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Speak Up, Take Action – DEI Conference 2021 Recap

Speak Up, Take Action Graphic

“You can’t ask someone to leave part of their identity at the door.”

No matter the door you hold the key to- a house door, an office door, a door to a place of recreation, or a door where people plan to spend their free moments- asking someone to leave part of their identity is asking them to deny a core part of their being, the very essence of what makes them, them.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Conference 2021, spoke to the very topic of celebrating the unique complexities of each human’s identity.

As our recap, we’ve chosen to highlight four topics from this conference that we felt applied most to our recruiting world: disability and neurodivergence in the workplace, getting back up after a DEI stumble, tracking your DEI progress, and creating an inclusive environment for all.

Disability and Neurodivergence

In the Disability and Neurodivergence breakroom, participants were encouraged to begin to perceive disability and neurodivergence in the workplace in a different light than we may have been taught to view it in the past.

One speaker in this breakroom challenged participants that if you think you don’t have people at your company with disabilities, they just haven’t told you yet. It is crucial to create a work environment that allows people across all spectrums of disabilities and neurodiversity to thrive. Like much DEI work, simply saying that your organization is committed to neurodiversity cannot be the end of the road- you must commit to accessibility and flexible work structures so that all people know that they are welcome and are set up to succeed.

Accessibility is essential for some, and useful for all.

We must begin to view projects, processes, and structures through the lens of accessibility. When building a new process or beginning a new project, build and plan to include accessible structures. By implementing the most accessible ideas from the planning stages of a new project, you are setting all people up for success.

Getting Back Up

When it comes to addressing DEI, we must recognize that each person’s journey will look vastly different from our own. If we imagine that each person is on a journey of doing DEI work, then we have to extend grace for people who may have only taken one step on their journey. Similarly, we must extend grace to ourselves if we seem to be a few steps behind another person.

Your journey must begin somewhere, and the best place to start is by committing to learning, asking questions, and showing up to do the work.

Throughout the DEI Conference 2021, many speakers made a point to note that people who are committed to DEI work cannot get discouraged when they stumble. One speaker mentioned that we are going to stumble, and we are going to say the wrong thing at times. The key is to do things with the right intentions. When we stumble, it is important to admit our mistake, apologize to whomever we may have hurt, correct our mistake, and then move on. John Samuels said, “Be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” and that is the basis of all DEI work. Admitting that we don’t know the answer to a question, but we are willing to do the uncomfortable work to learn is where the growth happens.

Tracking DEI Progress

From a corporate perspective of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity, it is important to set up processes to track DEI progress. The difference between quantitative and qualitative goals in DEI is the difference between stories and statistics. Both are equally important in measuring the effectiveness of diversity efforts.

To accurately capture and measure the progress in DEI efforts, there needs to be good participation. Trust must be earned of the internal team to grow participation in the first place. Surveys should take place throughout the programs and efforts to gain feedback, and all team members should know their feedback is of the highest value. When people see that their feedback from past surveys is being acknowledged and implemented, they are more likely to participate in activities in the future.

When sending a survey of any kind, but particularly regarding diversity, equity, and inclusivity, it is recommended to test your questions prior to sending the survey. Make sure that each question is written with care and consideration of the intent and will add value to your overall goals.

Creating an Inclusive Environment

Throughout the DEI Conference, we learned quite a few practical steps to creating an inclusive environment. First, we learned that the best practice is to go directly to people in your organization and ask if they feel included. Then, take these people seriously- especially when your personal experience may not line up with theirs. Next, it is critical to listen with the intent of understanding rather than listening with the intent of responding. When you listen to respond, your reaction is more likely to be defensive and closed-minded, rather than compassionate and willing to learn.

Removing the Idea of a “Culture Fit”

Next, as hiring managers, recruiters, and leaders in organizations, we should reconsider the use of “culture fit”. Many hiring managers often review potential employees, thinking, “Does this person fit into the culture we’ve created?”, whereas The DEI Conference speakers encouraged us to instead think, “What can this person ADD to the culture?”.

Similarly, by assuming based off minimal interactions with someone, that they may be a good “culture fit” in the organization, often means that assumptions have been made about the candidates’ background. Microaggressions can be packaged in assumptions about who someone is, what their background may be, what they believe, and so much more. We should allow there to be room for people to show up as they are and thrive with no expectations of fitting a pre-conceived culture mold.

What may feel welcoming to one, may not feel welcoming for all. As organizations committed to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity, we should “see folks where they are but also for what they can be,” said Curtis Hill. Creating an inclusive, diverse, and equitable environment in the workplace starts with opening the doors to conversations involving all people. From there we need to recognize that DEI work is a journey, and people may be in many different places on the DEI spectrum.

We are forever grateful to the Triangle DEI Alliance, The Raleigh Chamber, the DEI Conference planning committee, and so many others for the thought and intentionality that goes into the planning and behind-the-scenes work for this event. We are betterco-workers, friends, and neighbors because of it.. Thank you.

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