If You’re Choosing Between “DEI” and Crisis Management, You’re Choosing Wrong.

The last few months have left me reeling - and fielding questions from clients who are reeling too - about how to approach DEI work in this maelstrom. Is now really the right time to be “doing DEI?” If so, why is it essential to prioritize DEI as the winds storm around us? And finally, how should organizations and their leaders prioritize DEI in the context of unprecedented strategic, financial, and moral obstacles?

The answer to all of these questions hinges on one of my fundamental truths: DEI is not a thing we do, it is the way we do everything.


Both/And: Values Based Decision Making in a Time of Crisis

Transforming core services to virtual overnight...bring your child to work EVERY day...sleepless worry for ourselves and our at-risk loved ones...even deeper divides along socio-economic and generational lines...amplified racism and xenophobia....How are we supposed to make the range of critical decisions required of us while swirling in the stress? Our brains have developed a response through biological evolution: pre-programmed shortcuts based on habits. But are the habits that we’ve built in the past representative of the leaders that we want to be today?
In times of stress, our brains naturally default to previously ingrained behaviors to navigate uncertainty. This includes existing habits around top-down, individualistic decision-making; information- (and thus power-) hoarding; and binary either/or thinking. In other words, unless we interrupt it, the extreme stress of today’s circumstances could lead many of us to default to white dominant culture habits in this exact moment when slow and intentional leadership, clear and transparent communication, and trust and relationship-informed decision making are most critical.


New Year’s Resolution Challenge: Articulate Your Organization’s Talent Philosophy

During a recent workshop that Xiomara Padamsee and I facilitated at the Education Pioneers National Conference, we led an activity with representatives from small nonprofits, medium-sized CMOs, and relatively large public school districts to identify their core beliefs about talent to include in a talent philosophy – a short, bold statement articulating the talent beliefs of an organization. We asked participants to “vote with their feet” by moving to different sides of the room based on whether they believed that their organization should hire for raw potential for impact or demonstrated track record. Unsurprisingly, representatives from newer organizations who were just starting to build up the core of their organizational functions tended to fall on the “demonstrated track record” side of the room, while large, complex organizations with established training capabilities fell on the “raw potential for impact” side of the room.


Diversity: Necessary (But Insufficient)

Our country has a long history of social movements that fight inequity, injustice, and institutionalized oppression and which are led by marginalized or oppressed groups. But the educational equity “movement” is unique in that it has, from the beginning, been led largely by white, economically privileged leaders and funders, while the communities most impacted by educational injustice are largely brown, black, and poor. The outcomes of this disconnect are approaches, practices, and structures that are not deeply and authentically informed by the communities being served. They often lack sociological and cultural context and relevance.