“People think that if you understand their pain, you’ll care. And that if you care, then you’ll be willing to stop what’s causing the pain.” I said this to a friend recently. We were discussing diversity, equity, and inclusion. We were talking about empathy and its limitations when it comes to creating organizations that are truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
It was a great discussion. For many communities that have been historically marginalized or who face structural barriers, there is a hope that once “someone feels or even understands my pain,” they’ll be willing to put in the (ongoing) work to ease it. It’s an assumption that caring translates into action. It’s a rosy view of humanity.
The truth? Relying on feelings isn’t a reliable or long-term strategy for DEI.
This is not to say that people don’t feel empathy, or that we aren’t angered by the ways our society has created hurdles for some, and fast lanes for others. It is to say that relying on people’s feelings isn’t a sustainable strategy for infusing DEI into an organization, or for seeing a lasting change in outcomes.
Move beyond Empathy
I’m an advocate for action. Beyond feeling someone’s pain or empathizing with a community’s outcomes, I think people should know why we need DEI in the first place. Organizations should ask themselves what kind of company are they striving to be. And how does becoming an organization that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive support these deeper values and goals?
These questions require sincere reflection.
DEI is more than having empathy for historically marginalized groups. It’s about how your organization is being.Julye M. Williams
With answers to these questions, we can get to work. I believe that our daily habits greatly influence the outcomes we experience. This is true in our personal lives and it’s true for our organizations. The way we do business – from hiring, mentoring, and promoting staff to the vendors we choose, to how we practice our company culture, and more – influences the outcomes we experience. Our organizations have “ways of being.” And sometimes, these ways of being were founded on blind spots that didn’t champion diversity, equity, or inclusion.
Start with Your Habits
I believe we can develop habits that help our organizations become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. One immediate step we can all take is to look at our current projects, initiatives, and activities from a perspective rooted in DEI. Infusing DEI isn’t only for the highest levels of an organization. It’s for all levels. So, the next time you’re working on a project, or discussing a new initiative, or activity, one starting point is to revisit the definition of DEI and simply ask:
✔ Is this (project) Inclusive?
✔ Is this (project) Equitable?
✔ Is this (project) Diverse?
✔ And to follow it up with, “How could it be more so?”
We’ve got to normalize asking questions like this. Making these questions a routine part of project planning, updates, and reporting can create a new habit. The answers can lead to greater awareness, clarity, and intention for your work.
Empathy is nice, but lasting change for DEI will come from evaluating and changing our habits. I believe we can learn how to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations. And it starts with who we are being. Hope is not a strategy. We can act and create habits that lead to the outcomes we need.
Today is a great day to start.
If you’re ready to take further action and want support please contact us.