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How to Convince Senior Leadership to Invest in DEI Work

If you are a BIPOC individual, reading this post because your employer requested some educational resources to "open their eyes" to their internalized racial biases, pause for a moment. We have one important thing to say before continuing:

It is not your responsibility as a BIPOC individual to take on the emotional labor of educating your co-workers about racial discrimination and inequality.

Is it in your job description? Was it one of the responsibilities under the job listing that you applied to? 

For this reason, we want to take this moment to name the obligation that you, as a BIPOC individual, may feel when white-identifying peers look to you as an educator — a responsibility that you did not ask for. It is so detrimental to black and brown individuals to have to retell the trauma of their lived experiences … for the education (aka the benefit) of their white-identifying co-workers.

We want to say: you don’t have to take on this responsibility. In fact, the advice outlined below is designed to minimize your burden, the individual with a life's worth of racism-awareness education, while also building a case to convince your organization's leaders to consider anti-racism training.

If you are a white-identifying individual reading this blog post because you believe strongly in the importance of anti-racism training, you’ve taken the first step forward on a lifelong journey. We look forward to following that journey as well.

If you are feeling a bit uncertain, wondering if it is your place to advocate for DEI, as an ally, rather than someone from the BIPOC-community, we have a message for you as well:

There is a difference between being an anti-racism advocate and being an anti-racism educator. As an advocate, you don’t have to be an expert on racism or DEI in the workplace — your role is to do the initial research to find those educators and encourage your organization to hire them. We say this to relieve some pressure. We are not asking for advocates to be experts.

#1 Get Specific - Anti-'Bias' Training is Not Enough

Shoutout to Michelle Kim, (fellow Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainer) for this piece of advice. Specificity will deliver more effective results, she says. Don’t go wide and attempt to self-educate about how to be more inclusive towards multiple underrepresented groups. Go deep, and tackle one specific issue.

“You want the team to understand how to show up for their Black colleagues? Don’t ask for an Unconscious Bias workshop, get an Anti-Black Racism workshop.” - Michelle Kim, Awaken

The history of slavery and black oppression in the U.S. spans 450+ years. It will take more than a few hours to understand and unlearn the beliefs embedded in a white supremacist culture. To combine this facet of DEI work with a blend of other "isms" (like sexism or discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community) detracts from the hyper-focused attention that these issues deserve individually. That said, as you start to learn a practice for combating one facet, it becomes easier to apply that same knowledge to other -isms.

#2 Make a Strong Case that Encourages your Company to Invest in Anti-Racism Training

What we’ve discovered is that sometimes companies are reluctant to invest money in anti-racism least, until they see their peers doing the same. When trying to convince higher-ups to invest in anti-racism training, it helps if you can point to examples of other companies who have committed to anti-racism work. We’ve listed a few case studies that measured the impact of DEI initiatives in different industries to help get your research started:

  1. DEI in non-profit organizations

  2. DEI in tech (which is, admittedly, lacking)

  3. The “business case” for DEI (and there are plenty, published as far back as 1990).

Here's our own contribution from consultant Lisa Ahmad on the business case for DEI; you can share this with your executive leadership team.

Knowing that other organizations are engaging in this work helps encourage others to follow. It also gives you and the leaders you are trying to convince a case study that they can observe and learn from.

#3 Find a Good Advocate (or Advocates) Within the Leadership Team

Your advocates could be a group of colleagues at your organization. Or it could be a member of the leadership team, who is listening to the needs and experiences of underrepresented groups?

We especially recommend looking for an advocate in a senior leadership position if you feel that you are the sole representative of the BIPOC-community. It’s difficult and emotionally draining to advocate for DEI, especially when you are alone in those efforts. Furthermore, for any DEI initiative to have a lasting impact, the leadership team must be committed.

This last task will be a bit of a waiting game. As the year progresses, take note of the behaviors in your co-workers and company leaders. Who is speaking up more often against racist micro-aggressions in the office? Who is starting to confront their privilege in a significant way? These are the characteristics you are looking for in an advocate.

The advantage of this approach is twofold. One, and this relates to BIPOC readers, you and your emotional well-being from the labor of taking responsibility for the awareness-education your white-identifying-co-workers should be taking on. Two, you will have a better chance of successfully implementing this training if the push comes from the leadership team.

We hope that this advice was helpful to you. DEI work takes time, it takes commitment. It is worthwhile work, for building a better society at large and (closer to home) a better workplace. When your organization's leaders are ready to invest the time, emotional/mental effort, and (this is the big one) money, reach out to us at LTHJ Global so we can help.

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