When I thought about writing this piece, I originally intended it to be “5 DE&I Focused New Year’s Resolutions Anyone Can Make.” Then I did a little research and found that less than 5% of Americans actually stick to all of the New Year’s Resolutions they make.
Aside from feeling personally attacked (It is me. I am admittedly in the 95%), I did not want to contribute to the list of great-sounding things that 95% of us will not follow through on. I, instead, wanted to give everyone… anyone… 5 things you can do every day to practice inclusive and equitable behavior.
1. Learn about, and begin to check your own bias
Whether you want to admit it or not, whether you know it or not, we all have biases. If you have a brain, you have biases. It is simply a part of how the human brain functions. In light of the millions of pieces of information we are bombarded with at any given minute, our brains are hardwired to take shortcuts based on a number of factors — our past experiences, our emotions, our exposure, our preferences, and more. But these shortcuts can be harmful to others, our organization, and even ourselves as it impacts how we make decisions, how we engage with others, and how we respond in certain situations.
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Becoming aware of your biases is the first step to managing the detrimental effects they can have on those you work with, those you serve, and the performance of you and those around you.
- Take a few or several Implicit Association Tests (IAT) to identify your potential areas of bias. I promise you’ll be surprised.
- Learn about how bias works scientifically. Two books I would recommend are: Blindspot by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Khaneman. Other great books to learn more about bias include The Person You Mean to Be by Dolly Chugh and The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias by Pamela Fuller & Mark Murphy with Anne Chow.
- Commit to slowing down, reflecting, and asking yourself tough questions in the midst of important decision-making, highly emotional moments, or moments of overload and/or overwhelm. Questions like: Am I demonstrating an automatic preference at this moment? If this comment were made by someone more like me, would I listen differently? Am I truly listening with an open mind right now?
2. Diversify your network
For many of us, our professional and personal networks often reflect our own identities, sharing key facets of who we are — our age, our race, our gender, our education level, our background, etc. This tends to feel very natural because of in-group favoritism, also known as in-group bias, and identity theory. In order to disrupt in-group favoritism and limit the inequities it can produce, one should seek to diversify the groups with which they regularly fraternize, to increase their awareness of the experiences & challenges of others and how they can potentially help. This requires work, humility, discomfort, and intention but is well worth it if you are truly committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity.
- Audit your network to identify areas of homogeneity. Do a spot check of those you follow and those who follow you on social media outlets like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Intentionally attend events and meetings to meet and build connections with people who are unlike you. Consider ERGs (employee resource groups), professional associations, and community organizations. Set aside the time and energy to truly cultivate the relationship.
3. Consistently, actively, and intentionally ally for a marginalized community
Let’s face it… there are too many marginalized groups. And simply put, that needs to change. In order for that change to happen, we need everyone active somewhere. After the awakening that was 2020 for many, maybe the Black community is the marginalized community you feel compelled and called to consistently, actively, and intentionally ally for. Maybe it is the transgender community… or women… or those who are differently-abled.. or the Latinx community, or the Muslim community.. or the underrepresented generation in your workplace. Sadly, there are plenty to choose from.
While being an advocate for equity means we leverage our privilege to ally for any marginalized group when we witness injustice, I suggest focusing your mid-term energy, learning, and capital (social, political, financial) on really moving the needle within your circle of influence concerning one marginalized community this year. Learn as much as you can about that community’s experience, their challenges, and how you can support. Foster deeper relationships with people of that community and be a reliable, consistent, and intentional ally. Create opportunity, amplify their voices, and speak up with them.
Remember, the word “ally” is a verb — an action word.
- Volunteer with a local non-profit organization that directly serves the marginalized community you’ve elected to intentionally ally for in 2021. You can find lists of national organizations all over the web. Identify the organization you’d like to support and search for local or regional presence. Then, show up. Show up to meetings to listen and learn. Show up and lend whatever expertise you have to help the organization accomplish its goals. Commit to making this a part of your schedule for the year.
- Intentionally pass the mic to members of the marginalized community you’re allying for. In meetings at work, on social media, in your place of worship, in your conversations with friends and family, etc. What does passing the mic mean? It means spotlighting their contributions to conversations, ensuring they receive credit for their ideas, giving them space to share their experiences (should they choose), and amplifying their voices.
“You know… I particularly appreciated what Jasmine said at the beginning of the call [insert what Jasmine said that everyone seemed to have forgotten].
4. Mentor, if possible, or SPONSOR, someone who is unlike you
71% of sponsors’ proteges are the same race or gender as them. This would not be an issue if the leadership of companies was diverse and opportunity was distributed equitably, but we know this is not so. We also know that mentoring, and certainly sponsoring, positively impacts job performance, retention, and career growth. (Click here to learn more about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and their impact.)
These facts considered, mentoring or sponsoring someone who is different than you, particularly someone of a marginalized community, can not only lead to positive results for the mentee or protegee, but for the organization and for you.
- See if the ERGs at your company have mentoring programs. If so, sign up! And if not, inquire about how to start one.
- Visit/call the business school or career center at an HBCU near you and inquire about mentoring opportunities
- If you are a high-level leader, ask some of your direct reports about high-potential talent within their organizations who look different than you, who you can get to know and potentially sponsor.
5. Regularly (maybe it’s monthly) seek opportunities to increase your cultural awareness
How often do you actively seek to learn about another person’s culture, norms, experiences, or traditions? How do you do so? Do you travel and immerse yourself in the culture (when we’re not in a global pandemic, of course)? Do you read, watch documentaries or listen to podcasts? Do you have inquisitive conversations with those you’ve built a safe space with to hear first-hand accounts?
All of these things can help you increase your cultural awareness but will require some humility, curiosity, courage, and intention. How about in 2021 you make a point to do these things? You challenge yourself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You schedule it.
- Follow me on social and participate in my bi-weekly diversity challenges to increase your cultural awareness and potentially push you beyond your comfort zone (LinkedIn | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter)
- Take the Generational View Challenge. Commit to engaging at least one person of one other generation before making your next three big decisions, personal or professional. It’s simple. Sign up here to take the challenge and to receive accountability.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion can be a big space. Solving inequity can be a big task. Being more inclusive can be ambiguous. But it is the small things we do everyday… the decisions we make… the things we prioritize… the people we engage with… the way we allocate our 24 hours… that moves the needle over the long-term, even if bit by bit. Imagine if every one of us did just two of these throughout the course of 2021. How much of an impact could we have?
Please pass this along. Share it with your friends, family, and colleagues. Ask them to commit to doing just one or two in 2021.