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Is DEI a fad or a foundation?

I wrote this article in advance of speaking at ATD's TechKnowledge 2022 conference and am sharing it here for those who want to make sure the energy around diversity, equity and inclusion is maintained for the long term.

The increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion during the last few years has created momentum being driven by stories of real lives and real experiences. Such stories have been brought to light by #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and events that have forced uncomfortable truths into the spotlight. Stories are powerful motivators, often more so than reason or logic. We remember stories better than facts because they connect with us on multiple levels, including the emotional as well as the rational.

So how can we ensure that this momentum continues as well as creates long-lasting change and embeds itself permanently into the culture of organizations and societies?

Stories always matter.

First, the stories have to continue to be surfaced and heard. Lack of equity becomes clearer when we understand the human experiences that it creates. Many organizations have created one-off events and platforms to hear the stories of their employees, especially those from underrepresented groups or communities. These need to become part of regular organization communication culture and should be on platforms available to existing and new employees as they are onboarded. They could be employee blog posts, professionally produced videos, recorded discussions, or live chats. They need continuing care, curation, and elevation. This sends a message that these initiatives weren’t just an in-the-moment response but are part of a continuing focus and a longer-term journey.

These platforms and storytelling opportunities then need to be used to elevate our understanding of what diversity entails, continue to challenge and shift our perspectives, and build a sense that everyone has important stories to tell and has unique identities that include (and go beyond) the categorizations that most often come to mind.

Broader and deeper.

But what about the risk of dilution? Will the focuses on specific identities and communities that have been raised be lessened or even lost? This is an important challenge to contend with, and one way we are seeing organizations try to achieve the best of both worlds is by defining equity focuses separately from diversity explorations. Doing so includes defining practical steps and initiatives that aim to create access and include or increase representation of specific communities while promoting a continued discovery of diversity and all its aspects and experiences.

The more we can make everyone a part of the conversation, the more likely we can sustain the momentum and add to it. One way I have seen this work is by giving space and opportunity to teams so its members can reflect upon, explore, and share multiple aspects of their identities with each other. It opens new conversations that promote curiosity and empathy and get us beyond the stereotypes and assumptions that categorizations can bring. It makes intersectionality tangible, personal, and meaningful. And I believe it creates the motivation for deeper ongoing explorations of who we are, who we work with, and how we can continue to learn about and support each other as individuals as well as work collectively on specific equity challenges.

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