Author: Jai Simpson-Joseph

Why Diversity Alone Isn’t Enough

“You can mandate diversity, but you can't mandate inclusion. Inclusion is about behavior, relationships. You have to change hearts and minds.” - Esi Minta-Jacobs

In this final installment of our mini-series breaking down and deconstructing the individual components of DEI (read previous months’ posts about Diversity and Equity here), we turn our focus to inclusion, the third and most elusive component of DEI. Of the three principles, inclusion is perhaps the most difficult to meaningfully and sustainably uphold. However, it is critical to ensuring that organizations are truly supportive of all peoples, especially those who are marginalized.

A working definition of inclusion is that it values the perspectives and contributions of all people and ensures a safe, affirming, respectful, and responsive environment. For those who tend towards the metaphorical, Dr. Johnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College, offers a creative way of understanding inclusion:

Your Dance Card

Diversity is when everyone is invited to the dance.
Equity is when no one gets a special invitation.
Inclusion is when everyone is asked to do their dance.

- Dr. Johnetta B. Cole

The key takeaway from these definitions is that inclusion is not a state that exists naturally, but must be actively created. While a group can be measurably diverse, diversity on its own does not ensure inclusion - inclusion requires an intentional effort to create and protect all identities that may otherwise “attend the dance” but never sway to their own rhythm. In order to leverage diversity, an environment must be created where people feel supported, listened to, and able to do their personal best. Under these conditions, every person’s voice adds value, and no one person can or should be called upon to represent an entire community.

As such, inclusion cannot be achieved through policy changes alone. It requires a comprehensive assessment of how an organization’s culture, practices, relationships, and norms may benefit some but exclude others, and a commitment to changing them so the organization’s environment is conducive to everyone’s full participation. Without this level of intentionality, recruiting people of marginalized identities to an organization just for the sake of diversity can actually cause harm and bring them undue stress (for example, read The Atlantic’s Being Black—but Not Too Black—in the Workplace). Diversity without inclusion equates to putting marginalized people into spaces in which they may not feel safe, respected, supported, or seen.

Thus, a paradigm shift and strategic actions are required to truly accomplish “full” inclusion in any given organization committed to this endeavor. The challenge is to be sure that the words “diversity, equity and inclusion” are put into action and practice, and never rendered meaningless language. While we recognize this process will always be an inherent balance of intentional and organic growth, GVP is committed to staying current on emerging issues and trends on inclusive organizational culture, and we look forward to sharing updates on our ongoing DEI initiatives in coming months.

Revisiting Equity at the End of 2020

“Equality says we treat everyone the same, regardless of headwinds or tailwinds. Equity says we give people what they need to have the same access and opportunities as others, taking into account the headwinds they face, which may mean differential treatment for some groups.” ― Dolly Chugh, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias

We wanted to close out this year by talking about equity: its definition, its role with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) framework, and its significance in this unique and challenging year. Our focus on equity this month follows the October newsletter’s feature on diversity, as we dive more deeply into each component of DEI in succession.

Put simply, an equity-based approach is one that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Not to be confused with equality, treating everyone the same, equity is distinct in that it requires us to make the necessary adjustments to ensure fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all, no matter what identities a person holds or what experiences they have had. Equity acknowledges uneven starting places and seeks to correct the imbalance. 

Why is equity essential for a more just society? While at first blush treating people equally may seem like the fairer approach, equal treatment only makes sense if everyone is starting from the same place and all need the same help. This is a far cry from the world we live in, in which system oppression and individual differences across a variety of factors - race, gender, sexuality, disability, age, citizenship status, and many, many more - scatter us across uneven playing fields. Thus, tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the underlying or root causes of outcome disparities within our society. Equity is critical to a DEI framework because it builds upon diversity to ensure that people from different backgrounds are not only invited into the room, but also ensured equal access to opportunities. 

This year threw into sharp relief inequities that have long existed across society, which exacerbated the pandemic’s effects for many marginalized groups. Inequities in education, housing, employment, and healthcare have all shaped how different individuals and communities have been impacted by the pandemic - meaning that all of us who are committed to DEI have our work cut out for us. Global Village Project’s role in addressing inequity this season has focused on ensuring our students - as refugees, English Language Learners, and young women of color - have the resources and support they need to learn. Yet larger, systemic change on a national level is what we really require to ensure all students have what they need to thrive. 

As we close out this year, the devastation wreaked by this pandemic is heavy on our minds. But at the very least, we hope the cracks it has exposed in our current systems have made the need for equity clearer and more urgent than ever before. Only by pursuing equity can we build a world in which every individual truly has the opportunity to live and exist in the fullness of themselves.

Celebrate Global Diversity Awareness Month with us this October!

While often we speak of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as three essential and related parts of larger commitment, the significance of each value on its own should not be overlooked. This month is Global Diversity Awareness Month, and what better time to explore the value of diversity and its impact on our lives! 

Diversity, one of GVP’s Guiding Principles, is “the quality of being different or unique at the individual or group level.” While diversity is often spoken of in terms of race or ethnicity, it includes a spectrum as diverse as one can imagine, that which reflects each of us as individuals. Diversity includes all the characteristics that make one individual or group distinct from another, including age, ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, parental status, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, skin color, socio-economic status, work and behavior styles, cultural background, and more.

We are living in a time in which awareness of global diversity is more important than ever. With the accelerated movement of people and ideas across borders, our communities increasingly include people from many different backgrounds. According to the United Nations International Migration Report of 2019, nearly 272 million people live in a country other than their country of birth – an increase of 77% since 1990. This opportunity to embrace diversity is a chance to not only make our communities better, but also our workplaces: some of the core benefits diversity has been identified to increase are enhanced creativity, better and more productive communications, faster problem solving, improved productivity, higher quality of decision making, increased recruitment and retention, and strengthened programs and services to constituents. 

Work benefits aside, diversity deserves to be valued and cherished in and of itself for the opportunity it gives us to listen and learn from others, and to become steadfast allies to one another. We hope this Global Diversity Awareness Month can serve a reminder to us all that there is immense power in appreciating, respecting, and celebrating each of us in all of our dimensions.

Creative Advocacy and The Power of Our Voices

Advocacy [n.]: any action that argues or speaks in favor of, in support of, or in defense of a cause, person, or group of people.

I have always been a believer in creative advocacy. Advocacy executed through creativity allows for an innovative brand of empathy to emerge, which is capable of functioning not only as a source for inspiration, but also as a tool for social good, a means for actual work and change. In other words, the application of creativity has the potential to motivate a deeper level of awareness and understanding, and from these emanate commitment and, ultimately, action. 

Over the past months, in our bimonthly newsletter installments, we have discussed much about the work, policies, programs and practices that continue to be built at Global Village Project in order to intentionally create our DEI community. Today, I offer this original poem as an act of creative advocacy. I hope it serves as a catalyst for both hopeful inspiration and deeper understanding of what it means to use one’s Voice - what it means to be heard, and to find in this relatedness, the essence of true connection.

Yesterday I Found My Voice

Yesterday
I found my voice
Today I live to tell about it
I didn’t shout from the rooftops
Didn’t whisper or scream
But I spoke, and the words that I heard
Were my own

Yesterday, I found my voice
Today I live to tell about it
And I sing a hallelujah chorus
In a key I’ve never tried before
Tell about it. Tell about it

I am a warrior woman
I won’t roll over or die
Give u, dry up
Or be sucked up

Yesterday I found my voice
And it’s here to stay
Cause I can’t let it go
I chant over and over
Write on all my pages
Say it again and again in my head
And then I open my mouth and cry out loud

Yesterday I found my voice
Today I’m here to shout about it
And this one’s for you
All those who know exactly what
I’m talking about . . . 

[Excerpt from And How My Spirit Soars: Learning to Pack for an Extraordinary Journey by S. Jai Simpson-Joseph]

The Courage to Live in DEI: GVP’s Journey

The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is not for the faint of heart.

You cannot approach DEI strictly from a procedural perspective, thinking that it is solely about structures, policies, and practices. It is not enough to craft a model and hope that all will adhere to it (or even to require that they do), though these are each critical components of a sustainable DEI initiative. And DEI is not in the business of quick fixes when it comes to harm and pain. 

The real work of DEI is a commitment to growth, transformation and well-being: To truly have an effective and essential DEI initiative, one must understand and embrace DEI at its core. This journey lies in empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and it requires us not only to accept DEI’s principles, but to prioritize them as those that truly matter. Only then can we ensure that the practices and systems that we design actually manifest our commitment. Only then are we able to wholeheartedly engage with conflict and challenge when they arise, and to honor and address harm by building a climate in which all voices are heard. 

These tenets are especially true right now. In this historic moment of racial reckoning, calls for justice and equity resound around the world. How do we chart a strategic path forward through these dual times of trauma and transformation? For Global Village Project, a school founded on the principle of educational equity, how do we keep evolving in our work? How do we learn when we misstep and grow stronger through our ability to listen, heal and progress?

I have been writing about our DEI journey at GVP for several months. I am thankful that over the past year and a half, in my time here as Transformation Management and DEI Specialist for GVP, GVP has had the courage to take on its DEI work at this core level. Our work has progressed from the inside out - beginning first with building a team united in its understanding of and deep commitment to DEI, and then actualizing this commitment through efforts to shape and refine our culture, spaces, and practices. To strengthen the footing on which we build our practices, we began with the hard work of critical self-reflection; growth, courage, and vulnerability; and the embracing of DEI guiding principles with both heart and mind.

This framework continues to provide a roadmap for the team, supporting the coordination of organized action while constantly drawing us back to a common grounding in our goals. From a cultural perspective, pivotal shifts are already underway. Through coaching and team-building, workshops and courageous conversations, GVP has developed a strong commitment to open intentional dialogue about DEI. This work builds upon a culture that incorporates GVP’s inherent values of love and learning into an impactful model for listening and inclusive growth. Over the past year and a half, I have seen great strides in our ability to stand together in brave vulnerability, patience, nonjudgment, and compassion. I believe that the heart strides reflected in this evolving culture are crucial to long-term change.

On a more tangible operational level, GVP has also made significant progress in creating infrastructure for the continued practice and development of DEI work. Our DEI Circle, a multi-discipline group of GVP Team members from across departments, supports the community in designing our DEI vision and action steps. It serves as the hub through which feedback, both positive and negative, is actively sought out, heard, and documented, so that it can be incorporated into our design of DEI trainings and programs.  

Out of this Circle, a variety of structures have arisen to support the engagement of all stakeholders in the DEI process: our DEI Book Club, currently reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is providing space for our GVP volunteer and mentor community to engage in difficult conversations about diversity and lived experiences. Our Black Lives Matter discussions with students offer a means to process this moment in our history together. The Alumnae Advisory Council poetry slam workshop found the alumnae powerfully sharing their voices. And our efforts to recruit GVP family members to contribute their voices to DEI at GVP are crucial to advancing equity and inclusion. In the next phase of development, our DEI Circle will grow to incorporate stakeholders from all areas of the GVP community, as we collectively chart the next level of vision and action for the DEI journey.

All in all, GVP has experienced an extraordinary amount of growth since we first embarked on our DEI journey over a year ago, but we recognize that there is still much to be done. That work will take even more grit, guts and grace, but with our intentional commitments in heart, behavior, strategic framework, and action, I believe we are on the road to what I like to think of as stunning solidarity.

The current season of pain and struggle in this nation has brought to the forefront our collective need to address the ongoing injustices and inequities that plague our communities. I believe, and on behalf of the GVP Team, we contend, the only way forward is through mutual commitment - and not the sort that gets by with superficial fixes, but that which is built upon empathy, understanding, and solidarity, and manifested in structures, policies, and practices. 

In this work lies our salvation and our chance for a future founded in love and justice. 

Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq.
Transformation Management and DEI Specialist 

Credo for a Pandemic: A Call for Inclusion

Inclusion is an essential value during this pandemic time in our world. 

Inclusion is the valuing of the perspectives and contributions of all people and ensuring a safe, affirming, respectful and responsive environment. A guiding principle for co-existence in our society, it is uniquely profound at this moment in time. 

Global Village Project is a voice for equity and inclusion in our commitment to the journey of young women from around the world who come as refugees to this country - who join GVP, become a part of, and help to form community. One caring loving community.

Now, this season of global crisis is also an opportunity for all of us as One GVP Community to be an amplified voice for diversity, equity and inclusion, to continue to expand our loving practices in the world beyond our village. There are profound and beautiful examples of kindnesses that we read about, observe, or give and receive ourselves: people helping each other, bridging distance to connect. The power of diversity defined is indeed who we each are - as diverse as the concept of each of us. While diversity is often spoken of in terms of race or ethnicity, it includes a spectrum as “diverse” as can be imagined, that which reflects each of us as individuals.

Still, it is equally important to understand the nature of diversity, equity and inclusion as it pertains to the particular challenges faced by many in our society. Marginalized people, in a society where we all live in the same country and world, nonetheless have vastly different experiences.

To help us think through the nature of these experiences, Intersectionality is a term that is increasingly used in our world today.

It is a critical theory that originated in 1989 by American civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Esq. to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities - the phenomenon that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the singular identities. Identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness and physical illness, as well as others. Intersectionality recognizes these intersecting identities and the related systems of oppression that occur based upon them. The mutuality of vulnerability can in fact, impact us all.

We can utilize the understanding of this phenomenon to uplift our collective journey for all identities. In a season such as now, crisis and challenge can bring out the best in us, our loving humanity, and it can bring to the forefront the painful challenges and inequities that are also ours, all of ours, to work through together as a society. Thus, when we hear emerging data from the CDC and states around the country that the Coronavirus is disproportionately impacting people of color, for example, the commitment to inclusion calls all of us as a community to stand together in combating this virus and doing our best to support and protect all.

The principles and practices of diversity, equity and inclusion are the means by which we as humans can ultimately heal, grow and flourish. Recognizing that each person’s truth and journey may be different, but that, as this pandemic season can teach us, we are all in this together. 

 

As always, we welcome your insights and questions regarding DEI, GVP's journey, and more. We invite you to reach out to Transformation Management and DEI Specialist Jai Simpson-Joseph, Esq., at jsimpson@globalvillageproject.org with any feedback.