Today, I participated in several conversations about racism and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). I was late in learning about the term “DEI.” In fact, I remember the first time I was heard it. It was at last year’s She+ Geeks Out conference here in Boston, where, quite frankly, much of the conference was devoted to this topic. It was also the first time I received a name tag that asked me to also include my “pronouns.” At first it felt strange, but then, there was something empowering about it. I felt like it would be helpful to see other’s pronouns so I was able to address them appropriately. Now, I’ll be honest, I initially thought it was such a “Millennial” or “Gen Z” thing to encourage. But, like I said, I bought into it as could see the value.
A few months later, I had to participate in our annual sexual harassment training at work. I thought the video they asked us to review was actually quite helpful. It very clearly defined what sexual harassment in the workplace is, and it also clarified the differences between “sex” and “gender.” It also gave a clear overview on what non-binary means, and again, I really understood the importance of knowing someone’s pronouns. I have several acquaintances with children who have transitioned from male to female at a fairly young age. Again, knowing their pronouns – even now – are super helpful to be inclusive and respectful.
If you’ve been following along on my blog, you’ve probably seen my early post about my unsettled feelings about the burgeoning racial tensions happening here and abroad. I find some of the things I’m hearing and reading a bit off putting, a sort of “crowd mentality” towards equity. Did people always feel this way, or did they just on the bandwagon since “everyone is doing it”? You remember – I had a hard time with the whole “black square” thing on Instagram. It felt like lip service. I’ll simply put this black square on my instagram and now I’m woke. It just felt like empty promises.
From 2004-2007, I worked at our local aquarium as the manager of volunteer programs and internships. I interviewed either in person or via phone over 2,000 people each year for about 1,000 opportunities. I had to learn quickly about HR best practices, which were somewhat applicable to volunteers, but more importantly, I had to educate others partnering with me on the “dos” and “don’ts” of interviews. I still remember coaching a new manager on how he could not discriminate against an applicant because of her age. “But she may not have the physical qualifications,” he said. I asked him to reconsider that comment and judge her based on her abilities. She ended up being an excellent volunteer. Around late 2005 or 2006, I was asked to co-chair a new initiative at the Aquarium: the diversity council. I accepted the position, and began to work with a diverse group of colleagues on how we could do a better job of hiring people other than white men in all of the senior roles. They’ve had female CEOS since then. We also wanted to advance our outreach so that our audience reflected the community we were serving. We expanded our marketing, employment and volunteer recruitment outreach. We moved the needle a bit.
But, that wasn’t my first foray into thinking about inclusion. In fact, I wrote an article on this very subject for my high school newspaper back in 1993. My friend shared it with me recently. I blurred out the racially-insensitive word that apparently, in 1993, you could still print as a “quote.” But I’m just not comfortable putting that word on my blog, so you can infer. Anyhow, here goes:
1993. Let that sink in for a moment. When my friend shared this photo with me, I realized why I was feeling so unsettled. A: not much has changed in 27 years, and B: this shit’s been bothering me for at least 27 years! So pardon me if I am annoyed with this bandwagon mentality. I am not saying that I am not supportive of moving the needle a LOT MORE in support of DEI, but my point is that I’ve cared about these important issues for 27+ years.
Ok, so you’re reading along and you’re thinking, “Well, isn’t that self righteous of you, Joanna? You’ve cared for 27 years. So what? What have you done to help?” And in some ways, you’re correct. I can admit there have been times I may have been complacent in my “white privilege.” But I think I have been sensitive to these issues because of the anti-semitism I experienced in middle school and high school, & the sexism I experienced in the workplace (as recently as last year).
There have also been things that have made me raise my eyebrows, though, in other aspects of my life separate from work.
Back to today’s conversations about DEI. I’m now working for a fantastic medical center, affiliated with Harvard, and we’re working hard to take what’s going on in the world seriously, besides finding a cure for Covid. I’m pleased with what I’ve heard so far on how thoughtfully the leadership are handling things.
My final thought is this: we’ve been going in circles. Let’s do better this time. Let’s progress to the point where we really feel a significant change. I wish I knew concretely what that change is, but I am committed to helping to be part of the solution. If you made it this far in this lengthy post, I salute you. You may completely disagree with my thoughts and that’s totally fine with me. As I said to my dear friend this week, we’re all handling our reactions to Covid differently. We certainly can react differently when it comes to a charged topic like DEI. We tend to react based upon our own experiences, so mine may be WAY different than yours. I’m open to your feedback so please share in the comments or privately.