“All of the diversity stuff is overwhelming.”
“My whole organization is 95% white, DEI isn’t possible for us.”
Or the most consistent refrain, “I don’t have the time or capacity for justice-focused work.”
Every day in working with leaders nationwide, I hear message after message for why we are deprioritizing equity & inclusion. We are always too busy, too understaffed, too disinterested, leading to the prioritization of other aspects of our work.
What if by consistently ignoring justice-focused initiatives, we are exacerbating many issues in our work that we consider unrelated? I’m talking about the areas we consider “core” (e.g. programming, grants & development, recruitment, retention). As we neglect to make explicit commitments to equity and inclusion, we are indirectly making a commitment to exclusion. We throw our hands in the air and ignore effective inclusive recruitment practices for our programs, yet go to conference after conference complaining about low engagement and participation. We don’t collect DEI data, and then use anecdotal evidence to appease our moral compass.
By assuming that justice-focused work is accessory and not priority, we expand the inequities that already exist – directly impacting the “core” work we aim to do.
Let’s start with a little bit of level setting though, as I’ve learned that most people do not have an effective definition of most of the terms that make up DEI (+ J). Here are my best definitions (sources included).
- Diversity is the composition that all stakeholders, especially underserved and marginalized populations, trust to be representative and accountable. Diversity is achieved through actions that explicitly counter present day and historical inequities and meet the unique needs of all populations.
- An equity emphasis seeks to render justice by deeply considering structural factors that benefit some social groups/communities and harms other social groups/communities. Sometimes justice demands, for the purpose of equity, an unequal response.
- Inclusion is the achievement of an environment that all stakeholders, especially underserved and marginalized populations, trust to be respectful and accountable. Inclusion is achieved through actions that explicitly counter inequities and meet the unique needs of all populations.
- Justice is the dismantling of barriers to resources and opportunities in society so that all individuals and communities can live a full and dignified life. These barriers are essentially the “isms” in society: racism, classism, sexism, etc.
As you see these are not just fluffy words that are nice to add to your organizational website, they all take action and commitment in order for actualization. When we neglect to achieve diversity in our participation by failing to counter historical inequities, we end up with programs and innovation spaces that have failed to reach most of our communities. On the flip side, when we take action to achieve an environment of true inclusion our spaces become comfortable spaces for our full community, leading to increased engagement, participation in programs, and the cycle continues.
When we commit to DEI and justice-focused (DEI + J) practices as a primary function of our work, not ancillary, we can reach our fullest potential in creating more opportunity for our rural communities.
Want to talk more? Hit me up.