I never planned on launching a diversity and inclusiveness business. Yes, I’m excited for the launch of this organization – more excited than I’ve been about any other venture, but let’s just say… I didn’t mean to end up here.
Diversity and inclusiveness are big buzz words these days. Many people claim they are committed to diversity. They claim to be inclusive. I once claimed to be inclusive – without the action to back it up. I’ve changed. Last year I learned some hard lessons. Declaring a love for diversity is not enough. You must act: inclusiveness takes dedicated attention and effort. If you have power (and pretty much everyone has some power) you have to expend some of that power, focusing extra effort on being inclusive. Work to understand the backgrounds and cultures of those who have less power, question the systems that strategically keep some out of power, review your own participation. A close analysis will show you how you can actively be inclusive. Passively hoping for you or your team to become more diverse does not get the job done.
I learned all this just last year. The old me knew women and people of color grappled with issues of sexism, racism and harassment. I’m privileged, though, and had never been forced to confront these issues in any real way. As a white, middle class woman who was raised by liberal parents I grew up believing life was fair and the workplace was a meritocracy. I believed if someone worked hard enough she had an equal shot at the great career, the corner office, and time at the podium. When I challenged the status quo I opened my eyes to a different reality.
In the summer of 2016 I was an executive at a small-but-growing not-for-profit I’d co-founded in New York City. The organization was doing extremely important work – representing immigrant kids who faced deportation. The role seemed to have been designed for me. I got to focus on youth, use my legal and operational skills and build an organization’s culture from scratch. I worked with other dedicated, hard-working staff and the organization thrived. Our income grew steadily, we slowly hired a bigger team and after several years we were building a recognizable brand.
As the organization grew I watched the 2016 U.S. campaign in my periphery. I was aware of politics but didn’t follow day-to-day operations of our government closely. Regardless of a few sexist incidents, nothing, I thought, would keep Hillary from winning. She was clearly the more qualified candidate.
We all know what happened next: a man who disrespected women, minorities and anyone deemed different became the President-elect. As I coped with my shock from the election results, I began to notice questionable practices inside my organization. I learned of decisions the Executive Director made concerning compensation, titles, and promotions that seemed arbitrary at best–and more likely, sexist or racist. I immediately asked questions, hoping for an explanation for the decisions. But, when I raised questions, I was shut down. He was offended by my even raising the issue.
I grappled with this turn of events over the course of several months and reported my concerns up the chain of command – to our Board of Directors. There, I was met with nothing short of ambivalence.
I shared my struggles with friends and colleagues and was met with a resounding chorus of “Me too.” Everyone had a story about a time when they wondered if they were affected by sexism or racism. I was emboldened because I wasn’t alone but at the same time I wondered why I hadn’t heard any of these stories before. I, too, was guilty of not hearing the stories when people did have the courage to speak out.
Living through this awakening was as disheartening as watching our new president dismantle many of the gains arduously made by women and minorities in recent history. These shifts wound their way into my personal life. I began looking at close relationships differently – questioning ideas I once accepted without argument.
This collision of circumstances led me to take action. Heddy Consulting is that action. Heddy helps leaders grapple with issues around diversity and inclusiveness in a positive and proactive way.
Increasing the inclusiveness of your workplace is not just good for humanity – it’s good for business. Research shows being more inclusive increases your bottom line and improves staff performance. Embracing diversity will make your organization more creative and more resilient. Specific actions will lead to improved outputs. Actions such as a review of your organization’s diversity through audits, development of your staff’s knowledge about unconscious bias, the drafting and implementation of well-crafted policies. Any (or all) of these deliberate steps move your organization toward greater success. Work with Heddy and change how you approach diversity.