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InfoQ Homepage Articles DEI Is Rooted in Justice: Stop Making it about Profit

DEI Is Rooted in Justice: Stop Making it about Profit

Key Takeaways

  • The two most important things to embrace early on in your DEI journey is transparency and vulnerability. Both help you admit to shortcomings and accept that you have so much more to learn.
  • In order to spot inequality, you must acknowledge your own privilege first.
  • It’s time to diversify your networks in order to abolish or limit your preconceived biases that you hold against people who are not like you.
  •  Building a business case for DEI is like negotiating one’s humanity. Are you willing to build a case for yourself as to why you should be present, respected, valued, and included?
  • The sense of belonging, inclusion, and psychological safety each person has in your company is your direct responsibility as a member of leadership.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion practices exist for the betterment of all people, so it’s up to everyone to do the work. This goes for every single person within a company, from the ground floor to the glass ceilings. You may be wondering where to start, and that’s where I come in to assist. Let’s dive right in to better understand what we’ll be discussing and why it should matter to each and every one of us.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Diversity is like everyone who attended Qcon being invited to the biggest party of the decade! To go more in depth, diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.  

Equity is making sure everyone has the appropriate transportation to the party, regardless of where they are. It is an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities and recognizes that advantages and barriers do exist. Equity is giving everyone what THEY need to be successful.

Inclusion is requesting your favorite song at the dj booth, having it played, and dancing the exact way that you want to ALL NIGHT LONG. It is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. To be inclusive is to value and respect people for their talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and their way of living.

Spotting inequality

You can spot inequality by addressing and acknowledging your privilege. It's impossible to spot inequity and inequality until you know what advantage you have over peers and colleagues.

Let's begin by recognizing what types of equalities exist within society. There's:

  • Political equality, including civic equality and equality before the law
  • Equality of outcome or result, primarily equality of income and wealth
  • Equality of opportunity, commonly known as equality of access or life chances dependent principally on gender, race, ethnicity, and age
  • Equality of treatment, better known as the right to receive the same treatment and not to be discriminated against on the basis of criteria such as age, disability, nationality, race and religion
  • Equality of membership or socioeconomic status

Once you can identify where you stand within all of these widely known sectors of equality, you'll be able to more easily spot inequalities by simply paying attention and leaning into the discomfort of witnessing the lives of others around you.

Foster inclusion

Here’s what can be done to foster inclusion.

Be transparent

This applies to leadership, coaches, managers, and individual players alike! I encourage you all to admit to your shortcomings. Start by observing what the demographic makeup of your company is. Does your team know, or is this "classified information"? Because it shouldn’t be. Remember, gathering data is vital. Until you have the data showing how many people of different religions, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, disabilities, and class backgrounds you have in your organization, it’s impossible to know how you need to improve. Sharing that data is just as crucial because everyone within your org deserves to know. It’s also important to share your past initiatives, as well as future OKRs. Don’t forget: you need to be held accountable too!

Be an accomplice

An accomplice is someone willing to act with and for others to pursue ending oppression and creating equality. Please stand up and speak up for your teammates even when it’s scary. If you see something, say something! It’s okay to respectfully address someone if they’ve done something you know is wrong. It’s essential to own your privilege. You have to understand the opportunities, resources, advantages, and power you may have because of your identity. While you’re at it, build a community of accomplices and allies to keep the conversations and the work going! Racism is not a problem for the marginalized. We’re just the people who receive the pain, trauma, and disadvantages of it. The hard conversations need to take place even when we are not around to guide them.

Use inclusive language

Who’s guilty of using the word "guys" to address a group of people? To some people, it’s second nature. But, let’s change it up. Use words like "team," "friends," or "y’all." Recognize that some commonly used words and phrase, like "This is retarded", "That’s ghetto," or "I know this is OCD of me, but ..." can make people uncomfortable and are indeed microaggressions. They might not bother everyone, but they do bother some. And it’s not hard to find other substitutes that don’t exclude people. Also, audit often. The same goes for your internal documentation and customer-facing content. Have you acknowledged how racism is rooted within your organization? What have you done to change it?

Normalize marginalized voices

Who is getting credit for ideas in meetings? Be mindful of things like who is dominating a conversation and also who’s getting interrupted. There is so much power in speaking up for people and amplifying voices that may not otherwise be heard. Support underestimated peers to speak at conferences, write for blogs, teach customer classes, appear in company videos, and so on. In other words, pass the mic. Not only do we need to amplify, but it’s also about time to normalize marginalized voices too.

Lean into discomfort

We all know it can be easier to ignore some of the difficulties people face. No matter who you are or the amount of privilege you may have, challenge yourself not to! It’s damn near impossible to ignore these things today. You witness the hate. You notice the violence. You see the pain. And you see those who are demanding change through their protest. There’s no way to ignore it now. Take it a step further and challenge others not to as well! "Leaning into discomfort" means having the hard conversations, showing up for others, and not tuning out the realities of the world we’re all living in.

Self educate

DO YOUR HOMEWORK. When you don’t know something, research it. Use Google, or information provided and published by people in your network. Take the initiative to learn on your own instead of relying on members of that identity group to do it for you. Don’t get me wrong; I want you to feel comfortable asking about things you don’t fully understand. But I also want to see more people seeking that knowledge for themselves. Coming into a conversation with even a little bit of contextual information can enhance the experience and remove the emotional burden from the person you’re confiding in. When you can have a conversation with others about their experiences and the obstacles they have faced, always start by requesting permission. Never dive straight in.

Diversify your networks

Do you know five people within your industry who are one of the following:

  • Black, indigenous, or people of color
  • A woman
  • Someone with a disability
  • Part of the LGBTQ+ community
  • In a different generation
  • A veteran
  • Someone with a diverse educational background

If not, this is my challenge for you. Introduce yourself to five people who you know identify as such. When drafting your message, remember that transparency is critical. Try to answer these questions:

  • What do you want?
  • Why are you just now looking for them?
  • How will being in your professional network or knowing you benefit them?
  • Is this guilt, or is this genuine?

Say what you mean. Do not tiptoe around it.

Keep in mind that you may receive some negativity or even people who ignore you, which you should be prepared for. But you will also have people who appreciate the impact you are trying to make and want to connect with you too! You can’t predict the outcome of people’s opinions of you, and you should not be offended.

While initiatives like this are rooted in love, support, and positivity, it’s also reactive behavior instead of proactive action. It does not always feel uplifting or empowering to have people show their concern and care after tragedy strikes when most BIPOC needed this same concern and care a long time ago to dismantle systematic oppression and racism.

While this challenge may be a little scary, you have to start somewhere.

Accept critical feedback

We all make mistakes! It truly is a part of life. When someone calls you out for making a mistake, rather than getting defensive:

  • Apologize
  • Discuss what happened
  • Try to understand the problem along with the impact
  • Learn from it and move on gracefully

To this point, I will also tell you to do what you can do to establish trusting relationships with people from marginalized groups who will give you honest and unfiltered feedback. When receiving feedback, some appropriate responses to start with could be, "What can I do to make this right?" or a simple yet powerful, "I believe you." Keep in mind that feedback helps us grow wiser. Knowledge increases our abilities to be great accomplices and allies.


Most people in underestimated groups are not seeking revenge. Only equity, equality, inclusion, and your effort to make things right. Listen and pay attention. Remember, IMPACT over INTENT.

Building a case for diversity, equity, and inclusion?

Should we build a case for diversity, equity, and inclusion? My first suggestion is don’t. Suppose you are still at a company that finds it necessary to build a case for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and practices to take place. In that case, they are very far behind, and it may be time to take your talents elsewhere.

However, if you find it necessary to stay and help them become better, you should start with the data most relevant to them, which will likely come from the employees of that company. Conduct an anonymous employee engagement survey first to get a pulse on how people feel about working there. Next, conduct an anonymous demographic and inclusion survey to gather additional data. Be sure to give people the opportunity to leave written feedback on both of these surveys. There is so much helpful information that comes from people feeling open to sharing what’s on their minds. Analyze them together to build your business case and proposal for the leadership team.

The last thing I'll leave you with is this: you are not just a SaaS company. You are not just a data company. You are not just a tech startup trying to survive. You are an establishment that depends on other humans to operate your business and bring you success. Their sense of belonging, inclusion, and psychological safety is your direct responsibility. Act like it. Do the work. Make the changes. Be better. Because you can.

About the Author

Chanita Simms-Christmas is founder of Melanin.Tech, committed to accelerating the growth of the Black tech ecosystem by helping members obtain opportunities in the industry and sustain long-term, rewarding careers. Christmas is focused on inspiring others to stand up for what they believe in and help create opportunities for as many people as possible.

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