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DEI Is Rooted in Justice. Let's Stop Making It about Profit



Chanita Simms explores diversity, discussing why equity it’s important, providing some tools on how to foster inclusion within an organization.


Chanita Simms 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. Chanita 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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Simms: My name is Chanita Simms. I am the founder of Melanin.Tech. We all know that talking about diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging, race, privilege, and power can sometimes be uncomfortable. On top of that, it's just been a very long year.

Let's begin by taking some deep breaths. Do you notice how you can control your breath when you think about it, and put forth the effort to do so? That's how our mindset should be around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Something that we may need to put some work into as individuals until it becomes an everyday thing, such as breathing. This is a safe space, and we will respect each other. I welcome all of the transparency and the vulnerability that you are willing to give.

What does it All Mean?

First, what exactly does DEI even mean? Let's break it down. Let's talk about diversity. Diversity is like everyone here being invited to the biggest party of the decade. To go into depth, diversity is the range of human differences, including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical abilities or attributes, religious or ethical value system, national origin, and political beliefs. Equity is making sure that everyone has the appropriate transportation to this grand party, regardless of where they are. It is an approach that ensures everyone access to the same opportunities and recognizes that advantages and barriers do exist. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful, not what you think they need. 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 the 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.

The Business Case

You'll see companies that find it necessary or even important to have a business case for why diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts even belong in the workplace. Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, demographers, and plenty of other professionals has given us tons of data to prove why this is meaningful for businesses and organizations. You may have heard a few different statistics such as, diverse management boosts revenue by 19%. What about, diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture a new market? Then, inclusive companies are 120% more likely to hit their financial goals. Sound familiar? Yes, I thought so. Let me remind you, diversity, equity, and inclusion are all rooted in justice, not profit.

Your Turn to Reflect

Now is your turn to reflect just a little bit. Has anyone here ever felt the need to build a business case for your C-suite or your leadership team, as to why restorative justice and DEI are important to the success of the company, or have you been asked to? If so, how did that feel? Was it empowering or maybe invigorating, or possibly humiliating and even a little degrading, or was it something else? There are no wrong answers. How did that make you feel?

Let's go in a different direction for a moment. Is there anyone here who has requested some type of business case from either your HR team, your people Ops, or an employee or resource group organizer, or just anyone else in your company? It's ok to answer this question too. This is a safe space. To that, I have just a few more questions for you if the answer was yes. Do you negotiate on your own humanity? Are you willing to build a case for yourself as to why you should be present, respected, valued, and included?

Breaking News

Times are changing. People throughout this industry and many others are no longer willing to sacrifice their psychological safety for a paycheck. There's no more room for the classic line, it has always been done this way, because history shows that it probably hasn't been done the right way. Communities are done performing, and are tired of not bringing their full selves to work, for the sake of getting or keeping a job. No more code switching. There is no business case necessary for diversity. The worthiness of a human being is not up for negotiation. A lot of this may hit home for you. You may have witnessed or even caused this type of behavior within your company. You may also be wondering what you can do right now to create change that the industry needs.

Be Transparent - Admit to Your Shortcomings

Let's start with a few actionable tips on how you can foster inclusion no matter where you are. The first one I want to talk about, be transparent. This applies to leadership, coaches, managers, and individual players alike. I encourage you all to admit to your shortcomings. For the companies, what is the demographic makeup of your company? Does your team know, or is this classified information? Because we know it shouldn't be. Gathering data is vital. Until you have the data showing how many people of things like different religions, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, disabilities, and even class backgrounds that you have in your organization, it's impossible to know how you need to improve. Sharing that data is just as important because everyone within your organization, they deserve to know. It's also important to share your past initiatives, as well as any and all future OKRs. Don't forget, you need to be held accountable too.

Be an Ally - Active, Not Performative

I encourage you all to be an ally. An ally is someone who is willing to act with and for others in pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality. Stand up and speak up for your teammate, even when it's scary. If you see something, say something, because it's ok to respectfully address someone if they've done something out of pocket or something wrong. Also, own your privilege. You have to understand the opportunities, resources, advantages, and power that you may have because of your identity. While you're at it, build a community of allies, keep the conversation and the work going. Because racism is not a problem of the marginalized, we're just the people who receive the pain, the trauma, and disadvantages of it. The hard conversations need to take place, even when we are not around to guide them. Allyship is a way of living a life that does not reinforce the same oppressive behaviors that you're claiming to be against.

Use Inclusive Language - Say What?

Then, we all want to use inclusive language. If we don't want to, we should all want to. Who's guilty of using the word guys to address a group of people? I've been there. For some people, it's second nature. It doesn't have to be. Let's change it up. We can use words like team, friends, or maybe even you all. If you really want to get fancy, try fellow humans or party people. Then also, recognize that some commonly used words and phrases like, this is retarded, or that's ghetto, or I know this is OCD of me, can make people uncomfortable, and are indeed microaggressions. They may not bother everyone, but they do bother some. It's not hard to find other substitutes that don't exclude people. Also, audit often. This goes for your internal documentation and customer facing content. Have you acknowledged how racism is rooted within your organization? If so, what have you done to change it? If not, what are you waiting on?

Amplify Marginalized Voices - Let's Just Normalize It

While we're at it, we need to normalize those marginalized voices too. We want to talk about amplifying the marginalized voices, and who's getting credit for ideas in meetings. Be mindful of things like who is dominating a conversation. Also, who was 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 do things such as speaking at conferences, writing for blogs, teaching customer classes, appearing in company videos, and so on. In other words, pass the mic. Again, not only do we need to amplify, but we have to normalize marginalized voices too.

Lean Into Discomfort - We Can't Ignore It

We have to lean into discomfort. We all know, it can be easier to ignore some of the difficulties that people face. No matter who you are, or the amount of privilege that you may have, really challenge yourself not to. It's damn near impossible to ignore these things today. You see the hate. You see the violence. You see the pain. You also see those who are demanding justice and change through their protests. There really isn't a way to ignore it now. Take it a step further and make sure that your colleagues, your friends, your family are not ignoring it either. Leaning into discomfort means having the hard conversations, showing up for others, and not tuning out the realities of the world that we all live in.

Self-Educate - Do Your Homework

Next, let's self-educate. You all, do your homework. We all remember those days in school, and the same thing lives to be true now, do your homework. When you don't know something, search for it. Use Google or even 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. 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 it also removes that emotional burden and that emotional labor from the person that you're confiding in. When you are able to have a conversation with others, maybe about their experiences, or even the obstacles they have faced, always start by requesting permission. Again, you have to ask if it's ok, never dive straight in. Then, there are so many resources out there. Just take the time to learn from them.

Diversify Your Networks - Who Do You Know?

Next, let's talk about diversifying your networks. Do you know five people within your industry who are either black, indigenous, people of color, Latina, a woman, someone with a disability, part of the LGBTQ+ community, born in a different generation, a veteran, or someone with a different educational background other than yours? If not, why not? Know, this is not a trick question. What do you think are some of the reasons that have kept you from communicating with people who are not like you? I know sometimes it can be a fear of rejection, or sometimes it can just be the lack of time. That is my biggest challenge for you. Head over to LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other community that you're a member of, and introduce yourself to at least five people that you wouldn't think to communicate with before. Before you do this, of course, you need to check yourself. When reaching out, remember that transparency is critical. When you're drafting that message, answer these questions first. What exactly do you want? Really, be honest about it. What do you want? Why are you just now looking for them? If the answer is because Chanita told me to. I get that. How will being in your professional network or knowing you do anything for them?

The last question that you have to ask yourself, is this guilt or is this genuine? Say what you mean, and do not tiptoe around it. Keeping in mind, you may receive some negativity or even people who ignore you. That's something that you may have to be prepared for. You also have people who appreciate the impact you're trying to make and want to connect with you too. You cannot predict the outcome of people's opinions of you after, and you should be prepared for that. Don't get offended. I know initiatives like these are rooted in love, and support, and positivity. It's also reactive behavior as opposed to being proactive. I can tell you firsthand, it does not always feel uplifting or empowering to have people show their concern and care after tragedy strikes. Because most BIPOC needed this same concern and care a long time ago, and we needed this to dismantle systematic oppression and racism. While this challenge may be just a little bit scary, you have to start somewhere. I believe in you.

Accept Critical Feedback - We All Make Mistakes

The next thing we'll talk about, accepting critical feedback. We all make mistakes. It truly is just part of life. When someone calls you out for it, rather than getting defensive, apologize. Discuss what happened. Try to understand the problem along with the impact. Learn from it, and then move on gracefully. To this point, I will also tell you to do what you can to establish trusting relationships with people from marginalized groups, who will give you honest and unfiltered feedback. When receiving that feedback, some appropriate responses just to start with could be something along the lines of, what can I do to make this right? Or, a simple yet powerful, I believe you.

Far too often have I been asked for feedback in a psychologically unsafe environment, and was appalled that the person requesting thought I was going to be 100% truthful. That's not how it works. We need trust. Keep in mind that feedback does help us grow wiser. That same knowledge increases our abilities to be extraordinary allies. For anyone who is offering feedback, be sure to check in with that person receiving to make sure that they are in a mental and emotional state to actually hear you.

Listen and Pay Attention

Then, listen. Most people in underrepresented groups are not seeking revenge, only equity, equality, inclusion, and your effort to make things right. Listen, and pay attention, because you'll find that there's a lot more to learn than any one presentation can teach you. Impact over intent.


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. As I always say, never believe the hype, make them prove it to you.


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Recorded at:

May 09, 2021