Reflections on DEI Work in 2023

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Crisis SupportDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion

It’s been just over three and a half years since the advent of COVID, which upended just about every facet of our working and personal lives. That’s a long time, but it also feels like nearly nothing at all. Lately, we’ve been thinking about the mental transition from, ‘Let’s get through this and we’ll get back to the way things used to be’ to, ‘this is our new normal.’ In this, our new normal, the SGO team has been considering what it means and looks like to have and support community in a time when our community members have grown and made many life transitions, not least of which is the fact that many of us are working remotely now. We’ve also been learning about the kinds of challenges that currently exist in today’s new workplace, thinking about our place in all of this, and how this impacts the future of work. 

This reflection and planning work is impacted by what is happening in the larger world around us, as none of us can exist purely in a bubble. That leads us to one of the other topics we’ve been considering lately, which is harm. The global events of the past few weeks in Israel and Gaza have highlighted the critical nature of our work, but also the messiness of it. DEI work is not crisis work. But it is about being human, which is at the core of everything we do. There has been, and continues to be, a great deal of harm inflicted on a huge number of people, not least of whom are those directly impacted by the ongoing genocide and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And so, from a DEI-informed perspective, we have a critical role to play in the discourse happening right now, even when (or perhaps especially when) it’s scary or challenging. 

What is harm, in and of itself? It’s an all-encompassing term that can cover a wide variety of hurts. We think of it as injury, distress, damage, pain, torture, death, and the presence of inequity. It doesn’t need to be physical, particularly when we consider harm in a workplace environment, although it certainly can be. The reality of our working world these days is that physical, mental, and emotional harm committed outside of work can impact us and lead to harm within our workplaces as well. During tumultuous times there may be multiple instances of harm at work, all interplaying with each other. 

Using a DEI lens, we focus on the following:

  • Who is harmed? Who could or will be hurt by what is happening?
  • How is hurt taking place?
  • Why is this happening?
  • Where are the inequities present?
  • What can I do personally?
  • Am I the right voice in the storm, or am I centering myself?
  • How can I uplift others?
  • When I make mistakes, how will I address them and learn from them?

The work of the DEI practitioner is to center on and raise up the marginalized and the vulnerable. This can lead to uncertainty, conflict, or pushback because people don’t always agree on which communities or individuals are harmed. Oftentimes there are multiple levels of damage taking place in multiple communities at the same time. We’re seeing this happening in the world right now, with the rise of both antisemitism and Islamaphobia concurrently in the US and other countries around the world. 

The other role of the DEI practitioner is to speak truth to power, and when that takes place in a workplace environment, the existing power structures are not always able to handle this kind of discourse, which leads us to conflict. This in turn leads us to situations where conversation, discourse, and critical conversations are muted or shut down. As a society, we find it very difficult to hold space for more than one truth at a time, and those in positions of power tend to shy away from any kind of dissent or discussion that can’t be handled in a neat fashion. 

We can’t do this work in isolation; we need each other to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace and world. DEI work is also imperfect. As we like to say when facilitating, ‘If we had all the answers, we’d just give them to you.’ We don’t have all the answers, and we never will. 

So, we urge you all to think about your own place in this work. What is your position? Are you willing to listen and learn? Are you willing to speak up for your truth, even if it’s not popular? What can you do to create a world you want to live in? How can we adjust to our new realities, and how can we support ourselves through rapidly changing circumstances? How can we collectively and individually support those who are most harmed? I think these are worthwhile, timely, and crucial questions to consider as we start to close out our year.