This week I attended a virtual panel discussion about what it looks like to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace. It was a fantastic line-up of smart and capable humans who gave surprisingly real answers to some deep and important questions. During the closing Q&A portion, someone from the audience asked: "what do you do in an environment unfriendly to DE&I efforts?"
The panelists did a nice job making suggestions for building relationships and creating a coalition of allies. One panelist also pointed out that a more equitable and inclusive workplace ultimately has to involve everyone. So it's important to allow for everyone's process, even if it would be convenient and ideal for all humans to wake up tomorrow wholly liberated from all the toxic baggage we've been carrying around most of our lives.
One thing nobody said was: at some point we may have to leave some organizations or individuals behind. We can build relationships and form coalitions and offer all the olive branches. We can make information accessible, call people in, and identify growth opportunities through judgement-free feedback. But if an organization is refusing to participate in the work, or if a person is refusing to come to the table, then it stops being our responsibility to make sure they are not left behind.
Companies who don't want to become more inclusive, or who make no effort to address diversity, equity, and belonging within the workforce are going to get left behind. Individuals who cling to the way we relate to each other now and refuse to acknowledge the value of historically undervalued swaths of humanity are going to be left behind.
Institutions that blindly cling to the status quo are not going to make it. The Republican party is currently at this very crossroads, with a growing faction insisting on a departure from the win-by-any-means-no-matter-the-cost philosophy. If the rest of the party doesn't catch up, they are going to be left behind.
And that's okay.
The world is constantly evolving because it is made up of humans who are constantly evolving. Each of us is learning and growing all the time, shedding old narratives and picking up new ones as we go. The me of today is not the same person I was decades ago, years ago, months ago, last week even. I have become the me of this moment by incorporating all my past experiences and by leaving some things (and some people and some organizations) behind.
Some particular evolutions have been gaining greater traction in recent years. The US electorate is more diverse than ever, so politicians must increasingly consider a more varied American experience as they make their appeal to voters. The concept of belonging has been added to the mainstream discussions about DE&I. More institutions are recognizing women's contributions to the world more often. Queerness is normalizing, and more folks are publicly legitimized in their identity anywhere along the gender spectrum.
At the same time, tolerance is waning for some of the "old ways" to see and be in the world. Sometimes this expresses positively through things like restorative justice initiatives and public institutions updating policies and practices. Other times it manifest in not-as-healthy or not-as-liberating ways, like the current iteration of callout and cancel culture, which has amounted to elaborate public shaming.
On its face, the idea of regular folks calling out the problematic behavior of people who are well-known and in positions of power is good. When the community decides certain actions are contrary to community values (and therefore unacceptable) and publicly identifies those behaviors as intolerable, that reinforces the idea that community values cannot be subverted merely by an accumulation of power. That helps the community protect vulnerable community members.
On the other hand, when public admonishment of behavior turns into a public shaming and dismissal devoid of acknowledgment that the perpetrator is a complete human being, it starts to become something far less beneficial to humanity.
It's certainly less effort to use one moment in someone else's lifetime as an automatic disqualifier from being a decent or redeemable person. But while that shortcut might save me time or energy, it also separates me from my own humanity. By simply dismissing someone, I do not have to ask what brought them to this time and place or examine how they arrived here with that particular outlook or attitude. I do not have to see them as a potential reflection of parts of my own internal world. I am excused from examining how I have held similarly problematic beliefs or how I have acted-out problematic narratives in my own life.
In his book, You Are Not So Smart, David McRaney discusses the Consistency Bias, which is the official academic descriptor for the human tendency to think that how we feel today is the way we have always felt. It is so easy to forget what it was like to not know the things you currently understand. I devote significant energy and effort to examining my own beliefs and biases, and to consciously participating in my personal evolutionary journey. And yet, when I am not paying deliberate attention, I am still just as apt as everyone else to judge someone harshly for holding problematic beliefs I also once held.
I say all of this not because problematic behavior should never be called out in public. In fact, I would love to live in a world where all the dirty laundry is out in public so victims could receive community support in healing and perpetrators could receive community support in rehabilitation and repair. But we don't live in that world. And the callout and cancel culture we are currently cultivating is not making the world a safer or healthier place.
It is a significant ask of any person to become a different version of themselves. Even when that evolution is healthy and liberating. Even when it is necessary for survival. We come to be who we are by surviving the world up to the present moment. We craft stories to explain ourselves and the world around us, and those narratives kept us safe. It is a terrifying prospect to shed that armor. To do so, I have to be willing to leave some of my old self behind.
It is vital that we all courageously look inside ourselves to the fullness of our own humanity so that we can seek and see and celebrate the humanity in everyone else. I want to call folks in instead of calling them out, like Professor Loretta J. Ross encourages. And I recognize that it is not my responsibility to make sure they accept the invitation. It's okay to leave some things behind on the way to the next iteration of being human together.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.