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Cheryl is a  Learning Doula--a person who supports others as they learn, unlearn and emerge into their wealth and possibilities. budding pioneer of the field of learning and development. She is an established personal accountability and self-help author and has formed her business around the principles of autonomy, authenticity, and the courageous questioning that she writes about. Her new book, The Last Evaluation (coming soon) visits these principles in the framework of genuine and seamless living and working.

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The Racism Inherent in Diversity and Inclusion Programs

 

After Carole, Addie, Cynthia and Carol were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Alabama in 1963, Dr. King said "we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer." For me, Dr. King's statement means racist decisions and actions are not only carried out by racist people, they're carried out by the systems that seed and support those racist decisions and actions. In evaluation, a system is a collection of entities, seen by someone as working together to produce something. The system contributed in a very significant way to producing the racist behavior that resulted in the death of those four little girls.

 

Why am I starting a conversation about diversity and inclusion with an example of racist systems and behavior from 1963. Because you can only solve a problem where it is. Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk about Race defines racism as "any prejudice against someone because of their race when those views are reinforced by systems of power". This definition of racism positions the present behaviors, mindsets, policies and practices that call for diversity programs within a larger system that supports oppressive behaviors, mindsets, policies and practices.

Look at your typical diversity programs today. Do they infiltrate, confront, and change racist systems? Do your diversity and inclusion program managers have the power and authority to change organizational policies and procedures? Do the minority executives who usually head those offices have the funding, influence and support to allocate money to review and revise regulations and processes that impact hiring, performance, training and business decisions. Of course they don't. This is because diversity and inclusion programs are not created to change and dismantle racist systems. They'r created to keep those systems firmly in place.

 

Standing up a diversity office, appointing a minority executive to head that office and requiring diversity plans is the "fertilizer" that nurtures the soil of oppression and racist decisions that continue to manifest as lack of diversity and inclusion. This is 2018, not 1820 but you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference when you look at the continued lack of diverse perspectives and decisions in positions of power and influence and in the response when those racist systems are genuinely challenged.

 

If you really want to make a difference, it's going to hurt... so prepare to be uncomfortable. We can start the change by retiring the phrase "diversity and inclusion". If you've read any of my books or blogs you know that I'm very big on the significance of language and the words we use. Diversity and inclusion is a lie that we have to first buy into. I have to first believe that I'm valued differently and I'm an outsider before I can be included. This phrase reinforces the system of inequality and only perpetuates and strengthens the problem.

 

Let's develop Profit in Equivalence (P.i.E) processes. Profit is the benefit and advantage gained from doing something and equivalence is acknowledgment of the realty of inherent value...free from human judgment. When I design my organization for profit in equivalence, I open myself to the world of equivalent value, ideas, interests, perspectives, skill, ability and capability. With P.i.E my business growth rests on the instrumental values (e.g. cost, exchange, use, esteem) produced by a team that changes and responds to customer growth and adaptation. The change and response is natural--and nature is diverse. In organizations with P.i.E processes, I primarily attract functions and ideas, not race, quotas, and compliance requirements.

 

Racist actions and thinking is not a problem with Profit in Equivalence processes because you're not trying to make the organization and system more diverse and inclusive...you're getting out of the way and allowing yourself to see and experience what's natural.

 

Cheryl Abram is a learning, development and evaluation thought leader with radical ideas that she's not afraid to share. Read more at www.cherylabram.com

 

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