Making an organization more equitable and inclusive is a process that goes beyond just agreeing with each other that ‘discrimination is bad’. With racial injustice, and therefore diversity in the workplace, being such a prevalent issue, it makes sense that the steps an organization takes to overcome these problems fall under scrutiny. Instead of putting emphasis on how we are different, there needs to be a focus on the work that brings everyone together. Organizations need to take action and encourage people to work together on a shared issue in order to overcome their differences.
Through that “doing” we can bring about change, confront biases and stereotypes, and encourage growth and collaboration. If good processes are not followed, people can struggle to find what it takes to make a change. However, the right parameters can establish grounds that allow corporate and organizational cultures to make necessary changes and give people the tools to grow and develop.
Focus on action to bring behavioural change
Equipping people with tools and processes they can use is essential to achieving behavioural change. When people work together to overcome challenges, they put aside their differences and get to the task at hand. Being able to equip those within an organization with the knowledge and behavioral practices needed to come together in order to engage in shared work is key. Focusing on shared work will allow vested interests to flourish and ease friction that may have been shadowing them.
Attitudes, behaviour, and structure are reciprocal
Making an impactful change towards equity and inclusion doesn’t always start with changing someone’s attitude. While many see this as the first step, it is insufficient on its own for changing people’s behaviour. To make real change you also need to influence organizational leadership and impress the importance of a cultural shift.
Statistically speaking, businesses get more white and male-dominated the closer to the top we look. This is where you need the change to happen. Changing behaviour comes from personal transformation and transformation within teams and departments. If the racist or biased issue is in the very fabric of the organization then it can be near impossible to change without leadership driving new policies and procedures at all levels of an organization.
Moving through bias together
It’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable and judged when faced with addressing their biases. When we feel this way, there are two issues at play. One is the lack of access to information — understanding equity language and concepts in itself is exclusive. People can feel like the beliefs they were raised with are now being punished, simply because they didn’t have access to other points of view. The other is the idealistic way in which the move for change is often presented. When the need for change is presented as dogmatic, it will alienate those who fall into the “wrong” category, which automatically puts their defenses up and makes them want to reinforce their beliefs.
If people focus on their actions and working together while collaborating with others, then you can change not only their attitudes and beliefs, but their work practices and relationships. To follow through, the focus still needs to be on the organizational structure to support those changes.
Getting through “White Fragility” is necessary for change
Issues with diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t a one sided issue. “Tackling these issues will require all of us to deal with things that are confronting and painful,” says Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Partner at The Outside, who leads organizations through systemic change.
If work is at the center of what you’re doing, then problems become less personal. Instead of making each other the issue, give people a similar issue to focus on together. Shame is a tool of oppression, so remove the shame and get to work! Tuesday explains that “the best way out of guilt and shame is to take action.” So if someone is feeling attacked for being a white person with bias, they can be supported to embrace the discomfort of learning and change, and channel that feeling into working collaboratively with others. Making a lasting change takes a community effort and unwavering leadership and support.
Don’t tell people, let them find their why
When someone is intrinsically motivated they are more likely to believe in the changes they are trying to make. In order to help someone find their why you need to help them see the value in change by directing it through their work. Work only gets better when everyone appreciates the people they are working with and understand that they are all working toward something together.
For those who feel uncomfortable with change, they need to find peace with what has been done in the past, whether by their forebears, their direct ancestors, or even themselves. Then, they can move forward with new knowledge. But acceptance around diversity is a challenging issue, and generally those who think they have the answer are missing something. More than just training, working together for a common goal can empower people and organizations to understand why it’s valuable to embrace change. Then, they will be prepared to take their own steps forward and create lasting, systemic change.
The Outside brings together constellations of people from disparate teams, organizations, and jurisdictions to solve problems and scale impact. We have the missing piece of the puzzle: a practical understanding of the process and infrastructure of equitable systems change.
Tim Merry & Tuesday Ryan-Hart is the Systems Change Strategist of The Outside, www.findtheoutside.com.