I’m a person with feelings!) out the way, let’s all take a breath and think about how to turn this moment into a movement.
5 Questions to ask before responding to the current crisis with a workshop:
1. Why now?
What changed in the past week that your company is now willing to spend money, time, and effort to make DEI matter? Was it not as important before? Why? Was your team not suffering before? Are you sure?
What will anchor you to keep going when this “moment” is over? Will you keep going when the world is no longer paying attention to #BlackLivesMatter?
Knowing your why and why now will help guide your short- and long-term strategy. More importantly, knowing the “why now” will help you think through how and why you will continue this work beyond this moment.
2. What do you want to accomplish?
Here are common answers to this question:
- “We want to create a safe and honest space for people to have a conversation about what’s going on”
- “We want to understand what we can do to support our Black employees”
- “We want this to be the starting place for a longer DEI education journey”
Note the three answers above can be met with three different workshops approaches:
- A processing space (dialogue heavy)
- A learning space (information heavy)
- A practice space (interaction heavy)
The more specific your goals are, the more you’re going to get out of a training or workshop session. You want the team to understand how to show up for their Black colleagues? Don’t ask for an Unconscious Bias workshop, get an Anti-Black Racism workshop. You want the managers to know how to hold space for their employees of color without gaslighting or tone-policing them? Don’t ask for an empathy workshop, get an Allyship workshop! Get specific and you shall be rewarded!
Allyship (vs. Accomplice): The What, Why, and How
What’s the difference between Allyship and Accomplice? How do we practice thoughtful allyship? Why do we need allies?
3. Whose needs are you centering?
Is the workshop about showing you care? To whom? Is your current workshop goal about making white people feel more comfortable talking about uncomfortable issues around anti-Black racism? Or is your goal about creating a more inclusive and equitable space for your Black employees? You might think they achieve similar things, but the framing matters.
If you’re prioritizing the education of white people, you might pay less attention to the harm Black folks might feel in the process of that education.
If you’re prioritizing the needs of the most marginalized folks (and right now, we have to center the needs of Black people), then you might pay less attention to the discomfort of white people in the process of meeting Black people’s needs.
You see the subtle but important difference? Whom is it really for?
Too often, DEI workshops end up centering the needs of white people and their comfort, which end up causing further harm to the marginalized people in the room. You can avoid this by paying attention to how you’re thinking about the people you wish to serve and measure success by. DEI work’s success is determined by marginalized people, not those in positions of power. Always center the needs of the most marginalized people.
4. Whom are you learning from?
If you are engaging an external vendor, be critical about whom you engage. Look at the make up of the team. Does it make sense for you to pay and learn from a non-Black person right now? Why or why not? What does critical allyship look like in this moment when you’re making a key decision about whose voice you center, whose labor you compensate, and whose guidance you’re asking your team to follow.
Awaken is prioritizing referring businesses to Black-owned DEI firms and Black independent consultants right now. We believe it is important to center the voices and work of Black people, always but particularly now, as they are leading the movement and are most qualified to do this work.
You can leverage this spreadsheet to find Black DEI consultants who are currently accepting new clients and are eager to work with you. There are also so many Black educators and leaders you can learn from who are sharing so much online: Rachel Cargle, Ericka Hart, Myisha t. Hill, Rachel Ricketts, just to name a few. Be grateful they are willing to do the hard work right now, and don’t make your urgency their urgency! Lastly, pay well. Pay more than you are comfortable paying.
If you’re engaging internal folks, be careful not to assume every Black employee would want to talk about what’s going on, let alone educate the company. Don’t put additional educational and emotional labor burden on Black people without consent and additional compensation — not now, not ever.
5. What happens after?
The most common question we get from workshop participants towards the end of our workshop session is “This was amazing. What happens next?”
Do you know what will happen after this emergency response? Figure this out before you rollout a workshop.
If you don’t have a holistic, multi-year DEI strategy right now, that’s okay. Creating space for dialogue and education is urgent right now. However, a one-time conversation won’t get your organization anywhere it hasn’t been before. In order to create real change, you need to work on creating change at multiple levels: Personal, Interpersonal, Organizational.
Have a light weight after-workshop plan in place, whether it is engaging an external consultant to map out your DEI strategy or doing a holistic audit of your internal policies for inclusion gaps. Review your manager competencies and ensure DEI and racial equity awareness is part of the competency you require of all leaders. Map out different learning and development milestones and ensure DEI is embedded throughout, not just as an extracurricular activity. Ensure there is alignment at the executive level on the DEI priorities and how they will show up authentically to support this ongoing work.
If any of these long term commitments feels scary or “too much” for you, or you feel agitated that I’m not just selling you the workshop you want, please go back to #1 and ask yourself — “Why are we doing this now?”
Despite the initial cynicism, I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t believe in the possibility of change. I have been more hopeful than ever, being in deep conversations with my own Asian American community to name and dismantle anti-Blackness. I am witnessing people I never thought would engage in this conversation finally show up, ready to learn. I am inspired by all of the incredible grassroots activism, many led by young people, fueling systemic change. I am encouraged, humbled, and I am hopeful.
I hope that everyone who feels compelled to do more than they’ve ever done before continues to feed their curiosity, concern, sadness, and anger and move them towards real action and change.
I am hopeful that this moment will further propel your organization’s commitment to the long-term journey of achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let’s remember this work has always been important, and that it must remain important and urgent for months and years to come.
The journey towards social justice is not an easy one, but I welcome all folks willing to take a step forward, mistakes and all.
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We exist to create compassionate space for uncomfortable conversations to develop inclusive leaders and teams. We’re tired of surface level conversations around diversity and inclusion — let’s go deeper. It’s time for real conversations with real people. Check out our programs (in-person and virtual interactive workshops) at www.visionawaken.com!