Responding to Pushback and Creating More Inclusive Environments That Value Diversity
Even though diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace leads to better financial outcomes, greater social impact, and more satisfied employees, DEI efforts are “being used as part of the culture wars right now,” said Malia Lazu. Lazu, CEO of the Urban Labs at MIT and author of the book From Intention to Impact: A Practical Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion spoke in a fireside chat during From Day One’s February Virtual Conference. “It’s important for us to remember that DEI is not against the wall because it’s a failing endeavor. It’s against the wall because people are scared of losing what they think they have now,” Lazu told moderator Jeanhee Kim. “When you’re privileged, fairness feels like a step down.”Corporate leaders and managers must truly believe that “DEI is the platform of the future” if they are going to have the will to fight the inevitable pushback, Lazu said. Although political pressure can be intimidating, organizations can gain the courage to continue their DEI endeavors from realizing the pushback is coming from less than 25% of the U.S. population, says Lazu. “This isn’t about politics for you, this is about competing in a global economy. And in 20 years, this country is going to look very different.”Acknowledging the ProblemOrganizations first need to find their gaps in DEI before they can resolve them, says Lazu. And that realization can cause discomfort.Journalist Jeanhee Kim interviewed author Malia Lazu in a fireside chat titled “How to Respond to the Pushback to Create More Inclusive Environments That Honor and Value Diversity” (photo by From Day One)“I often tell my clients if we’re not uncomfortable, we haven’t started working yet,” Lazu said. It’s important to understand that racism isn’t just an interpersonal problem but systemic one, said Lazu. “It exists whether you’re a nice person or not,” she said, noting that in American school’s, children are taught about Manifest Destiny rather than other philosophies that don’t center the white European perspective. Once people understand that institutional racism exists and what causes it, “then we can start deconstructing it,” Lazu said. The Role of Middle Management and HR A top-down approach to DEI won’t make the changes that are needed in the company, according to Lazu. “Where the change gets lost is in middle management,” she said. Middle managers and HR officers can do a lot to create a positive environment for DEI within their companies because “modeling behavior is critically important,” Lazu said. If these individuals aren’t fully invested in DEI and are worried that the company will be getting less qualified employees by hiring more women, for example, they need to learn more about what DEI really means and become more confident with it, says Lazu. Middle managers and HR leaders also need to recognize their power to make changes, whether it’s making sure they are selecting a diverse slate of candidates or even just deciding where to buy coffee from, Lazu says.It’s OK to Make Mistakes While LearningEven those with the best of intentions can make mistakes when it comes to DEI efforts. Lazu says she learned this first-hand when she was helping to organize the first disability fashion show in New England. “It became front and center how ableist I was because I had never been blessed enough to organize with people with disabilities,” she said. “And I couldn’t just walk away from it and say, ‘Oh, well.’”Instead, Lazu asked the disability community, “How do I come back from using the word ‘normal’ when I meant ‘able-bodied’?”“It’s about understanding that if you’re going to do this authentically, like any other relationship, you’re going to step on toes,” she said. “Anyone who has life partners knows, even they will get it wrong sometimes.”That’s why it’s important that companies have a culture of “generosity of interpretation. It’s important to understand that someone tried and missed the mark, and have a reparative practice.” Mary Pieper is a freelancer reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.