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DEI Before DEI - Change Takes Time

Most people don’t know much about DEI and are learning. We get busted for saying the wrong thing, because the language is different, there are names for behaviors that didn’t get named before and marginalized people are finding their/our voices.


When I was coming out as gay in the early 90’s, a word that was used a lot was “tolerance”. I hated it. When I hear the word tolerance, I see the image of an unknown, older white man smiling at me and then turning away, taking a deep breath and then rolling his eyes when I’m not looking. See how deep I am? Now, I know some of the most amazing older white men. My dad is amazing older white man (AMOW) #1. These men - just about all of his friends included - are INCREDIBLE human beings with warm hearts, inclusive by nature or by learning, fun, smart, knowing when to engage and when to let it lie. I even made some white men, and they’re pretty great humans. And yet…there is still an older white man in my head when I think of being “tolerated”. Not “accepted”, but the 80’s-90’s era of “tolerance”.


Okay, stay with me on this. I’m pointing in a direction.

My actual family on Castro Street in San Francisco in 2015, when U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage

In 1990, when I was working for a theater company in Omaha, Nebraska touring the Midwest, I happened to be in downtown Omaha during Gay Pride weekend, which had - for the first time in my memory - devolved into simply being called “Pride”. I was handed a mic, being told I should go onstage because I’m funny and I’m from the gay mecca of San Francisco, and being a good sport, I went up onto the stage in a gigantic gay bar. An unwitting, impromptu comedian on a stage for the Omaha Pride celebration, I used my San Francisco cred to comically lambaste calling the celebration “Pride”, omitting the word you are asking us to be proud of: GAY. The term gay seemed to cover all of us, but at the time, I wasn’t aware that we were leaving out other groups without a voice. I thought “gay” covered lesbians, but the Lesbian activists wanted their own call-out. We are not the same as gay men.


Then the discussion got larger. At that time, most gay people thought that Bisexuals weren’t a thing. We saw them as gay people who were afraid to be “out”. Trans people were below the radar for most of us. Queer was a newly-incorporated term. In the effort to be inclusive and provide safe harbor, the gay community was told it was excluding others, who - for all intents and purposes - should be included in marches, legal protection and visibility. Gay people of color were still marginalized, and they were working on getting a seat at the table.


And this was back when it was just “gay and lesbian”, and now we are at LGBTQIA. Things evolve and I think it’s for the better, but not always headed in the same direction at the same time. The puzzle keeps getting larger and there are always new pieces to add. It will never be finished.


Change takes time. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your peers, but keep at it.


Use your voice and use your ears. Observe how what you say lands.


Allow silence.


Be brave enough to stand up for those who are marginalized or who otherwise don’t belong.


Belonging is crucial to productivity and positive results.


Evolution takes courage - on both sides.

We don’t even know what we are doing, most of the time. Even the nicest, most inclusive people will say stupid things if the person listening is keeping score. When we get caught saying something that illuminates a blind spot, it’s more likely that you will get called on it today. I have been. It was devastating in the moment, but it made an impact. I’m that blond, white lady who looks like a soccer mom (btw: and it’s true, I am one - but if you call me that, I might punch you in the neck). I’m SO far from being a Karen, but only one wrong word to the wrong ear and I can earn that name in a second.


I am self-aware, and try to always be aware of my impact on others. But the more I learn about DEI, the more I realize things are always changing, and that we all need to LEARN to do better. But consider this: We don’t have to learn more and be better. It’s not a moral imperative. But in the end, everyone who tries to “do the work”, as they say, is better. And if you’re at work and can’t adapt to change, you’ll be lonely, bitter and want to find a way out, OR to ensure you surround yourself with others who think like you do. That confirmation bias is natural. Doing DEI work can be lonely, and needs to be done by people who understand that change takes time and initiatives have to be thought through carefully, with new voices at the table.


After all of the learning I have done, I have to check myself when I feel that using the term “PRIDE” is cowardly, after all that was done to bring us out into the sunlight, to get protections, to be able to live out loud and to have families and to be out AND big contributors to society. But the real story is that it's more inclusive. We are stronger together. For me, Pride as a catch-all is growing on me. After all, everyone knows what we are talking about now.

I suggest that we are all open to these discussions. INCLUSION is akin to ACCEPTANCE, but is more active and next-level in its support frame. And yeah, I’m sure that experts on both sides of this will have something to say about my perspective on change and diversity. So go for it. Say it. I’m not the expert here, but I’m working on it - and many thousands of people have made this their life’s work. At the end of the day, we are all changing, and where most of us experience conflict, learning and resolution is at work.


As you turn your head toward DE&I, think about how you can find ways to bring others to the table. We need to check our implicit bias (aka unconscious bias) by understanding what it is.


DO ONE THING:

We can check ourselves against affinity bias by not hiring for a fit (e.g. selecting others who are like us) and instead focus on facts. Consider using blind applications, where all people in the hiring process don’t see names or images or the school from which they graduated, or whether or not they were able to finish a 4+ year degree.


Life + professional experience need to count. There are so many people out there who have had to live through massive struggles and have learned to be positive survivors, who bring experience, innovation, creativity and a broader experience. These brains are firing on another level and if understood, will enhance a company/brand strength and revenue and an incredibly positive work experience. Big school names don’t guarantee success or results. Beware the trinkets.


Diversity is the catalyst for innovation. I didn’t make it up. Google that and see what comes up. You’ll be glad you did.


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