Early in my career, I had the opportunity to participate in my first diversity workshop through my employer. In that workshop, we covered many of what many might consider Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) basics. It was the place I was first introduced formally to the concepts and language of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It was a short session, about two hours. It included a lecture, some discussion, and a few exercises. Even decades later, I can still remember one of the exercises. Please think about this and try to answer it for yourself before reading on.
A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he's about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, "I can't operate--that boy is my son!" How can this be?
Ah-Ha Moments are Sticky
I still remember my struggles and how long our class sat with this exercise before finally stopping the deliberation. Only one person in our group was able to provide an answer. It wasn’t me. As a woman whose early career was in science and technology, how was I unable to open my thinking enough to imagine the doctor was a woman and a mother or perhaps the child’s other gay father? This was a very simple exercise in a basic introductory class. Yet, decades later, the learning has stuck with me. There is nothing like a simple and well-constructed ah-ha moment to make learning sticky.
Learning Does Not Mean Change
Since that class, I’ve learned much more about how our brains work, about blind spots, and bias. Still today, I occasionally catch myself falling into the same old trap. Someone mentions a doctor, and I assume they must be a man. Yet, now I’m more self-aware and able to correct myself. At this moment, more than half of my personal physicians and specialists are women. Classroom learning does not mean change, at least not right away.
Employers as Community Change Agents
Employers have played and continue to play essential roles in helping many in our communities on their individual journeys and with their practice of self work. If we look across our community, our major employers may have already provided DEI learning opportunities and experiences (good and bad) for thousands of employees and managers, perhaps over decades. They have provided space to learn but also to practice and be in community with individuals with whom their employees might otherwise not have the opportunity to engage. In addition, employers can use different accountability structures and levers than communities. As they work to build a more inclusive and equitable company culture, employers also act as community change agents.
Employers as Partners
While communities are not the same as companies, understanding and reflecting on the DEI journey many companies have traveled is helpful. It hints at what is required to sustain this work across time and a large and diverse population. The best part is that it can also serve as a rich source of mutual support. In the end, our local employers are comprised of our neighbors.
Thank the employers who have already been on this journey in your community and enlist them as partners in your work to build a more inclusive community. After all, a more inclusive community will also help them with their goal of creating a more inclusive company.
Source for exercise text above: Hobson, N. (2022). This 50-Year-Old Riddle That Continues to Stump Us Explains Why We Still Have a Strong Gender Bias. Inc. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/nick-hobson/the-100-year-old-riddle-that-continues-to-stump-us-explains-why-we-still-have-a-strong-gender-bias.html