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Two Truths: DEI Revisit

I am going to start this blog with two honest statements. Number one, I am a 39-year-old white male with a white-collar job that allows me to work from home and pay my bills, and I worked hard to get here. Number two, I have benefitted from the inherently unjust systems that were in place when I was raised, educated, hired, and promoted. These two things can both be true. I worked hard, and I benefitted from an unfair system. One does not disqualify the other, but they both need to be acknowledged.

It is difficult to acknowledge that these two statements can both be true. If I was the beneficiary of a broken system, why did I have to work so hard? If all the systems were designed to benefit someone like me, it should have been easy, right? This thinking is what trips so many people up when discussing DEI programs in academics or work environments.

“When we’re talking about diversity, it’s not a box to check. It is a reality that should be deeply felt and held and valued by all of us.” —Ava DuVernay

The value of DEI programs is they remove the obstacles that those who are discriminated against face when trying to live their lives. These programs do not take anything away from those that are deserving, they just give everyone a fair chance. Yes, I worked hard to get where I am, but if I had been born a different race or gender, I would have had to work even harder.

Looking back now, I see where these benefits were. I received multiple speeding tickets in my teens, and not once did I worry that the men pulling me over would end my life. I was never even asked to get out of my car. I worked third shift jobs where I was walking alone across a parking lot in the middle of the night and not paying one bit of attention to what was going on around me. I did not have to carry my keys between my fingers, or scan my surroundings, or have mace like it was recommended to the women that worked my same shift. I lived in blissful ignorance, and even that was a privilege because I did not need to be told at a young age what could happen if I said the wrong thing to an authority figure.

As much as we want to believe that we all have the same opportunities in life, the reality is –  that’s just not true. DEI programs are designed to help us be better at recognizing where the inequalities are, and how to address those inequalities. They are designed to help us grow as companies, academic institutions, and as a society. I could go into the research that most employees prefer to work for companies that have robust DEI programs, or that the new generation of workers entering the workforce are looking at culture fit as more important than salary, or that there can even be serious legal repercussions to not having DEI programs in place, but I won’t. I will say that removing these programs makes a statement, and that statement will be heard loud and clear to all your current employees, and your future employees.

I want to end with two more truths. One, this was the hardest blog I have written since I started writing for the podcast. I was not sure it was my place to write a DEI blog. I erased and rewrote many sections of this blog, something I typically do not have to do. Two, I am glad that I wrote it.

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