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10 Missteps to Avoid When Launching DEI Initiatives

The list below is from a panel hosted by the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce on Nov. 9, 2021, featuring Equity Training Center experts Guimel DeCarvalho, Amy Hogarth, and Carlton Watson. For presenter bios visit the About Us page.

Misstep #1: “If we hire the right people, we will become an anti-racist organization.”

Learning: Hiring Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) folx does not make your organization anti-racist by itself. It requires white people to FIRST do the difficult work of examining white privilege which is a critical step, if not the most important step, to create change.

Misstep #2: “Creating an anti-racist organization means reinventing the wheel and starting over.”

Learning: There is no need to start from scratch. There may be areas that need to be overhauled and others that need fine-tuning. In fact, you can begin by doing a Google search. There are many resources and a lot of research that you can use to get started.

Misstep #3: “DEI initiatives can be left to a small group of people. They figure it out and tell us how to fix everything.”

Learning: This is a BAD idea! Forming a diversity committee will not “fix” DEI issues and it is not up to a small group of people to create a DEI plan or initiative. It’s important to have a committee to help organize, provide feedback, and push the organization forward but it can’t stop there.

Misstep #4: “The entire system must change for us to accomplish anything!”

Learning: Yes, there are BIG things that need to change but there are also small actions that can be taken that can have a measurable impact.

Misstep #5 – “Actively avoid any topic or action that feels uncomfortable or overwhelming.”

Learning: White folx love to talk about how “overwhelming” it is to think about what needs to be done to create an anti-racist culture. Recognize that sound? It’s white privilege talking. White people must do the work that BIPOC folx have been doing for generations over HUNDREDS of years.

Misstep #6: “We just need to get everyone in a room and talk it out.

Learning: No. Just NO. Racial trauma is not something that can be “talked out” without any training about racial trauma and the ways BIPOC people have been harmed, unseen, and unheard. If the room is filled with white, male, able-bodied superiors and straight, cisgender bosses, power and privilege will fill the space instead of true communication.

Misstep #7: “Cultural competency is enough.”

Learning: It’s not. Cultural competency training is not the same as actively working to become anti-racist. Culture Change is the answer and that takes time to build and more time to sustain.

Misstep #8: “As a white CEO it is not my place to talk about anti-racism since I am not the expert. What if I say something wrong?”

Learning: White CEOs might make an embarrassing mistake, but they can also show white staff what it means to be a leader who holds themselves accountable. Even if the CEO is not perfect, they are trying and modeling how to lead an organization working to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Misstep #9: “The belief that if we talk about race in the workplace, it will be hard.”

Learning: Yes. It will be hard, but it is a necessary part of the process. There will be times when it is difficult, but by having uncomfortable conversations we go beyond polite conversation and begin seeing each other as human beings.

Misstep #10: “We can hold three to four trainings and we will be good.”

Learning: See #7. Holding one DEI training or series of trainings will not solve equity issues or lead to transformative change. There must be a defined process and sustainable plan with measurable goals. Instead of transactional work of checking off the box, we recommend transformational work!

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