Can You Teach ME about inclusion?
“Can you teach me about inclusion so that I may share it with the British Government?”
“Excuse me? Did I hear that right?”
Six months ago, a close colleague and comrade, Simon (not his real name), reached out in between our monthly Skype sessions asking for advice on inclusion.
In my career, I have spent thousands of hours learning about diversity, equity and inclusion. In addition to teaching it globally, I’ve also engaged in hundreds of hours of dialogue on it with clients, colleagues and in my own home with my family, especially my life partner Jorge.
Jorge was born in Bolivia and shortly after moved to the US (specifically Providence, Rhode Island, which was predominately African-American, then to Cranston, RI, white working class), the youngest of seven siblings during the most horrific of times since the present day, during the summer of 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
Jorge experienced such hatred directed at him and his family throughout his upbringing that to this day, he still speaks of it as if it was yesterday. I still sob inside for that little boy who came home with his family one evening to find every window shattered from rocks. In another instance, while sitting quietly in his second-grade classroom, he was sent to the principal’s office simply because of the color of his skin.
And these were only two of the many stories of outright racism he experienced.
***Take a minute and think: What does this bring up for you? Where have you seen racism but kept silent? What is shifting now in you? What ACTIONS are you taking?***
Simon’s request for education on the surface seemed understandable and appropriate, given that I had a lot of content knowledge in this area and he didn’t.
He continued, “I would appreciate your knowledge, but unfortunately I can’t bring you in at this time. Yes, antithetical to the inclusion aspect (he acknowledged) because the UK government doesn’t want any foreigners.”
Odd, I thought, but okay, continue.
“I would like you to teach me what you know so I may teach it to this client.”
White male privilege.
That was my first reaction - I was beside myself.
Here, as a (white) woman who has dedicated so much time, energy, heartbreak (for all the stories shared in private and during class about the discrimination, mistreatment, pain, and fear in this diversity and inclusion journey), enough understanding of the depth of pain out there to make one want to go into a cave and never come out.
But this is why I do this work.
He had no idea what he had said or the impact of his words.
He is one of the kindest, most self-deprecating, wise consultants I know, who was simply asking for my support.
My resentment slowly lessened, and I began to wonder what and how would I go about teaching him this work to help him understand that white male privilege is like a being in a fishbowl: you don’t even think about the shit that goes on around you, for you’ve never had to think about it or experience it.
Take physical safety, for example. When was the last time he thought about or felt unsafe walking down a street? Like most (white) men in the US, virtually never. Compare this to a woman, who if asked the same question, would most likely answer (especially pre-quarantine) “yesterday”. This insight shocks most men.
I wondered, “If I can teach Simon about diversity and inclusion, white male privilege, unconscious bias, intersectionality, psychological safety, exclusion…and HE could teach it to other white men, what would be possible?” Quite frankly, I got really excited entertaining the following idea: A white male teaching this work to other white male executives with the right partnership could be even more powerful and effective.
Here’s why: Where diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts fall short is that they typically rely on the underrepresented groups to educate others on this topic. Or the D&I VP is sidelined and not part of the leadership team, never mind the business strategy process and leadership agenda. D&I has often been a reactionary role created as a result of an upcoming class action suit or for marketing purposes - even though research demonstrates over and over again how diversity increases profits.
Where D&I experts and training also fall short is that they typically make white men the target and reason for all discrimination woes. This is why most of my class participants walk out feeling that they gained much more from the class than they had expected. Reason being is that the topic of inclusion is about understanding that we are all privileged in some ways; we all have passports because of various reasons (Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Wellesley College Center for Research) whether it be from birth order, education level, religion, or where you were born.
Bottom line: context matters. Our passport may be meaningful with one group but not another.
As I write this, I realize that I am guilty of being that white privileged democrat who is actually potentially perpetuating the issue and not providing the steps forward to making real change until now. Here is part of what is waking me up.
On Saturday night, my 21-year old Ivy League-educated (yes, another white privileged institution) daughter knocks on my door at 11:15 PM asking - almost demanding - that she be allowed to attend the demonstration the following night in Boston.
Initially, my heart sinks.
I don’t want her to go, for the COVID19 threat is still very real. I know the research of crowd mentality, the energy that can sweep you up. The excitement, fear, hope, and anger all bubbling.
I actually think (and it slips out) “I might want to come with you”… that apparently sticks in my daughter’s brain, for three minutes later my son, who’s helping out his 91-year-old grandmother after the heart-wrenching passing of her husband just days earlier (another story of our elderly dying alone) phones me saying “Mom, you are going to the protest!?@#$*&!”
I share with Sophie, “Let’s sleep on it and talk in the morning”.
Sunday morning, I wake while the house is still quiet to do my morning reading and gratitude work. I pick up my phone and see an article on LinkedIn that I immediately repost from a very well-respected African American C-suite client entitled “Dear White People, Your Black Colleagues Aren’t Okay”.
I realize my repost isn’t enough, and the people I really hope will read it most likely won’t. Right there I realize that me protesting in Boston, one more body present, could be helpful, but what is more powerful would be my next action…and one that you may want to consider as well.
I forwarded the following letter to seven white male C-suite executives who, upon reflection, touch more than three million people directly, and the ripple effect with families and communities is probably 10x or more.
Subject: Your Voice And Power
Since our last conversation about culture at (company X), the world has literally exploded in many ways. Please take a read of the attached article that was shared by a CVS exec, and consider what your voice needs to share here.
Silence is deadly, literally.
P.S. While no one likes conflict and it makes us all uncomfortable, we need to at least try to have the conversation. As for a helpful, guiding resource, check out Brené Brown’s Netflix program, Call to Courage, and go to min 58:06. 3 mins. Worth the watch.
*** What letter do you need to write? Who do you know who holds a lot of power and needs some uncomfortable prodding that could have great impact? Consider borrowing my letter and making it your own. Please do.***
This is now OUR work. To talk about what is happening. To realize that we have been asleep at the wheel while others have been pulled out of the cars or held down only to take their last breaths under the knee of an individual whose social and job contract is to protect and serve.
So, here is what I am realizing. I need to educate myself more deeply. I need to keep talking about this topic, staying off balance enough to keep realizing there is so much more to learn, to take action on now. So with that, my next deep dive is into the book, How to Be an AntiRacist by Ibram X. Kendi, as well as being a catalyst for my white male executive clients. Keeping this work in front of all of us.
Taking actions forward. Making progress.
No matter how uncomfortable, imperfect or incompetent I may feel or be.
***What conversations make you uncomfortable? Where might you share it? Consider bringing it to your own team.***