12 Steps to Diversity Recovery – by Susan McCuistion

Abstract

Our approach to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is broken. We have done the same thing over and over for years, expecting better representation and more equitable treatment, all to no avail. In fact, many people still don’t know exactly what D&I is.

At every turn, there’s news about people being mistreated, excluded, and harmed. The social and political unrest often seem impossible to escape. Situations arise on a regular basis that create a social media nightmare for organizations resulting in public shaming and forced apologies. The mental, emotional, and physical toll this turmoil takes impacts us all, regardless of our role— victim, perpetrator, or observer.

We can’t fix the mess we’re in with a 2-hour training session. Creating a world that is truly more equitable for everyone is a process. It takes time and practice.

Cultivating compassion can help us nurture more connected communities and workplaces. On the surface, compassion sounds like a soft skill. However, compassion isn’t just about being kind to other people and doing nice things for them. Instead, it’s an active process through which we build skills and knowledge to understand what kind of help is wanted, rather than assuming what is needed.

This article is distilled from my book, “The D Word: 12 Steps to Diversity Recovery,” which is focused on building the skills needed to bring a more humanitarian approach to D&I using compassion and resilience.

Beginning the Conversation.

Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) programs have been around for years, but we continue to see an abundance of diversity issues within organizations and society at large. There is a lack of women and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in leadership in organizations. Older generations berate Millennial and Gen Z employees for being job-hoppers and not loyal to the company. We punish employees for not being politically correct instead of educating or trying to understand different perspectives. Situations arise on a regular basis that create a social media nightmare for organizations resulting in public shaming and forced apologies.

It’s no different outside of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought to light many long- standing systemic inequities based on race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Anti- Asian hate crimes increased 150% in 2020.1 The confluence of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd brought the Black Lives Matter movement and global protests to the forefront. More attention is paid to issues within Indigenous communities, where American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are murdered at a rate of more than ten times the national average.

Low-wage workers are most often in jobs deemed essential, with no option for remote work, and are more susceptible to exposure to the COVID-19 virus.3 In December 2020, women accounted for all 140,000 jobs lost in the United States.

People are being called out and shamed for things they said 20 or more years ago. We force people into fixtures of their past and assume they haven’t grown or changed in years. Who hasn’t said or done anything foolish at some point in their lives? I know I certainly have!

The irony of this work is that we teach tolerance, but there’s a place where we need to become intolerant of behavior that harms our fellow human beings. People can believe whatever they want, but when they take action to impose those beliefs upon others or demand that “you must believe as I do,” they’ve crossed a line. When people act in ways that discriminate against others because of who they are, they’ve crossed a line. I don’t care about where you lie on the political continuum, the color of your skin, your ethnicity, your gender identity or expression, your age, your sexual orientation, or anything else you use to identify yourself by—there are people across all spectrums who demand “they” believe and behave like “us.” Not only have we lost track of how to treat each other with respect, but we’ve also lost the ability to have conversations that lead to understanding each other as human beings.

I’ve heard the same excuses over and over for 20 years, and I can only come to one conclusion— our approach to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is broken. We have done the same thing over and over for years, expecting better representation and more equitable treatment, all to no avail. In fact, I find many people still don’t know exactly what D&I is. There’s a false belief that its counts and numbers or meeting quotas. Myths about the necessity of hiring less-qualified candidates and reverse discrimination continue, and the way we handle D&I issues when they arise only serve to perpetuate these myths.

D&I has become a game of optics.

In an effort to create credibility within the field and give an appearance of BIPOC in leadership, Chief Diversity Officer and other diversity roles are created within organizations and populated with BIPOC employees. Some of these employees know they are in the role simply because it looks good for the company. Many of them are well-qualified for other leadership positions within the company, but they are stuck in their diversity roles because of the optics. As a result, organizations overcorrect based on color optics and underrepresent other types of diversity like ability, generation, sexual orientation, veteran status, etc. Additionally, White culture is wholly dismissed5 as if “diversity” is reserved only for those not from the majority population. If the end result is equity for all, I would expect equitable representation of all types of diversity, especially within the D&I field. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

It is often said that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Yet, we do the same things repeatedly with diversity and inclusion, somehow expecting turnover will get better, or we’re going to attract better talent, or people will be treated more equitably and systemic injustices will magically be rectified. We wring our hands and lament when training doesn’t work, but we don’t do anything differently. Instead, we keep pushing the same party lines, becoming indignant, frustrated, and angry. We are addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes when things don’t improve.

As long as we remain addicted to the lack of equitable outcomes, we will not solve anything. We spend so much time fighting against things like hate and discrimination and inequality. What if we could refocus and stand for things like love and fairness and equity? The positive feelings of “standing for” are more beneficial for us—in terms of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health—than the negative emotions generated by “fighting against.” It’s a small but powerful shift that can help us get focused on solutions.

We won’t have a peaceful world where everyone gets along until everyone is respected. Until we can understand that right now, everyone is not treated with equity. Until we fix systemic issues and all the –isms and phobias. Until we love each other as human beings and understand we are all connected. Until these are fixed, everyone is held back.

In this article, I offer you my piece of the puzzle to bringing a more humanitarian approach to D&I—The 12 Steps to Diversity RecoveryTM.

The Price of Hate and Disconnection.

Step 1: We acknowledge that separating people into groups of “us” and “them” is not only physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually harmful for everyone, it also is detrimental to our personal relationships.

I am an eternal optimist. I believe people are basically good. I believe 99% of us wake up in the morning with good intentions—to go to work, make a decent living, take care of our families, connect with our friends, and help our communities. I don’t believe we wake up intentionally trying to hurt others, but, inevitably, we do. Why? Because we only see our own perspectives and don’t understand how our views exclude others.

Never is that more evident than it is right now. At every turn, there’s news about people being mistreated, excluded, and harmed, and social and political turmoil often seems impossible to escape. It leaves us feeling stressed out in almost every aspect of our lives, and we carry that stress with us into work every day. The mental, emotional, and physical toll this turmoil takes impacts us all, regardless of our role—victim, perpetrator, or observer.

It’s essential to look at all three groups because we can’t solve hate and discrimination issues unless we understand them from a holistic perspective. We are all part of the system, and we’re all connected. What affects one person or group of people affects us all.

Naturally, when we think about the effect of acts of hate and discrimination, our thoughts instantly go to the victims targeted in these acts. Our human instinct to ease and soothe their pain kicks into gear, and we want to jump in to fix the immediate situation. However, the detrimental effects of such acts linger long beyond the initial furor.

Victims of discrimination are subject to increased rates of depression, hypertension, certain cancers, and a host of other illnesses and diseases.6 Even “perceived discrimination” was associated with increased mortality in older adults, and merely being a racial minority can lead to greater levels of stress. A reported 18.2% of Blacks, compared to 3.5% of Whites, experienced emotional stress, and 9.5% of Blacks, compared to 1.6% of Whites, experienced physical stress.

The devastating effects of these acts aren’t limited to just Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) or other underrepresented groups. They extend to majority Whites as well. In United States counties where Whites expressed more implicit and explicit bias, both Blacks and Whites showed increased death rates from circulatory diseases. In communities where high levels of bias exist, people are less likely to trust and bond with each other, leading to a lack of social connectedness. This lack of connection is more detrimental to our health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure.

People who engage in racist, sexist, or homophobic behavior experience a potent mix of negative emotions—such as fear and guilt—when their behavior is brought to their attention. These emotions may block their ability to develop further awareness and, instead, lead to avoidance and defensiveness.  As a result, it becomes easier for perpetrators to dehumanize others, further justifying oppressive and inhuman behaviors. Such justification diminishes compassion and can rip an individual’s moral and spiritual fiber in two.

Finally, observing these events doesn’t protect us from the emotional, physical, and mental consequences.

Merely watching an event triggers a special class of neurons in our brain to engage. Mirror neurons are brain cells that fire not only when we do something but also when we observe someone else do the same thing.  Have you ever cringed when you saw someone else stub their toe? Those are the mirror neurons in action, reminding you of the pain you felt when you stubbed your toe. These same mirror neurons fire when we witness traumatic events—like someone being beaten or abused. The neurons fire, and our brain reacts as if we’re being beaten. Cortisol, adrenaline, and a flood of other potentially harmful hormones and chemicals get released into our system. The result is not only empathy for the other person but also added stress on our bodies.

We Are All Connected.

Step 2: We recognize that we are all connected and a part of the social systems that weave through our societies, nations, and world. We are all human; we share basic human needs for belonging. We are also all different; therefore, we are all diverse.

The Six Degrees of Separation theory claims every person in the world can be connected to any other person through only five other people.13 Some have criticized the initial experiment, retested it, and found it correct. Since the advent of social media, degrees of connection appear to have shrunk from six to four. Think of it—just three people between you and anyone else in the world. It seems unfathomable.

If the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21 has taught us anything, it’s that we live in a hyper- connected world. One event can steer us in an entirely different direction—from causing companies to quickly adjust to work-from-home plans, which they resisted for years, to a well- deserved and prolonged focus on social justice issues.

Building connection is one of our most basic human needs, and we are socially connected now more than ever. Positive social connections are good for our health and may increase our lifespan.  Our brains are wired to help the people we’re connected with, which helps us build resilience and reduce stress.  Our connections also help us:

●  Build self-awareness. We learn our values, connect to our beliefs, and deepen our self- understanding. We gain a sense of what motivates us, which gives us a stronger sense of purpose.

●  Discover and explore new perspectives. We learn that there is not just one “right” and one “wrong” way for every situation. Embracing different perspectives helps open our minds to other possibilities and build our problem-solving skills. We learn two answers can both be right at the same time.

●  Build empathy and understanding. The more we understand ourselves and others, the better we can create more profound and meaningful relationships. We can help other people in more authentic ways—and the benefits of our connection perpetuate.

“Connectedness” and “belonging” are often linked. Belonging is the extent to which we feel accepted by the groups we are connected to. For example, I am connected to my community because I own a home there; however, I don’t necessarily feel like I belong because I’m not active in community groups and have little knowledge of local events. We can feel connected to our work because we like our day-to-day tasks, yet we can still feel like we don’t belong if we think we’re not heard or valued. While it may be relatively easy to find points of connection with others, feeling as if we belong may be more elusive.

Feeling a sense of belonging is key to moving beyond basic diversity and building more inclusive workplaces and communities. “Employees who feel a strong sense of belonging, compared to employees with a low sense of belonging, demonstrate a 50% reduction in turnover risk, a 56% increase in performance, and a 75% decrease in employee sick days.”

Cultivating compassion is just one skill that can help us nurture more connected communities and workplaces. On the surface, compassion sounds like a soft skill. However, compassion isn’t just about being kind to other people and doing nice things for them. Instead, it’s an active process through which we build skills and knowledge to understand what kind of help is wanted, rather than assuming what is needed. We’ll see how compassion can further build connection and inclusion as we work through The 12 Steps to Diversity RecoveryTM.

There Are Many Ways to Be Right.

Step 3: We acknowledge we have much in common, and we share values. We allow ourselves to see differences, and we discover there are different ways to express our shared values.

One of the most common discussions in seminars I facilitate centers around the idea that everyone wants to be respected. I’ve discovered that we don’t truly respect other people, despite our best intentions.

Why?

We’re taught to believe, “We’re all human,” which assumes we all have the same fundamental experience of the world. We judge others’ behavior based on what we were taught was “respectful” and “disrespectful” behavior. When we treat people like we want to be treated, we’re assuming they have the same definition of “respect” that we do—but they don’t. Consider:

● Direct eye contact is respectful behavior. So is lack of eye contact.
● Saying “yes ma’am” to a woman in the Southern United States is respectful. Doing the same to a woman in the Midwest is disrespectful.
● Speaking directly to a person with whom you have a conflict is considered “professional,” and that is “respectful.” Yet, indirect communicators might view direct communication as “rude” and “disrespectful.”

Nearly every organization has “respect” as a fundamental value. The intent is good. However, values around respect are typically written assuming we all know what respect is. Specific behavior is rarely described, leaving far too much open to interpretation, leading to misunderstanding. For example:

● “We treat one another with respect and take pride in the significant contributions that come from the diversity of individuals and ideas.”

●  “We depend on the relationships we have and respect each other and those we work with.”

●  “Respect helps us to value differences, to appreciate each person for her or his unique qualities. Through respect, we help bring out the full potential of each person.”

Of course, we all want to be treated with respect. We all try to be respectful to others. But what does “respectful behavior” look like, and exactly how does respect help us value differences?

To be truly respectful, we must first understand that there is a wide range of behaviors that are considered respectful. Then, we must develop the skills necessary to discern which behavior is appropriate for the current situation. Simply treating other people like you want to be treated isn’t enough. What if they don’t want to be treated like you want to be treated?

We can value our common humanity and begin to understand that there may be more than one right answer or one right way to do things. The world isn’t necessarily either/or. It can be both/ and. When we think from both/and, we understand different perspectives, even though they may be contrary to our own. We can admit that we don’t have all the answers and engage in conversations to learn rather than to win.

Having Conversations.

Step 4: We accept we cannot resolve our differences by pointing fingers and placing blame. We are committed to learning how to have conversations about our differences.

We all know people who think it’s acceptable to yell at other people. They take pride in pointing their finger at someone who is doing something “wrong” and confronting the person with the error of their ways. I’ve been in discussion groups and classes where people have been humiliated for asking a question. They are scolded, “How could you not know?!” as if everyone has access to the same information and same life experiences.

When we assume someone is “just like me,” we think they have the same wants, needs, and motivations we do. We decide who is (and isn’t) qualified for a job based on whether they act as we do. We coach them by telling them what worked for us. We measure their performance by our preferences for how things get done. We assume the products and services successful in one market should work in a new market. In the end, we miss out on good employees, squash innovation, and lose sales.

This is where Compassionate Diversity® comes in. Compassionate Diversity® is a comprehensive approach to seeing different perspectives, understanding others, and building bridges in understanding that incorporates both the head and the heart. We develop compassion and affect change through understanding what others truly need from their perspective–not what we think they need.

Fundamental to Compassionate Diversity® is the Compassionate Diversity® Solution Process:

●  At the Comprehension level, we work to understand the reactions and expectations of ourselves and others and the purpose and outcomes of the situation.

●  At the Connection level, we work to create shared meaning and alignment of purpose.

●  In Collaboration, we develop more innovative and sustainable solutions in our

businesses and in our communities by creating more compassionate environments.

The Compassionate Diversity® Solution Process moves compassion into action. Whenever we’re in a new situation or place of conflict, we can use this process to move forward effectively.

First, the ground rules:

●  All perspectives are valid, even if you disagree with them. We all come to our viewpoints through complex processes informed by our learning and life experiences. No path, therefore no perspective, is less valid than any other.

●  Your focus is to understand, inform, and resolve. You are not trying to convince anyone of anything because right/wrong arguments lead to polarization.

●  It’s okay not to know. We live in a world where saying “I don’t know” or “Let me get back to you” means we’re stupid, or we don’t know what we’re doing. Inclusion work requires vulnerability. Vulnerability allows us the space necessary to say, “I don’t know.” This can be difficult to do, especially for business leaders, but admitting our vulnerability helps build trust.20 (Step 8 covers vulnerability in more detail.)

Comprehension.

The first step in Comprehension is emotional awareness. Our emotions are our internal guidance system. They tell us whether we are in or out of alignment with our beliefs, values, and expectations (BVE). If we’re feeling good in a particular situation, then it means we are in alignment with our BVE. If we’re not feeling good, then we’re out of alignment. It’s that simple. (We’ll discuss the importance of Emotional Intelligence in Step 10.)

Next, take inventory of your BVE. What are your beliefs about the situation? What are your expectations? What might others involved be thinking and feeling?

Now, we need to understand the deeper purpose and desired outcomes of the situation. For instance, if we’re interviewing a candidate, the purpose isn’t to ask questions and gather answers.

Our purpose is to find the best person for the job. How might our biases get in the way of accomplishing this purpose?

Connection.

We want to use the information we gathered in Comprehension to create shared meaning and alignment to purpose. It’s essential we connect before there’s a more significant gap in understanding and you miss out on the next sale, lose another employee, or allow conflict to get out of hand. CAUTION: We are not trying to solve anything at this stage. Resist the temptation to jump in with any conclusions. We may even need to occasionally revisit Comprehension as we go through this Connection step.

First, decide what is out of alignment. Are your BVE out of alignment with the purpose of the situation? Are your BVE out of alignment with others? We often try to change people to conform to our perspective when it’s the process, or maybe even us, that needs to change. If it’s you who needs straightening out, then get into alignment with the purpose of the situation and move on to Collaboration.

If alignment is necessary with others, then it is time to begin conversations. Remember the ground rules of this process, and first identify the things you have in common. You may find the gap is not as wide as you perceived. Once you have found common ground, begin talking about the differences.

Don’t default into defending your position. Instead, ask questions like:

●  “Can you tell me more?”

●  “What else would you like me to know about this?”

● “What more do you want to know from me?”
Finally, don’t expect the other person to be the only one to change. Be open to modifying your expectations along the way.

Collaboration

When we understand the situation and feel we have all the information we need to make an appropriate decision, we can move on to Collaboration. Here, we take appropriate action to drive desired outcomes. There are only two outcomes: 1) change; or 2) no change. “Change” means we need to create a new process or system. “No change” means we maintain the status quo, but with a new understanding. This may mean accepting some things we may disagree with or letting go of other long-held beliefs. (Step 11 can help you with letting go.)

A Win/Win Proposition.

Step 5: We discover when we can achieve fair outcomes, everyone benefits. We release notions of equality and act with equity.

Once we get clear on Steps 2 and 3—that diversity is about non-majority and majority; others and myself; differences and commonalities—then we begin to see the intersectionality of diversity. (Intersectionality is the interconnectedness of all diversity elements, for example, race, class, and gender, that combine to make us who we are.) When we contemplate the complex web of our identity and what each of us brings in terms of advantages and disadvantages, we can begin to understand that diversity leads to greater benefits for everyone.

Study after study has shown this to be true about diversity. Just a few examples:

In the United States, much legislation around equal employment and nondiscrimination came out of the Civil Rights movement. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was signed into law in 1978, and companies implemented maternity leave and other employee benefits to aid working mothers. In turn, those laws and benefits have grown into paternity and family leave, which benefits everyone.

Globally, studies show that the more women there are in the workforce, the higher the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the United States, achieving gender parity has the potential to add $4.3 trillion to the economy by 2025.22

Diversity drives innovation. Diverse companies are 45 percent more likely to report year- over-year growth and 70 percent more likely to have captured a new market. Expanding companies keep people employed and hire more people to support their growth.

Some benefits of diversity in the workforce may be evident and immediate, and some may take more time. Just because one group is helped doesn’t mean another is hurt. Instead, we find the changes made with diversity in mind are synergistic—when we give support to aid one group, we all eventually prosper.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to people around the world. Here in the United States, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have been disproportionately affected by the disease. A study conducted by Harvard University researchers found that if the United States had paid reparations to descendants of Black slaves “well before the pandemic and lessened the equity gap between Black [sic] and Whites, coronavirus transmission in Louisiana could’ve been reduced between 31% and 68% for residents of all races.” (The state of Louisiana is historically a slave state and remains highly segregated based on race.)

We’re all part of the same system. We all play in to the game, regardless of which side we’re on or if we understand the game or not. We are all subject to a system of inequity and exclusion. The question is, when will we all wake up and no longer play into it?

Becoming Aware.

Step 6: We work to build a better understanding of ourselves because knowing who we are is key to understanding each other.

The first five steps addressed several myths around D&I work. The next seven steps outline skills you need to build to be more culturally competent.

What is cultural competence? Cultural competence is the ongoing process of discovering cultural patterns of beliefs and behaviors in oneself and others and using those patterns to develop more innovative and sustainable solutions. When we are culturally competent, we can balance the similarities and differences between ourselves and others to communicate, resolve conflict, and solve problems more effectively.

One of the things I hear most often from majority culture people is, “I don’t have a culture.” They think this because their culture is the culture—it’s “normal.” However, normal is relative to our individual experiences, as we’ve discussed.

I invite you to think very broadly of culture as the beliefs, values, and behaviors we learn from the groups of people we belong to. The groups influencing us may be based on race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or generation. They may also be the places we’ve lived, what we studied in school, or even our parental status. We learn group norms and unwritten rules of engagement within these groups.

It’s easy to think, “Everyone else is just like me,” and we don’t typically realize they aren’t until we disagree. We may be able to avoid this trap if we have a good sense of “what influenced me.” In this step, we’re going to build our awareness.

Awareness is the necessary first step to solve any challenges we’re having. Unfortunately, we’re usually only snapped into awareness when something happens to interrupt our routine.

Awareness is a broad concept. For The 12 Steps to Diversity RecoveryTM, we’re not talking about being aware of the 12 Steps—as in “Heart Disease Awareness Month.” We’re talking about a more personal kind of awareness, including self-awareness, mindfulness, and other-awareness.

●  Self-awareness: Too often with diversity, we want to jump straight to understanding “them,” and we forget that we see every interaction we have through our own lens. Our lens includes the values, beliefs, and behaviors we have learned through the years, and it shapes how we decide what is “right” and “wrong.” Self-awareness is about discovering your own diversity.

●  Mindfulness: Mindfulness is awareness of our current situation and reactions. It’s a form of self-awareness that’s practiced in the present moment. Being mindful in situations helps us connect our heads and hearts and regulate our emotions, responses, and actions better. Mindfulness techniques in diversity & inclusion classes “can help us become more aware of our biases and reduce them,” as well as help us better regulate emotions in challenging situations.

● Other-awareness: We make assumptions about what other people are thinking or what motivates their actions based on our own knowledge and experience. However, we don’t know if our assumptions are right or wrong unless we ask. Building our “other- awareness” helps us to understand their perspectives. When we understand different perspectives, we understand there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution. Other- awareness forces us to think about the best solution within the context of the given situation.

The goal of awareness is to bring attention to our assumptions and the needs of others so we can see different perspectives and, perhaps, change our approach.

Are You Who You Say You Are?

Step 7: We discover we can remain true to ourselves while allowing others the space to be true to themselves.

Cultural competence is not just about how we view other people and their behavior. It’s also about building an awareness of how other people may see us. Are we true to our word? Do our actions reflect our values? It’s important to recognize the last question is not “Do our actions reflect what we say?” because what we say and what we do may be subject to cultural interpretation.

For example, let’s look at the value of “hard work.” We each have our own definition of hard work based on what we’ve individually experienced, observed, and learned. Suppose your boss assigns you to a new project, and you’re excited to take it on. Which behavior do you consider “hard work”?

●  Independently develop your plan for the project and execute it, depending on your boss as a sounding board and asking questions only when necessary; or

●  Take the plan your boss has created and implement it, expecting to work closely with your boss to carry out their directives.

The answer? It depends.

The difference between the two answers given is the difference between behavior in egalitarian and hierarchical cultures.26 In more egalitarian cultures, bosses rely on their employees. They trust their employees’ experience and knowledge to get the job done, and they expect to be consulted only if the employee has challenges with the project.

Employees are expected to do as they are told in more hierarchical cultures. Micromanaging, which is frowned on in egalitarian cultures, is the norm. Bosses tend to be autocratic, and the boss/employee relationship is parental, with employees having an emotional tie to their superiors.

Authenticity is often misunderstood to mean many different things, like:

●  Acting the same way in all situations.

●  Being transparent.

●  Always telling the truth.

However, these behaviors don’t always reflect authentic behavior. So, what is authenticity?
Authenticity is the action we take based on our highest values.

Being authentic requires that we:

●  Are self-aware and clear about our values.

●  Understand that values and behaviors are different things.

●  Know that many behaviors express the same value.

●  Recognize that different behaviors may be needed in different situations.

●  Choose to act accordingly.

Authenticity means we narrow the gap between the person we show to the world and the person we truly are through living our values.

The Strength of Vulnerability.

Step 8: We cultivate the humility to admit we don’t know all the answers and to ask the questions we need to ask in order to learn.

At the end of a seminar on unconscious bias, a manager approached me and said, “I’m glad we implemented phone interviews versus in-person interviews.”

He told me about interviewing a man for a job opening. The manager thought the applicant had one of the best resumes the manager had ever seen. He was hoping the applicant would interview well, and he did. An offer was extended and accepted.

The manager went to the lobby to welcome his new employee the first day. Upon entering the lobby, the manager saw a man sitting there with long hair pulled back in a ponytail and covered in tattoos. The manager thought, “Oh, boy. I hope that’s not my guy!”

He was.

The manager closed his story by saying, “This employee has turned out to be everything I had hoped he would be. He’s one of the best hires I’ve ever made, and if we had interviewed in person, I’m not sure I would have been able to overcome my biases.”

This story is one of my favorites because it took self-awareness and vulnerability for the manager to realize his biases and to tell his story. He’s been able to overcome some of his own biases about appearance, and he’s helped educate others in the organization.

Embracing vulnerability means we’re willing to learn and grow and change, not because we’re bad people, but because we want to be better people.

We’ve all said foolish things. How do we best recover?
By building our capacity for resilience.

Why resilience? Well, according to HeartMath, an organization out of Northern California that has studied resilience for well over 25 years, “Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity.”27 What’s unique about this definition is the “prepare for” part. We can practice techniques in advance of stressful times, so we are more at ease when stressors arise.

When we learn how to manage our resilience levels, we don’t waste unnecessary energy on stressful situations. Instead, we can effectively plug any leaks in our internal battery and build and maintain the energy we need to be more effective in our day-to-day activities.

Building resilience can help us reduce anxiety, improve communication, and boost our performance at work, leading to better business decisions and outcomes. Improved resilience also helps us maintain our composure in challenging situations and self-regulate our emotions, an important part of Step 10.

How can resilience help us to be more vulnerable? In those times where we might not know the answer to a question or are afraid to admit we made a mistake, resilience allows us to reach into ourselves, past the palpitating heart and nervousness, to honestly say, “I don’t know” or “I’m sorry.” Resilience can help us with the strength we need to admit we’re human and lead with greater compassion.

Keeping an Open Mind.

Step 9: We maintain nonjudgment and curiosity when we see someone behave differently in word, action, or deed.

Suppose I gave you this description: “[A] light, flat growth. . . consisting of numerous slender, closely arranged parallel barbs forming a vane on either side of a horny, tapering, partly hollow shaft.” Would you know what it is? Certainly, everyone alive has seen one of these—perhaps not up close, but we’ve all seen one.

If I told you that you could find these growths on birds, you would realize the description is of a feather.

We give things their meaning. If I were to hand you a pencil, you would know its purpose is to write. You know that because you’ve been taught that, and you’ve used pencils. You give it meaning through what you’ve been taught and your own experiences. Even just saying “pencil” gives you a mental image. How would you describe a pencil? Both you and a friend might describe it differently, but you both would share the meaning of “pencil.”

Suppose I asked you to describe a utensil for eating. If you grew up in a place that used forks, knives, and spoons, you would describe those. On the other hand, if you grew up in China, Japan, or Korea, you would describe chopsticks. Depending on the community in which you grew up and what type of utensils your family used, you may be even more specific about the type of material used in fashioning the utensils.

Our culturally ingrained knowledge teaches us the meaning of things. It’s what we’re brought up with and how we share meaning with those we know. We work from our frame of reference because, too often, it’s the only frame we have. If you grew up in a place with forks and were dropped into a place with chopsticks, you might not even know what a chopstick was, much less how to use it. It would take inquiry, observation, and practice.

Understanding the meaning around pencils and eating utensils is just a start to understanding how we create meaning based on our culture. We often don’t realize that what we learn and observe from our families and communities is not the same thing others learn and observe. We may write a person off as rude, racist, or untrustworthy because of one interaction, but we must consider context and discern if our assumptions are accurate. It was likely just one or two behaviors that resulted in our negative judgment. Perhaps the person was having a bad day. Maybe you were having a bad day. While rude people exist, it’s more likely good people exhibit rude behavior. When making value judgments, it’s essential to step back and understand our way is not the only way.

There is never only one perspective for anything. Electricity can be helpful, or it can kill. Medicine can make us healthy or sick. A table can be used as a chair, and vice versa. When two people look at the same thing, there are two perspectives of the same thing. We might agree a table is a table, but how we describe or use the table might be quite different.

Your Emotional Guidance System.

Step 10: We notice when we feel good, we are in alignment with our beliefs, values, and expectations. When we don’t feel good, we aren’t in alignment.

Emotional intelligence is a key component to connecting to ourselves. Our emotions are our internal guidance system. They let us know when things are going along according to our beliefs, values, and expectations, and when they are not. If you’re happy, it means what’s happening aligns with your beliefs, values, and expectations. If you’re angry, it means it doesn’t. It’s that simple.

We accept information we feel good about because it confirms our beliefs, and we reject information that makes us feel bad because it conflicts with our beliefs. If something makes us feel bad, we seek relief by looking for information that makes us feel better. This is how confirmation bias is formed.

For instance, let’s take the hot topic of climate change. Many have the opinion climate change is tied to a political agenda. Their belief about climate change depends on the information presented by the political party they support. If they are presented with conflicting information, they get angry because it does not align with their beliefs. They gravitate toward theories that align with their beliefs because it makes them feel better.

The key is to be aware of our emotions and understand how they influence our beliefs. Are our feelings of skepticism or control or fear keeping us from furthering our understanding of a situation? If so, it may be important to back away from those feelings and re-examine the situation from a different perspective. We will never change our beliefs unless our feelings change first.

A New Approach to Diversity & Inclusion.

Step 11: We remember learning about ourselves and others often happens through making mistakes. We grant ourselves and others grace when we mess up.

While there have been a few adjustments here and there, we tend to teach diversity and inclusion the same way we did years ago—through logic and facts. There have been a lot of articles written about why diversity training doesn’t work, but after over 20 years in this field, I know why:

●  First, we force people through classes that pile on guilt for some while leaving others feeling justified.

●  Second, we don’t teach a subject that is all about people in a way that actually connects with people. We teach to the head and not to the heart.

●  Third, we fail to make connections for people about the personal benefits of things like self-awareness and understanding others.

Today, more and more leadership research is focused on areas like authenticity, vulnerability, and mindfulness. There is a growing acknowledgment, both inside and outside of business, of the need to connect with different people and perspectives in more meaningful ways. One way we can do this is through developing compassion.

Compassion does not excuse the historic and systemic injustices in society. In fact, compassion demands even more effort than the old, worn diversity path that hasn’t worked for years because it requires us to actually take time to understand how these injustices affect everyone from their perspective. Reaching this point is a step-by-step journey, calling for not only deep introspection but also an ability to recognize injustices, to understand different perspectives, and to step into another person’s shoes in a respectful, curious, caring way.

In Step 2, we discussed the personal benefits of compassion, and there are also benefits for business.

●  First, compassion within businesses relieves stress and burnout.30 Stress at work not only affects our health, but it can also affect our work relationships and focus too.31 Researchers find that giving and receiving compassion in the workplace decreases depression and negative feelings—like irritability and aggression—and increases creativity, performance, and productivity. People miss less work due to illness, which decreases health care expenses.

●  Second, compassion increases a sense of community. Compassion deepens connections to the organization and each other.32 When we care about each other and the work we do,
we build better relationships at work, which leads to more commitment to the workplace. The end result is lower turnover and higher productivity and engagement.33

●  Third, compassion leads to better financial results.34 By now, this should be obvious. We all know the results of compassion outlined above—fewer absences, lower healthcare costs, decreased turnover, and higher productivity—lead to better financial results.

Compassion is proven science. The more we experience it in the workplace, the more likely we are to pass it on to others, increasing connection and belonging—and, in turn, more inclusive workplaces.

Never Stop Learning.

Step 12: We know learning is a lifelong journey. We commit to taking the necessary time to build better connections in all our relationships.

Suppose you and I are going on a vacation together. You decide to drive, and I take an airplane. When we arrive, we talk about our travels. You describe the twisting roads and the flatlands, the quaint town where you stopped for gas, and the rainstorm that slowed down traffic. I talk about the harried security officers, the relatively smooth flight, and the sun shining above the clouds. We both had very different experiences, yet we are now in the same place.

It’s the same way with life. We all have different paths, but we come together for moments in time, whether at school or work or a local community function. What brought us together creates shared meaning, but the stories about how we got there differ for each of us. It’s in the how where diversity lies, and it’s in understanding each other’s how that we create more connected and authentic relationships.

Reading about The 12 Steps to Diversity RecoveryTM doesn’t mean you’re done. You’ve only just begun. Building cultural competence and practicing Compassionate Diversity® is a life-long learning process.

● You will always discover more about yourself and the world around you, and with each discovery, you will add a new perspective to how you see the world.

●  You will always encounter new people and new situations, and with each encounter, you will learn more effective behavior for connecting with others.

●  You will always run into challenges, and with each challenge, you will add to your repertoire of solutions and develop new ways to become more compassionate.

Continuous learning means we are engaged with life and with others. We are committed to valuing our similarities and celebrating our differences. We are committed to understanding each other and making our world more meaningful. We are committed to living in a world with more compassion.

Make a commitment today.

Step 1: We acknowledge that separating people into groups of “us” and “them” is not only physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually harmful for everyone, it also is detrimental to our personal relationships.

Step 2: We recognize that we are all connected and a part of the social systems that weave through our societies, nations, and world. We are all human; we share basic human needs for belonging. We are also all different; therefore, we are all diverse.

Step 3: We acknowledge we have much in common, and we share values. We allow ourselves to see differences, and we discover there are different ways to express our shared values.

Step 4: We accept we cannot resolve our differences by pointing fingers and placing blame. We are committed to learning how to have conversations about our differences.

Step 5: We discover when we can achieve fair outcomes, everyone benefits. We release notions of equality and act with equity.

Step 6: We work to build a better understanding of ourselves, because knowing who we are is key to understanding each other.

Step 7: We discover we can remain true to ourselves while allowing others the space to be true to themselves.

Step 8: We cultivate the humility to admit we don’t know all the answers and to ask the questions we need to ask in order to learn.

Step 9: We maintain nonjudgment and curiosity when we see someone behave differently in word, action, or deed.

Step 10: We notice when we feel good, we are in alignment with our beliefs, values, and expectations. When we don’t feel good, we aren’t in alignment.

Step 11: We remember learning about ourselves and others often happens through making mistakes. We grant ourselves, and others, grace when we mess up.

Step 12: We know learning is a lifelong journey. We commit to taking the necessary time to build better connections in all our relationships.

_____________________________

With permission to reprint from The D Word: 12 Steps to Diversity Recovery.

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