There’s greater acceptance among organizations and communities that DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) requires proactive involvement and not mere lip service. DEI is necessary for community building but before discussing how to start with DEI in your community, it’s good to understand the concept in all its nuances.
Diversity is all about the representation of marginalized and underrepresented groups. Equity is demonstrating fairness to individuals regardless of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or mental or physical capabilities.
Inclusion is the process of allowing individuals from marginalized and underrepresented groups to actively contribute to ideas and engage in conversations in any environment, free from bias and prejudice, and providing these individuals equal access to opportunities and resources.
To know which initiatives to implement, a community, both at its individual and leadership levels, needs to understand how people learn about and gain access to their communities, rather than just asking if they're present. Leaders often fall into a rabbit hole of checking boxes for a couple of representatives.
Community teams or leaders should go further by reflecting on the discovery and onboarding process for people from different backgrounds. The way to do that is by asking relevant and insightful questions:
Answering these questions can explain which process or strategy lacks inclusion in your community. DEI strategies are set in place not to point out marginalized individuals or give them special treatment but to create an atmosphere where these individuals contribute to conversations and ideas in their unique way and are comfortable doing so.
No matter how uncomfortable, conversations around DEI should be initiated. Bringing in experts and thought leaders who specialize in DEI to educate the community is crucial to this. They can clear up common misconceptions that will help create an inclusive community. It’s important to hold workshops and events that can generate such conversations.
For example, this tweet sums up a common misconception community leaders might make when crafting out DEI workshops or events:
All Black people don’t do DEI work; they’re just Black - Khristi Lauren Adams
Now rephrasing that, ALL marginalized individuals, don't do DEI work, they are just people.
This is crucial to understand: Don’t assume that because a particular individual in your community is from a particular subgroup he/she/they will be comfortable leading a DEI initiative. It's always best to reach out to experts or thought leaders to have conversations about DEI.
To create safe spaces for marginalized individuals and to build a world where we value and treat each other with respect, we must first begin to learn from each other. This means being curious about those who are different from ourselves, keeping an open mind, reserving judgment, and practicing the skill of active listening.
If the goal is to make all individuals within your community feel equal and valued, community leaders need to spend time examining their vulnerabilities and understand community members' perspectives and identities.
Language can create misunderstandings and hurt marginalized individuals. Derogatory language, including the use of racial or ethnic slurs, anti-semitic, homophobic, or sexist language, should be listed as taboo in any community. Due to the deep harm they cause, individuals who use such language should be banned from the community.
Words and phrases that may sound innocuous to you can have a damaging impact on someone who belongs to a marginalized group. These words and phrases fall into the category of micro-aggressions. For example, asking an African in a US-based community, “Where are you from?” or “Your English is really good for someone living in Africa.”
While the person saying these things may not be intentionally trying to hurt the individual's feelings, the subtle message is that the individual doesn’t seem American and the individual's level of education is not as advanced as that of someone living in the United States.
But merely eliminating such offensive language won’t be enough. Community members must be encouraged to use inclusive language.
With such proactive measures, community leaders can create a diverse and inclusive community that welcomes individuals from marginalized groups. What might seem like small steps can go a long way in creating a community with DEI at its core.