Staffing & Culture | 03.15.23
What BISA Members Learned at the DE&I Peer Group Session
As our society heads further into 2023, the importance of moving beyond bias and into belonging is clearer than ever. In the DE&I Peer Group Session at the BISA 2023 Annual Convention, speakers Decker Moss and Joelle Guymon took a deep dive into diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. In order to properly achieve a goal of understanding DE&I practices, you have to, as Joelle said, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s where the growth happens.”
Decker said during the session: “Diversity is a fact, equity is a choice, inclusion is an action and belonging is an outcome.”
In this summary article, we’ll share with you some of the key topics and takeaways discussed at the session.
Barriers to Belonging: Bias and Privilege
At the beginning of the session, Decker and Joelle defined a few terms, including:
- Bias: A stereotype or assumption about a category of people
- Unconscious bias: An assumption that you are unaware you’re thinking about a category of people
- Privilege: A special right, advantage or immunity granted. Typically, privilege is described as having an advantage out of our control that we typically didn’t ask for. This can oftentimes be linked to oppression. Because we have something, it doesn’t mean we should feel guilty about having it. As said in the session, “privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day about which I was meant to remain oblivious.”
To provide a more in-depth understanding of privilege, Joelle and Decker asked the attendees to participate in a “privilege for sale” activity. The rules were as follows: Based on your last name’s initial, you are given a various amount of money, from $100-$1,400. For $100 each, you can choose as many privileges with the amount of money you have. For example, someone could purchase voting rights, financial stability, or safety for $100 to name a few — and out of a list of 25 different privileges, some are more limited than others based on their given allowance.
After observing the room and gathering insights, the attendees spoke out about their frustrations and key takeaways from the activity:
- Safety was a factor that multiple individuals paid closer attention to because of the activity. Walking safely around the community was something that they took for granted previously.
- White individuals discarded skin-related privileges in this activity, because based on their current situation, it didn’t factor into their daily concerns.
- One attendee received $1,100 by chance, and her neighbor received $400. She felt empathy for her neighbor, who couldn’t “afford” the same amount of privileges as her.
- Another attendee stated that voting and healthcare was one connection that they have overlooked because it has always been a “norm” to receive those rights. As they put it, “health is wealth.”
The most important takeaway from this activity by far is that there were people offering to “share privileges” with each other. Of course, this process isn’t something that can always be done in our everyday lives, but it opened up the eyes of individuals in the session that privilege is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Donating money to important causes, standing in solidarity with the oppressed and becoming an ally are a few examples of ways that one can gain a better understanding. This realization helped those with certain privileges gain an understanding of those who lack those privileges.
Micro-aggressions: Intent vs. Impact
The next part of the session explored micro-aggressions, which the session hosts defined as indirect discriminations against members of a marginalized group, often a minority group. This could be verbal, behavioral or environmental and is often described as “death by a million paper cuts.”
The group went on to discuss the difference between intent and impact when it comes to micro-aggressions. Often, the intent of someone is well-meaning. They don’t intend to create discomfort in someone. However, the impact on someone receiving the micro-aggression can end up negative, despite good intent. They can erode belonging and invalidate identity and experience.
Responding to Micro-aggression in the Workplace
Collectively, the peer group grappled with strategies for responding to micro-aggressions at work.
A few considerations came up for someone who is a target of micro-aggressions:
- Consider who the person is and your relationship to them — this could influence how safe it could be for you to address them.
- One attendee suggested doing what feels right to your individual self in order to effectively accomplish your goal. Typically, in most cases, the goal is to educate the micro-aggressor to give them a better understanding of how they can learn from their mistakes.
Similarly, a few considerations came up for those who are bystanders during incidents:
- Reflect on why you want to be an ally and what inspires you to become better for those who are oppressed.
- Don’t point out the target in a way that puts them in the spotlight. For example, say, “It offended me,” but don’t say, “It offended her.”
Finally, the session attendees discussed what to do if you are the perpetrator of a micro-aggression:
- Pause and listen. The target might be nervous about the situation at hand. Acknowledge that you have the opportunity to understand your privilege a bit better, and create a space for follow-up in order to create dialogue down the road.
Micro-affirmations and Workplace Impact
Micro-affirmations involve active listening, recognizing and validating experiences, affirming emotional reactions, amplifying and including voices and general affirmation language to aid in recognizing another individual’s value, whether that be in a large or small way. This process can be a major aid in fighting unconscious bias and provide a sense of comfort to the oppressed.
Micro-affirmations help build a culture of belonging and inclusion by blocking unconscious bias and mitigating damage caused by unconscious bias. As said in the session, “we are neurologically hardwired for belonging and connection.”
Joelle and Decker went on to describe five tenants of belonging that can be built through micro-affirmations:
- Neurological safety
- Embracing someone’s true self
As Joelle and Decker explained, there are two types of allyship: performative allyship and real allyship. They defined these as follows:
- Performative: Actions that we take to make ourselves feel better, based on the idea of self-gratification (example, posting a black square for the BLM movement)
- Real: Advocating for things while knowing it will not benefit you (example: attend an anti-racism protest, volunteer or donate to a cause)
When becoming good allies, it’s helpful for people to not only ensure they’re partaking in real allyship, but to evaluate their feelings toward others in order to grow. Joelle and Decker explained the difference between empathy and sympathy and its importance toward becoming a good ally. When people are empathetic, they feel connected to the person in harm’s way. There is no judgment, and you recognize emotions involved. For example, rarely does an empathic response begin with “At least,” to find a silver lining. If a person loses their job, a non-empathetic response would say, “At least you’ll have more time to keep up with your chores.” A response of any sort rarely makes something better; a sense of connection does. Sympathy, on the other hand, drives disconnection, as it cultivates feeling bad for the person in the situation.
The session hosts shared five strategies for becoming a better ally:
- Learn the language — avoid unnecessary labeling and outcasting
- Give your full attention to those from marginalized groups
- Invite underrepresented people to speak
- Intervene in bad situations
- Transform your team (shared vocabulary, thorough understanding, and connection)
Cultivating a New Mindset
As we continue to spread positivity and cultivate a more inclusive workplace and daily environment, there are a few questions to ask yourself to ensure you are part of the positive change:
- What will I stop doing?
- What will I start doing?
- What will I continue to do?