This one may be tough to swallow...
Drink: Grateful Dead Cocktail (vodka, gin, tequila, Chambord, rum and sour mix - yikes!)
Pairing: This cocktail pairs well with the debate over whether DEI is "dead." It's colorful, full of strong opinions and laced with the serious and most ridiculous parts of the conversation. One of these and you'll surely be in for a heated debate. Non-alcoholic alternative... mix every kool-aid flavor together and a cup of sugar.
This episode is based on a piece I wrote for Unify Consulting.
Is DEI dead? This headline is catching the attention of many, especially in this polarized social-political landscape. As federal and state DEI legislation and funding come into question, leaders, employees and parents wonder what the impact will be on business, schools, and ultimately their lives. As we continue to see racialized and gender violence in the news, we ask what safety will look like in our communities and workplaces.
This kind of uncomfortable, complex, high-stakes, and often heated conversation should be held in community. So, let’s explore it together. Spoiler alert - it's not dead. And, in full transparency, I'm not drinking a grateful dead cocktail. Eww.
The Real Talk
Here is why DEI is not dead.
Diversity. We are all unique individuals who belong to and contribute to our organizations and communities in different ways. That beauty cannot be erased. Full stop. Many people across history have tried - through boarding schools, genocide, limiting access to gender-based heath care, Jim Crow laws, intimidation and more.
Any business that can’t accurately meet the needs of its diverse customers is going to lose its competitive advantage to those that can. The business case for diversity hasn’t changed. The environmental case for diversity hasn't changed. The community case for diversity hasn't changed.
Inclusion. Inclusion is a fundamental human drive to feel connected, welcomed and a member of a group. It’s when humans lack inclusion and connection that we face severe impacts on our health and well-being. If you want your team’s cross-functional work to fail, get rid of inclusion. Inclusion is necessary for collaboration, problem-solving, innovation and overcoming obstacles. Any systems thinker will tell you that for an organization to work, it requires strong connections and relationships that are built on a foundation of inclusion. Our fundamental human rights are connected to every individual being a member of Earth and the human species.
Equity and Accessibility. Humans are unique. We each require different resources and support to feel our best, be our best and do our best. If a business wants to encourage poor performance, a sure way to create it is to prevent people from getting what they need to be their best. A big part of every people leader’s job is to help remove barriers for their team members. This isn’t new, nor is it changing.
Belonging. Each of us has a desire to feel relevant, a sense of purpose, connection to something greater than ourselves, and to feel loved. Can you live a happy, meaningful life without these? We have so much to belong to: each other, ourselves, our children, our ancestors, the land, the oceans, the solar system... the potential for belonging is endless.
DEI always has and likely always will be challenged because at its core, it's purpose is to redistribute power. Here are five reflections leaders can contemplate as you navigate DEI conversations.
1) Leaders, you aren’t on the sidelines. Whether you want it, believe it, are ready for it, or not, you are on the playing field. Every decision you make creates our shared reality and answers the question, “Is DEI dead?” Stop asking the question and start showing the world your answer.
2) Participate consciously. Let’s think more critically together. Who is in the conversation about whether "DEI is dead" and what stake do they have in DEI work? Who benefits from and who is harmed by the debate over whether DEI is dead? What dialogue have you participated in, and what have you learned about yourself through the conversation?
3) Focus on the work. What action have you taken with your leadership team and employees to ensure a more diverse, inclusive, accessible and equitable environment regardless of the debate? In what areas do you create belonging, and in what areas are you creating othering?
4) Actions speak louder than words. What DEI beliefs and practices are fundamentally aligned to your company’s values, operations and legacy? What DEI beliefs and practices are at the core of your personal and leadership values and behaviors? What are you keeping alive through your actions? How are you mentoring up, down and across your organization in ways that model an appreciation for diversity, a stance on inclusion and a commitment to equity?
5) What are your outputs, results and impact? DEI and business share common ground regarding a focus on measuring impact (not good intention). Who are the customers of not only your products and services, but your leadership? What impact are you having on them? Do your results show that DEI is alive and well?
DEI is not dead because it is alive within each of us, every day, through our thoughts, beliefs, actions and results. What actions will you take today to keep it alive?