“Talking about DEI too much” at your organization?

The emphasis on DEI initiatives isn’t going anywhere

A well-intentioned client shared with me recently some feedback they had gotten from a recent DEI program. The leader thought they were talking about DEI too much.

I was completely shocked that someone would say that. As someone that leads this conversation a lot inside organizations, my perception is we’re not talking about it enough. Having a DEI training or one-off event, or even a quarterly conversation series seems like a small amount of activity compared to other activities that are prioritized in organizations.

For the majority group (white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied men) who don’t often experience the adversity of diversity, it probably does feel like a lot. Especially since organizations had a very swift reaction to the events of the summer of 2020, The Great Resignation, and the increased competitive pressure for top talent.

The challenge is, diversity isn’t going away. In fact, the issue is getting much stronger and will continue to be necessary as we look at the next generation of top talent and our increasingly diverse consumer base.

The runway is getting shorter for DEI.

Bottom line, if you want to attract future generations in the workplace and as customers things are changing whether the majority group likes it or not.

Gen Z is the first majority non-white generation
31% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ+ with the majority of that in the form of gender non-binary
One in four Americans have a disability with most of those being in non-apparent disabilities

The fear of irrelevance

When talking openly about the DEI issues, we’re just trying to prepare you for the inevitable. Warning: if you don’t start focusing on DEI now, one day you will wake up and be irrelevant.

This may sound harsh to folks in the majority group. It was a surprise for me as well when I first started studying DEI and realized how clearly it would affect all aspects of our lives.

When people don’t see themselves as a part of the issue, we risk them feeling irrelevant. For many well-intentioned white men in my workshops, they will candidly share with me that they feel like they’re rooting against themselves when supporting diversity. And when I ask them why they do so nonetheless, they say that there’s usually someone in their life that they care about that’s affected by these issues or they themselves have experienced some adversity associated with non-apparent dimensions of diversity (political beliefs, religious beliefs, neurodiversity). They want them to win too.

Supporting DEI makes you more relevant to more people. It’s not a zero-sum game. There aren’t winners and losers. They’re just more winners when we work together.

When I have trouble not knowing what to say or do to be supportive about other marginalized communities, I’ve often asked my friends that experience the adversity of diversity. The most popular response is to keep talking.

Keep talking

Allies keep talking. When they see something inappropriate, they say something even if that means risking their own reputation or relationship with that person.

Staying engaged in the conversation doesn’t mean singing from the rooftops or showing up at protests or publishing DEI content frequently on social media. It could be any of those things but often it’s a choose-your-own-adventure approach. To keep talking might mean to continue to talk to your friends and family that struggle with DEI, bringing up DEI issues in the workplace, or mentoring and sponsoring people that are different from yourself.

The point of allyship is to be active. To use your voice, to amplify the voices of others, to help people that weren’t seen or heard be more seen and heard.

Don’t apologize

When we surface a problem or DEI issue, we might feel shame. Everyone was happy with the status quo and here we come derailing the conversation or pointing out something unpleasant. It’s important to apologize and own bad behavior, but apologizing for being an ally for someone and making people feel uncomfortable is not an option.

Women and people of color are so used to complying with the status quo and apologizing when they challenge it. It takes so much energy out of the message when we apologize for doing brave things. Instead of feeling that shame, shift that shame into joy. Choose to look at it as an opportunity to make things better and avoid difficult issues from happening again versus the personal shame of being the perceived “whistleblower.”