When DEI is simply not enough: the idea behind IDEA

Hamlin Grange, President & CEO of DIversiPro, Inc.In this interview with Hamlin Grange, CEO of DiversiPro, he explains why Anti-Racism must be part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Conversation

Q: DiversiPro uses the acronym IDEA – for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-Racism. Why should anti-racism be added?

A: First and foremost, because it’s important, and not just because of the renewed social justice movement of the past 2 years. If organizational leaders truly want to make transformational, systemic change, anti-racism work must be a key part of the conversation.

Research in Canada and the US tells us that race is a factor in wages and career opportunities, education, and how people receive healthcare, justice, and other services. We’ve known this, and the people damaged by it have been telling us this for a long time. Yet when inclusion and diversity are discussed in the workplace, we often shy away from race.

But let’s break it down further – to look at where we are today.

Despite what the research is telling us over the years, and all the diversity and inclusion efforts led to date, many leaders still feel uncomfortable addressing racism. They use soft words and phrases to avoid the issue. But we know through the work we have done for more than 20 years at DiversiPro, listening to racialized people, and from many studies, that race and racism are a reality that actually hurts people’s lives. Failure to talk about it contributes to the ongoing misfiring of diversity and inclusion initiatives in organizations.

In today’s environment and with a renewed focus on racial justice, anti-racism must be a central part of the effort to create inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplaces.

When I talk about racism, I’m talking about the reality of anti-Black, and anti-Indigenous racism. I’m talking about the increased racially-motivated attacks on Canadians and Americans of Asian heritage. People are being harmed by racism.

We’ve seen increased politicization and the weaponization of race from political leaders, which further polarizes the environment, (including workplaces) by pitting people against each other along racial lines. That’s a real danger and we need to confront it.

Q: How does racism affect people in workplaces?

A: In the work we do at DiversiPro, we interview employees. The experiences they share are troublingly similar. We’ve heard about people minimizing themselves to fit into a dominant White workplace culture to such an extent that not only do they become emotionally wounded, but the company loses a lot of what they could contribute.

The impact of racism isn’t only on the victims – it’s also on the people who perpetuate it, and the organization itself. It’s like a virus that has the potential to both debilitate and deprive the organization of benefiting from the whole person, and their knowledge, skills, and talents.

Q: What do organizations have to do to tackle anti-racism?

A: Many senior managers – often White males – are genuinely shocked to hear about the severity of trauma some of their racialized employees suffer. They’re astonished to learn how very differently these employees experience the organization from the way they and others do. They often have no idea about what is happening to racialized employees – in part because these experiences aren’t taken seriously, or employees don’t want to jeopardize their jobs, so they keep it to themselves or only tell other racialized colleagues.

For too many people, discussing racism is the deadly third rail. They think it divides, rather than brings people together. But it’s the opposite. It’s not only about calling people out; it’s about calling people into a necessary conversation. It’s about working together to address a serious issue.
During the first wave of the COVID pandemic, a senior leader told us: “We were able to talk about COVID and come up with strategies to protect ourselves and our health and we managed it very well.”

I asked her: “What could everyone agree upon with COVID?”

“That it can affect everyone,” she replied.

“So you had a common enemy?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

So there’s the rub. Until racism is seen as a common enemy that can harm all of us, we won’t be able to come up with shared strategies and goals, or even talk about it as we should. Racism is making people sick. It’s destroying lives. And it’s affecting the performance of organizations. In many ways, it can be seen as a racial pandemic.

This is why anti-racism must be part of any inclusion, diversity, and equity initiative. That’s the idea behind IDEA.

Q: Where can organizations and DEI leaders learn more about what they need to do and what practical tools are available to ensure anti-racism is part of their inclusion, diversity, and equity initiatives?

A: This February, I will be hosting a live discussion on this very topic with my colleague Gérard Étienne, where we will look at the need for organizations to take a more holistic approach to their inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism efforts. This discussion will also introduce a new, comprehensive, and data-driven tool we’ve created to help them get there. More to come.

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