Tactics to Navigate, Embrace, and Advocate for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
“Why did you choose to attend this conversation on diversity and inclusion in the workplace?”
That was the opening question posed to the group of attendees at Together Digital Seattle and Girl Up’s event this past October and it’s what kicked off a 90-minute conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion between moderator Lauren Franklin (Brand Manager at Limeade and founder of Limeade Women in the Workplace) and panelists Jen Ong (Co-founder of PIKE+PINE Media), Ebonee Anderson (Diversity Recruiter at the University of Washington), and Ariana Bostian-Kentes (Learning & Development Manager at King County).
Ultimately, we were all there to learn. Learn how to own our voice or learn how to be better allies. Answers from women in the crowd ranged from understanding how to provide more equity and access to their colleagues to wanting to gain tactical skills and processes to employ in their own lives.
Before we delve into some of the key takeaways from the event, I want to preempt the list with my favorite insight from the event from Ebonee: you need to do your own research on what diversity, equity, and inclusion means — find events like these, read scholarly articles and books, and form your own philosophy rather than taking the opinions of others as your own.
With that in mind, here are some lessons learned from four insightful women on how to approach diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace as you continue to better understand how to advocate for yourself and for others.
On diversity and taking action
Inclusion begets diversity. Who are we not recognizing? Who isn’t at the table? We all bring some form of diversity, but making sure we’re creating spaces that really celebrate people for who they are is critical. It’s important to consider how we make sure we’re not being unnecessarily exclusive in certain areas.
Be aware of our institutional bias or “what we do simply because it’s what we always did and it’s tradition.” When confronted with the comfort and familiarity of the status quo, go away from tradition and pivot to what we know is modern and up-to-date. Mix up the types of events you attend so that you may have an opportunity to connect with those with differing philosophies, skills, or experiences.
Similarly, get a coalition together. When one person speaks up or takes action, they’re considered the squeaky wheel. When one person turns into several people, it becomes not “that person’s thing” but instead a necessity for your team or organization. There’s something to be said for breaking barriers and asking for forgiveness. Find your allies to help accomplish the milestones you hope to achieve. Worried about roadblocks along the way? Say, you’d like to host a workshop within your team: plan the workshop ahead of time, have the attendees or speakers secured ahead of time, and find the allies/advocates. When the wheel’s in motion, it’ll gain better traction.
“Don’t freeze people in time.” Allow people the space and time to learn and grow — and give them the opportunity to let them show you this growth when they’ve reached a new understanding. That insensitive thing your colleague said may not be how they feel five minutes later or a week later when they have the time to process, reflect, and learn. By reaching out across differences and allowing yourself to not only be heard but also to listen, we can lean into the excitement of conversations like this and approach it with less fear.
From a marketing perspective, look for content that is beyond what’s “marketable.” Consider whether this is a story we’ve already heard before, or is it from a perspective we haven’t seen yet? Exposure can lead to learning and more acceptance. As Jen suggests, experiences that may at first be considered “strange and weird” to some people can become the norm when that story has a platform.
If you can’t break in the usual ways, go around and do your own thing. Panelist Jen Ong is an Asian-American actress who was told by agencies that she “could never be an actor.” In response, she co-founded her own agency PIKE+PINE Media to show representation from all actors and media professionals, regardless of who might be most prevalent on-screen.
On creating change in your organization
Do peer research. Find another company that accomplished a similar goal you’re hoping to achieve within your team or department (or entire company!), look at their profit margin, and utilize that information to articulate your objective. “We’ve seen it work for someone else, and especially at the bottom line.”
Look to people at the mezzanine level. The people in the middle are the best allies and advocates because they can hear the lower level and tell it to the top level.
Establish core competencies that individuals on your team or organization should uphold. According to Ariana, you cannot talk about leadership development without talking about how an individual can be an inclusive leader and how teams can recruit for the different strengths of candidates free from biases. One of the very concrete ways to establish this leadership principle is via competencies (ie. characteristics and skills). Having racially just and inclusive leadership as a competency and articulating what that is can help shape the culture of an organization at an individual level. Then, assess and reward people based on their growth in these areas. At the end of the day, you should have that as a priority and center that as one of the pillars that leaders are growing around.
The space to have conversations like this is what helps move the needle. The attendees and panelists at this event were there because they chose to be. They had some motivation — whether intrinsic or extrinsic — and they listened and asked questions. There was a dialogue.
How do you move forward from here? Do your own research on what diversity and inclusion mean to you because without that basic framework on your own beliefs you won’t be as informed and impactful to creating an equitable world around you.