Chapter One: A Framework for DEI Education and Action
A framework for DEI education and action.
Here is an explanation of the framework in a nutshell:
People are teaching about diversity, equity, and inclusion without any clarity about how to approach the topic. This can easily make things worse instead of better. White people, in particular, often exit such trainings feeling blamed and less open-minded afterward instead of more. We need as inclusive an approach as possible, beginning with having a shared understanding of how to approach the topic (Figure 1.1). I don’t care if everyone uses this model, but they should try to organize their thinking in some way and make it transparent to the people they are teaching!
Having said that, let me be clear that you do have my permission to use the model or to adapt it to your needs with proper credit please. For more on adapting versus adopting, read Appendix D.
The framework begins with Kurt Lewin’s social science as the foundation. Lewin applied it successfully to addressing racism and other forms of prejudice, so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel! We can use his methods.
Next comes John Wallen’s Interpersonal Gap as a way of understanding communication, how easy it is to screw it up, and what to do to fix it. We are responsible for ourselves, whether sending or receiving!
Then, we diverge toward understanding racism in one direction and toward understanding conflict and issues that are not racism (but may occur simultaneously with racism) in the other direction.
The two branches are interdependent and must converge to move us toward the goal.
For business, the same skills that are needed to move toward the goal are essential to leadership and performance. DEI and leadership development can be one, instead of being taught separately and competing for resources as is common practice today.
For a more thorough understanding of this framework, one must start with the goal. The goal, in turn, must be understood in the light of the elements of the framework. Equity, for example, must include an objective assessment of how level the playing field is, and to the extent it is not level, action must be taken to level it. To ceaselessly address all forms of oppression, we must be as objective as possible about what oppression is, and we must not be afraid to confront it.
The goal is pursued through application. Any event now or historically could be influenced by the poison of racism, sexism, or any other form of prejudice and/or systemic/institutional oppression. Any event may simply be the result of interpersonal and other tensions that have nothing to do with prejudice or “the system.” If we don’t have an objective framework for considering both, we will create needless conflict by blaming people who are innocent, and we will obscure conditions that need to be addressed.
When leading DEI learning in organizations, one need not separate it from other organizational needs. If DEI is thought of as something you are supposed to do (“thou shalt”) but not as something related to performance, the likelihood of sustained effort and real change diminishes. Trying to convince decision makers that having more diversity will automatically improve performance is a thin argument, not backed by most studies on the topic, and so easily refuted. Using this DEI framework bridges that
gap. The framework is grounded in the same leadership, conflict, and dialogue skills needed for high individual, group, and organizational performance. There is plenty of data to back that up, starting with Kurt Lewin’s research (some of which is covered in Chapter 2) and continuing into the present day. The goals of true equity and organizational performance can be pursued simultaneously.
Next in the framework comes the foundation, the social science of Kurt Lewin. We will explore that in detail in the next chapter. By way of introduction, Lewin believed that sociological and psychological phenomena, including prejudice based on any criteria (such as race or gender), must be understood and addressed in a scientific manner. He devised and tested a scientific approach that worked both in his experiments and in the efforts of others. By experiments, I mean he used his methods in real-world situations, in industry, and in society. He also applied them at the level of the individual, the group, and as we shall see, the same methods almost certainly influenced the reconstruction of Germany and Japan.
Kurt Lewin and Elanor Roosevelt, Copyright ©️ Michael Papanek. (Used with permission.)
Lewin believed an effective social science should be applicable to all situations, be they small or large. If a person is interacting with someone who is different from themselves in some generally obvious way, such as gender, and there arises tension in the interaction, a solid DEI framework should help the people involved understand what is happening. It is possible the tension has nothing to do with gender, and so, the intrapersonal (within the individual) and interpersonal (between the individuals) must be considered. It’s possible the tension is about gender at an interpersonal and intrapersonal level but is not related to anything else. An example would be that one or both parties hold stereotypes of how gender should behave that the other party does not hold or unresolved anger toward a parent. It could also be that larger institutional dynamics are at play, such as a belief, supported by others, that certain jobs and skills are only suited to one gender. That would almost certainly be an example of institutional sexism. There could also be larger dynamics at play that result in tension between individuals and groups that have nothing to do with institutional isms, such as goal misalignment between groups (maintenance and production, for example, or a location and a corporate headquarters) or different roles in the organization (such as management and labor). To further complicate the possible root cause of the tension, other types of prejudice could be at play (racism, etc.). Figure 1.2 illustrates these different levels and dynamics.
Inequality conflict grid.
It would be nice if it was simpler, but as Lewin’s social science demonstrates, as long as there is inequality, there will be increased ambiguity. That’s why it is easy to blame the innocent and to hide the guilty, and that is why we will all be a little crazy until true equality is achieved. Assuming it is one thing or another is tricky business, and error-likely. Seeing through this fog as accurately as possible requires social science clarity and is explored from various angles in this framework but especially by
applying a model known as The Interpersonal Gap in Chapter 3. If we take the shortcut of dogma (all white people are racist, for example), we head down the slippery slope of fighting prejudice with prejudice, leading to predictable and understandable polarization.
This framework instead asserts that any prejudice begets more of the same and is more harmful than helpful to the overall goal. Furthermore, any such divisive approach works against the framework standard of All are affected – All must be invited. In other words, everything in this framework is linked together and is important to pursuing the goal.
Sections II and III explore each element of the framework in detail, while Section IV moves on to application and action. That’s what we need, so let us begin!
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