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I want to amplify the voice of Dr. Janice Gassam Asare, PhD by highlighting a recent topic from her Newsletter, “The Pink Elephant,” on identifying 5 ineffective DEI practices and offering strategies to create the changes needed to eliminate structural barriers and systemic challenges.

Link to the “The Pink Elephant Newsletter: 5 Ways DEI Has Been Ineffective and How We Make It Better”  

Link to Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace: A Guide for Equity and Inclusion:

Link to the Dirty Diversity podcast:

Melyssa Barrett:  Welcome to The Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in the space. Let’s get started.

Hey everyone, it’s Melyssa here, and I just wanted to bring up a subject that has been troubling me. And I have had conversation after conversation and now that it’s 2024, I thought this might be a good time to just speak the words because I think there is a level of frustration out there that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. And I didn’t want to talk about the lawsuit per se, but many of you know about the lawsuit where the American Alliance for Equal Rights, which is a conservative group, filed the lawsuit against the Fearless Fund. And obviously they were instrumental in dismantling affirmative action by the Supreme Court. And the lawsuit filed against the Fearless Fund was filed in federal court in Atlanta.

And I don’t really want to talk about the lawsuit itself, but clearly there’s this disturbing trend going on where although we’ve seen progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion practices, and in some cases people don’t even like using those words anymore, but we have many practitioners that are out there challenged to really create the impact that they would get the resources that they need, be it money or human, get the authority they need, and really just unable to make the difference that they want to make in striking down some of those structural barriers that exist within organizations.

And so first I really wanted to give a shout-out to Janice Gassam Asare, I hope I’m pronouncing her name right, but she is doing some fantastic work. She also has her own podcast as well as a newsletter that she provides, also called The Pink Newsletter. And her podcast is called Dirty Diversity. And she has just done an outstanding job. And I think one of the reasons I wanted to bring this up is because in her newsletter, and I really just wanted to amplify a lot of what she said because it really highlighted a lot of my own sentiments. And maybe one day I’ll be able to get her to come join me for a conversation on The Jali Podcast. She has written hundreds of articles on the subject of DEI and worked with many companies to eliminate structural barriers when it comes to race.

Her newsletter called The Pink Newsletter touched on the topic this time for 5 Ways DEI Has Been Ineffective and Some Solutions as to How We Make It Better. And I really just wanted to amplify some of her work and highlight some of the points she makes because I will likely not do it justice, but she is just doing fabulous things. She’s also the author of a book called Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace. She has two other books called Dirty Diversity and The Pink Elephant as well. So definitely must reads.

But one of the things that I thought was interesting, and one of the quotes from her was that, “Anti-DEI sentiments have gained more traction since the ending of affirmative action.” And we all know that Elon Musk continues to fan the flames recently tweeting that DEI must die. And there’s many others that are saying the same thing. But I think what was interesting is she also mentioned that there are several valid critiques of the field. And I thought it was interesting how she kind of walks through five specific things. And I just want to amplify her voice and celebrate what she is doing in the world. So many of her sentiments and perspectives so eloquently capture my own.

But she is obviously a very talented writer, a very talented consultant when it comes to DEI. And so I just figured instead of me trying to say what I wanted to say, she did it so well. So I just wanted to kind of highlight a few things that she mentioned in terms of what are those five ways that DEI is ineffective. And she mentioned some solutions as well. I mean, I’ll add some of my own comments. But the first of which she mentions lack of institutional power and the fact that many DEI leaders are made as the sacrificial lambs within their organizations so that when something goes wrong, they don’t even have the resources or the team to move the needle.

And I think that’s so true. I think there is such a level of frustration by people that are doing the work, and many are very passionate about the work, but they don’t get the resources that they need to actually make the change. And often they can’t eliminate structural barriers because they often experience their own barriers. And so you have junior level employees serving in different ways, or even we see the ERG group really being tasked with much of the work, but they don’t necessarily have the institutional power they need to create the changes that they need, which really just sets DEI up for failure.

And so I just thought it’s really how I’m feeling, just frustration around how things are being done. We had all this commitment and everybody was really excited, and now all of a sudden you have a lot of organizations that have just taken their foot off the accelerator and just doing a level of insincere effort, I’ll call it. And maybe in some cases it’s sincere effort, but it’s just a minimal to get by. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that because she brings up a great point later on as well.

The other thing, and many of you have heard me talk about the fact that DEI in many cases reports into human resources, and I just don’t think that should be the case. I think we should be thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion as a lens that is focused in every part of the organization. One person rarely can change an entire organization, whether they’re the chief diversity officer reporting to the CEO or otherwise. But there should be a team that is focused with power and resources to make some organization-wide changes.

And I think it starts, quite frankly, at the board level. I think in many cases where you have distinction by the board, a real passion, a real support from the board, you see changes occur. But I do think there might be challenges that I’m seeing even when you have public companies and they’re the challenges that we see coming out now. And so I wonder if our small businesses, our private companies, are really going to be carrying the torch more significantly than some of these other businesses when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So we’ll see how that goes. But ideally, you have diverse board and those boards support the effort, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because for business imperative, it’s critical that I think companies think about what their bottom line will look like as they eliminate or minimize the efforts that they have in the space.

Additionally, one of the other things that her newsletter highlighted was no accountability. And yes, DEI is ineffective if you don’t have some accountability. And a lot of organizations really don’t have significant intentions when it comes to achieving DEI objectives. They just hire people, say what they’re going to do, and then kind of make sure that maybe there’s a couple of news articles or PR campaigns that occur that showcase a little bit of spotlight. But there has to be accountability, measurement, and ultimately there has to be a determination of what’s effective in your own organization.

Another thing in terms of just surface level DEI initiatives, which kind of goes hand in hand with that. So many organizations, yes, we are celebrating cultural heritage months, we are having safe space conversations, but the activities don’t address systemic problems. And this was one of the things I loved about The Pink Newsletter and some of the items that she highlighted here. She even talked about how everybody seems to be on board with the unconscious bias training, checks the box, everybody can say they’ve done it and they move on, but is it the solution? No. And ideally, and I quote her, “In an ideal world, DEI would never be a reactionary measure. Workplaces would be detailed, thorough, and thoughtful with DEI implementation and structures would be put in place to address inequities.” And she talks about how organizations must be willing to overhaul policies and practice and really adopt equity and justice-oriented systems.

I love the way she talks about it, first of all, because she has a way with words that I likely do not, but it’s just when talking about some of these solutions and the frustration that folks are experiencing, I just wanted to voice a lot of these concerns. One of the items in terms of just refusal to address systemic issues, I think there’s a lot of organizations where they don’t want to talk about whiteness or anti-Blackness. They want to talk about allyship and colorblindness and equality and just pretend that a lot of different systems of oppression don’t exist with respect to all of the isms out there. And so just making sure that there are opportunities to create and impact employee experiences to dismantle and deconstruct those systems is really a focus on how we actually make some progress.

And I love that she gave some solutions in terms of just inviting, not just, but inviting educators into the workplace. And I know when I was at my previous company, we had some phenomenal speakers coming in from universities all over the country that really educated, not only on history, because I think a lot of times people don’t necessarily understand the history. They’ve only received one particular view of history. But we also had, I remember one professor that came in who was absolutely phenomenal, and she spent some time talking about intersectionality and how intersectionality really has, in the history of such coming from an immigrant mother myself, and how different components of ethnicity impact our world in different ways.

And the experience of the immigrant, the Latina, I mean, whether you call yourself Hispanic, Latina, whatever. I am Afro-Latina, so my father was African-American, passed away now, my mother came from Panama, so her first language was Spanish, and there were a whole lot of challenges that we had in terms of even her not wanting to pass on her native language and to make sure we were raised speaking English. And there are many Hispanics, I think, that were probably in some of the same boat there.

But anyway, other solutions that she mentions, auditing workplace practices by a neutral third party. I think that is probably one of those items that never happens to get done or resources get re-diverted, and we just don’t have the money to have some external consultants come in and assess these inequities. But providing recommendations and getting some of those recommendations complete and executed upon really can make a significant difference in an organization overall. Just making sure that people have the ability within the organization, the leadership has to be willing to address systemic issues head on and make changes. And I think a lot of times we don’t look at the exclusionary practices and what we can do to make sure that we have policies in place. I know in the state of California, I think there’s a new bill that came out with respect to workplace violence and making sure that companies have policies in place to ensure that they can protect their employees. And so we need to be thinking more broadly about what that means and how that’s instituted as well in the organization.

And then fifth, I’ll just touch on, I thought it was interesting that Janice talks about the upholding oppressive systems because in some cases, even the DEI practitioner remains silent and just doesn’t push back against the status quo. And I have seen that many times, where you get a new job, you’re in a great position, and then maybe you’re even reporting to the CEO and the CEO maybe wants to make change, but maybe not that much change. And so if you want to read more about her article, it is a [inaudible 00:17:02] article that she did, it’s also in the pink newsletter. I will absolutely put information for her in the notes, the podcast notes here so that you can link to her because I just think she’s doing fabulous work and she’s really focusing on the most marginalized as well.

Anyway, I just wanted to give her a shout. I’m always about trying to celebrate people that are doing great work in the world. I just thank her. I hope one of these days I get to actually have a conversation with her. But in the meantime, pick up her books, Dirty Diversity, Decentering Whiteness in the Workplace, or The Pink Elephant. I think Dirty Diversity may be out of stock, if I remember seeing that right. But definitely check her out and let me know what you think. What are some of the issues that you’re seeing, and what are some solutions you think we can implement in order to make progress? Because at this point, I think it is an all hands on deck situation. So Janice, keep up the great work, and I look forward to talking to you soon.

Thanks for joining me on The Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.