(Lessons from a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert)
Working in diversity, equity, and inclusion is hard ass work. There is no simple formula or solution to help rid the world of thousands of historic years that have taught us to operate with biases, both good and bad ones. There is one thing that we can all agree upon, the daily life of a DEI consultant is never easy, there are always challenges. The people who make it in this field and are the ones who understand this reality, poke their chest out, and decide to persevere anyways. With lots of self care practices, good support circles, and understanding how to meet people where they are and when to leave them there are key components to mental wellness and sustainability. Now with that being said, there are also people who decide to walk away and their journey to reach that decision is also understandable.
Working with numerous colleagues and watching their journeys has taught me a lot about the self preservation of myself as well as the collective self preservation of many of my consultants. Through this experiential knowledge I have decided to share 5 tips for people who are fighting to make the world a better place and struggling internally while doing it.
Tip #1: Stop prioritizing balance
Finding balance when working in DE I(diversity, equity, and inclusion) is bullshit. Balance may work for some, but for many it is not the 50–50 justice scale we’d like to believe. I have witnessed many people come to this field because of their own suffering. I am indeed one of those people. You reflect everyday on your visible and invisible identities (especially the oppressed ones). The ones that you have suffered at the hands of socially and are constantly reminded of daily on the news, a call with your client, at happy hours, social events etc. Balance as we define it in the western world, is not the only answer to help you preserve through these occurrences. Balance is more like a 70–30 some days and 80–20 other days. I love my work, and I love my social life and some days one requires more attention than the other. I have to find equity in the distribution of my own time for all things that require my attention, including my damn self! Figure out what keeps you sane, and what drives you to the point of insanity and pace yourself accordingly, because in this field you will need them both.
Tip #2: Distribute your energy equitably, not equally.
This is somewhat related to balance but more specific. There are always places in your professional and personal life that require your attention. Make a list that prioritizes what those are and throw that shit away when you’re done. When you are tired and drained rest, when you wake up angry, learn to sit with it, process it, and move through it. DO NOT try to just get over it, this doesn’t work for those of us who have frequent occurrences of anger (which are valid) while we do this work. In the end it may even hurt the people you intended to help. If there weren’t issues of discrimination and oppression, none of us would have jobs in this field. We also wouldn’t have some of the issues with anxiety, stress management, and even in our relationships. The shit takes a toll on you, so find your healthy outlets and put them in heavy rotation in your daily playlist of life. Show some gratitude for your anger, because without it, you wouldn’t know the opposite side of the polarity. Equity is about doing what’s fair in both your work and personal life. Equality is about the distribution of equal amounts of time, this is not fair. In our work, fairness comes first.
Tip #3: Do not sacrifice the things that you love, for the things that you like.
Your job as a DEI expert should be something that you love to do. Whether you are a chief diversity officer, an outside consultant, or diversity and inclusion manager etc. you have to create boundaries b/t things that you love and the things that you like to do in this work.
Tip #4: Know when to walk away and stay away
Whether it is from an argument, a workplace, a client, or a panelist opportunity, know when to say “this doesn’t support my well being or the people I’m here to support”. One major thing I have had to find peace in knowing is that some things are not worth your sanity. Even as a disadvantaged business owner, I have found strategies for preservation through this belief and practice. Not everybody who calls you to the cause wants to actually change, they just want to see other people change and benefit from it and that is not what we signed up to do when approaching this work.
I hope this helps someone today. These tips continue to contribute to my evolvement as a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert. I am always learning, we all are always learning and sometimes those lessons hurt, but the good lessons are just the right amount of balance that we need. DEI work is hard, it doesn’t mean that we have to be.