You Need To Do More Than Pick Up a Book
It has been fascinating to watch the backlash to DEI training. I guess folks are over the black boxes and statements saying "we hear you."
I'll never forget how I was feeling three years ago as I descended into despair with the rest of Black America over the murder of George Floyd. And Ahmaud Arbery. And Breonna Taylor. And and and… the ands seem to go on forever.
This wasn't the first time in my life I remember experience the devastation of the collective grief over Black lives seeming like they didn't matter. It wasn't the first time these stories made national news. But this time there years ago felt different. This time it felt like more people were *actually* listening and were actually ready to learn about systemic racism.
So in 2020 there was a lot of what Dr. Christena Cleveland calls "blitz energy." There was a lot of scrambling to learn and to "fix" the problem. There were a lot of books read (or at least bought.) There were book clubs. And training about microaggressions. And a lot of discussions. And and and…
And now three years later, folks are declaring all this DEI stuff doesn't work. It causes more discomfort than it's worth.
But I wonder - did people actually think that reading books and talking about race was all that was needed to make an equitable workplace? Did you think learning what a microaggression is would fix structural and systemic inequities centuries in the making? Did you think addressing racism would not be uncomfortable?
As a DEI practitioner, I can share that a lot of organizations thought yes a book talk and a training would fix it. Our firm focuses on supporting organizations to redesign their talent practices and repair harm caused by oppressive talent practices. Many organizations tell us they aren't ready for that - they just want a one off training. They often cower away from the deeper equity work like organizations like Equity In The Center advocate for https://equityinthecenter.org/transactional-dei-to-transformational-race-equity-work/. This approach actually changes outcomes for "descendents of slaves and sharecroppers" the author of the article names should be the recipients of DEI funds. (Guess what Conor? We work in these corporations, too.)
There are organizations who are doing deeper equity work and they are seeing change that make them stronger organizations where more people can thrive. So if you are company decision maker who is frustrated by the lack of DEI progress from singular training sessions, maybe it's time for deeper work. There are consultants out there who can support you (like www.theequitypractice.com). Making organizations more diverse, equitable, inclusive, just, and liberatory is a major change management effort. You'll need to do more than pick up a book.