When we are pushed, what was once impossible becomes plausible, what was unacceptable becomes a consideration, what was once certain breaks apart into tiny pieces to form new and oddly shaped curiosities — we tilt our heads to wonder what it will all mean in the end, but in the moment of crisis, when pushed, we instinctively find our way forward in order to survive. This year has delivered us a giant push to do things differently. Every aspect of living has been affected by a once-in-a-century pandemic, by accelerant partisan politics, by a volatile economy, by human suffering witnessed in high definition, and by inequities and injustices that have existed, always, as a second skin just beneath the orderly veneer of the American Dream. It’s been a lot. Any one of these forces would challenge our creativity to solve for X, but as a collective bombardment, these forces have overwhelmed our senses and shaken norms.
Today, our homes double as conference rooms, while parents fuse identities to become working parents, stay-at-home parents, and newly minted homeschool teachers. Our shared experiences are common in this alone: we are doing our daily best to survive. In this historic moment, survival is obvious, more binary, and fundamental. We move through our day with fewer freedoms and choices and so decisions are black or white, good or bad, win or lose, and, quite literally, life or death. Businesses are being pushed to be more curious about diversity, equity, and inclusion as they support their entire workforce and strive to be attentive to individual needs. In this moment, there is finally a collective recognition that choice is a privilege.
Are we there yet? For decades now, responsible companies have developed multiyear goals and allocated significant funding to soberly address diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of a progressive work culture. But the programs lacked sincerity for real change and the stamina to see results. All those well-invested performances for diversity, equity, and inclusion felt like pantomime and received the same applause as that typically reserved for a kindergartner at a ballet recital — effort over outcomes, “but we’re trying and that’s what counts.” These many years later, reports still show pay disparities for women, lack of diversity in leadership, and biases and microaggressions as commonplace for people of color and, more broadly, anyone “Othered.” Underrepresented groups have long known what it’s like to survive and make it work, both inside and outside their corporate homes, experiencing lamentable diversity and inclusion efforts as more frustrating than helpful. As a result, what persists is fatigue, distrust, and a resolve to get along without any real expectation of truly belonging.
It would be right and fair to say diversity and inclusion are hard. These efforts are complex, difficult, deeply rooted, and systemic. The stated goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, in their purest form, are to seek out differences, ensure fairness, and behave in ways that actively include all. However, these goals directly compete with thoughts that are fundamental to our corporate upbringing. In business, we hold certain truths to be fundamental; among them are the notions captured by these phrases: it’s not personal, it’s just business, manage your career, this is just how we do it, what’s in it for me, get small wins, get bigger wins, technical skills are hard, people skills are soft, who do I have to know to get a seat at the table, do more with less, be resilient, be a go-getter, and, naturally, there is no crying in baseball.
There is a cellular-level reaction to the imperative of survival, expressed by fight, flight, or freeze. Our thoughts declare a threat or danger to be present, and our bodies accommodate the signal by breaking down complex cells into smaller cells and providing our bodies with useful hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to do hard things in the face of win/lose scenarios. This extraordinary and primal process keeps us in the game toward victory. When using energy in this draining way, three elements are needed: the game must be time-bound, the opponent clearly identified, and the rules of what it takes to win known and fixed. In our businesses, limited resources, comparisons, and competition create ongoing win/lose scenarios and keep us in a perpetual state of survival because the opponent often wears the same jersey, the rules for winning are defined and redefined by those in power, and the game itself is only interrupted by a weekend. Diversity, equity, and inclusion simply cannot thrive in conditions of a perpetual fight for survival. They require fertile ground to pause, to consider, to be curious, and to go beyond the threat of I win/you lose.
We long to arrive at the idyllic place where we are more the same than different; where we can easily find common ground if we only look hard enough. However, that’s a gift at the end of doing the work to first be OK with being different. As our workforce becomes more diverse, companies must resist the urge to declare victory. What follows more diversity must be the education and interest to discover what might be fair for one person compared to another based on needs and life experiences and the very challenging job to approach that work with curiosity. If you’re tired of effort without any meaningful outcomes, if you’d like to move beyond simply being aware of the problem, if now is the time to be pushed, I invite you to read on.
In This Issue
This Cutter Business Technology Journal issue dives deeper and looks at diversity, equity, and inclusion from different angles with the help of seven stellar voices who lend their expertise to educate, examine, enumerate, and offer solutions.
In our first article, Ebonye Gussine Wilkins challenges us to do the work. Gussine Wilkins goes beyond the data that may have us enjoy a false sense of progress and unpacks what the numbers mean when parsed by marginalized groups and their lived experiences. She goes deeper still and offers historical perspectives that further explain racial divisions and spells out why data without insight tells a partial story. Her premise focuses on knowledge, education, insight, and wisdom as necessary, yet missing, elements to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Gussine Wilkins encourages company leaders to keep going, to widen their scope, to lean in. She urges them to go beyond race and gender and to consider other groups who are left out, like disabled, non-binary, or trans people. Gussine Wilkins offers the data and then artfully reveals the people, their experiences, and the historical context behind the data. She concludes with what companies must understand about their own organizations and what they can do to advance an inclusive workplace. She ends with hope and a call to seize this moment. As she says, “Truth is, we have most of the pieces.”
In our next article, Samin Saadat and Jim Brosseau take us into their workshops and their research. The authors provide meaningful context to describe the barriers to inclusion, such as the history of management and leadership, communication technologies, and the effects of addictive social media platforms. Saadat and Brosseau offer practical steps for companies to include on their way to becoming a more transparent culture and also outline the costs companies will inevitably pay for failed attempts and a lack of inclusion. They conclude with data from their research and assessment of 150 professionals, measuring, along a continuum of diversity competency, the professionals’ level of awareness and attitude regarding diversity and inclusion to their moving to take action and implement change. Finally, the authors summarize next steps and approaches for organizations that acknowledge their responsibility to the growth and well-being of their members.
In his article, Michael A. Tennant unapologetically shares hard truths about white supremacy in the US. He generously shares his personal experiences as a “striving and high-achieving” Black professional and the shared experiences among people of color more broadly. He holds nothing back as he counts down 10 common phrases that reinforce inequities, microaggressions, and racism. Most compelling is that Tennant brings you along the countdown in a first-person narrative of hard truths, discoveries, and, finally, clear-eyed choice. It’s an intimate journey that begins in his backyard of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, and ends with his last corporate job. Tennant offers no apology. Why would he? The code to unlocking diversity, equity, and inclusion is to acknowledge why we’re here in the first place.
Our next piece outlines a clear case for diversity, equity, and inclusion as a strategic priority. Viola Maxwell-Thompson begins with a declarative proposition as she describes the next decade’s horizon and the expected growth in computer and mathematical occupations. She acknowledges the committed efforts of corporations that have recommitted themselves toward gender and ethnic diversity, yet demonstrates the lagging percentage of women, the lesser percentage of women of color, and, further still, the stagnant representation of Black and Brown professionals in senior roles. Maxwell-Thompson starts at the top with the CEO and makes an urgent case for change supported by unrelenting and unavoidable facts. What may be felt or known anecdotally, she supports with compelling data; for example, women are 3.5 times more likely than men to be 35 or older and still in a junior technology position. Maxwell-Thompson offers a laser focus on gender disparities, addressing quit rates, toxic workplaces, and pay equity. She concludes with a final callout to CEOs and their boards to take a stand now and offers a list of organizations with proven solutions that are ready to partner.
Next, Nicole D. Price focuses on technical professionals and their underused skills, knowledge, and insights when tackling diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. She offers for consideration seven specific attributes of technical professionals and discusses how those attributes are well suited for this challenging work. Among them are logic and reason, reliance on evidence-based research for problem solving, the ability to imagine a better future, and healthy conflict. Price argues that technical professionals “will use qualitative, quantitative, and empirical data to identify where issues of exclusion, systemic oppression, and racism lie.”
We conclude this issue with an interview with Areej Khataybih, a transformational coach, who offers a psychological perspective on women leaders and what contributes to their success and their challenges. She highlights the challenges that come from internal obstacles and beliefs of not being good enough and the battle of competing with male counterparts and, in the process, denying women’s full selves, the emotional and the logical. She walks through the challenges created by the interplay between expectations and desire and also highlights the “fear of success.” Khataybih summarizes three phases of leadership for women: the first phase is the pending promotion, the second is when things are working well, and the third is when a woman is actively looking for what’s next. Each phase comes with unique challenges, but her rich discussion offers many insights on how women leaders can be their most unique selves.
Set an Energetic Intention
If all things happen for our good, our thoughtful response to this challenging year may well be an important piece of a grander picture. As we move closer to integrated technologies, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence, our ability to adapt and thrive as human beings must keep pace with an evolving ecosystem. We cannot survive alone. Choice must be a privilege enjoyed by everyone. As an energy coach, I work with my clients to aggressively engage survival energy for those things that are binary — win or lose — and truly urgent. Once that becomes a skill, what becomes clear is that most things are not worthy of that draining energy. In its place, a broadening of perspective is possible; for example, curiosity over certainty, discernment over judgment, inspiration over motivation, cultural acumen over business acumen, inclusion over isolation.
We have been pushed. There is a force at the front door banging to be admitted entry. That force is the human spirit desperate for relief from merely surviving. We are standing in a moment of choice to thrive together with concerted efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion.