The 3 Relationship Stages of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion)

DEI is a relationship. In fact, it is multiple levels of relationship building that you experience which occur at different stages. In order to create a space where your contributions create meaningful impact you must examine three levels that create the fullest potential of your being: 1) the ME 2) the WE and finally the last one is 3) the US. In all transparency all three can be a real pain in the ass. All three relate to a journey that allows you to show up as your full self and for others in an inclusive way, but you must embrace the dark and the light, mistakes and successes, the highs and the lows, positives and the negatives and so on and so forth. Each level involves a polarity. Within the polarity all three can be the greatest gifts you acknowledge within yourself and it takes embracing the worst parts of who you are and having the courage to embrace them both. Stick with me as I take you on this journey.

Stage 1: Understanding the ME

Deepak Chopra (he could read the phonebook to me and I’d listen) talks about the self. He speaks to us on numerous occasions about understanding who we are and what is the “self.” Throughout many of his works he explains that we are the observers of the body that we live in, of our minds. I’m equating this to the ME because in DEI that is who you have to know first. This stage is the result of you understanding that you have a higher purpose and that you are ready to figure out what it is and how to check in with your damn self about your damn self! Understanding the ME helps you to recognize and answer the following:

  1. Why it is that you care so much to do such difficult work and repeat facing these challenges everyday of your life.
  2. How relatable or different you are to those that you intend to help.
  3. What are the experiences you have within you that can project your inner biases onto others in an effort to support them?
  4. How am I being impacted by the decisions I’m making at this stage of my DEI journey.

Understanding the inner workings of who you are and the healing that is necessary to truly allow you to show up authentically, intentionally, and limitless. In the same process, you will need to understand where your scars are and whether or not you have patched them up or if they have actually healed. This phase was the most difficult one for me. It still is depending on which degree of me I am confronting, loving, and embracing all in one damn setting. In order to realize that within step one there are subsets there is a list of emotions you will need to navigate and build a journey to accept. So within this phase you will go through the following 1) navigating 2) understanding 3) accepting. The most important part of this journey is to recognize that you have flaws and learn to accept them, you don’t always have to love them, but don’t stop loving you because they exist. TO RECOGNIZE WHERE YOUR LIMITATIONS ARE FOR WHAT YOU WILL AND WILL NOT ACCEPT INTO YOUR REALITY FROM YOURSELF AND OTHERS. This is about understanding your own boundaries as you enter into a space that came seem boundless and requires even a breaking of them to see change happen. You must also be willing to recognize that selfishness at this stage is required. It is required for you to take the time to be selfish and focus on your damn self. Your light and your dark make you who you are and heavily influence how you show up. So whether you are doing DEI Work in the capacity of an advocate or in allyship, you must realize that we all have biases, prejudices, and beautiful traits that inform our approach. Remember, it’s not that you have all of these traits that make you an asshole, it’s about whether or not they negatively impact others and once you realize it, whether or not you decide to ignore it and do nothing or pull up!

Stage 2: Understanding the WE

The WE, is about you and others that you allow to come into your space. It is about your ability to recognize that the world does not revolve around you, and that your world cannot exist without others. Perceptions define our reality and reality informs our perceptions. Understanding the WE is about recognizing your perception of others and what factors whether social, physical, etc influence your actions after your perceptions have been recognized and accepted by your mind. The WE is a result of the need many of us have to work together with others. It is the initiation to the US. It helps you understand the needs and the wants of others or how their privileges and oppressions impact you. This phase usually happens simultaneously as you work to understand the ME. Recognize that interacting with others can help you learn more about yourself. It can provide clarity for your needs, wants, and overall desires. Interactions with others help us make sense of the world, they help us to understand, misunderstand, or our decision to ignore behavior(s) that impact our outcomes. This level is the recruiting phase of your journey where you begin to invite others to join your plight for social justice, equity, and equality. When WE are taking the time to understand this piece of our DEI journey WE must ask ourselves the following:

  1. What are my limits when it comes to interacting with others, where do those limimits come from and why do they exist?
  2. What are our shared privileges and oppressions and where do we differentiate?
  3. What is the outcome I am hoping for in this interaction? What is the outcome the other person is hoping for? When we reach those outcomes will it make a positive or negative difference in both of our lives?
  4. Even within our togetherness are there spaces where our intersections meet and require separation?

The WE in DEI involves a deep analysis of our privileges and oppressions that create varying degrees of struggle and benefit. This level of the relationship allows you to begin understanding others. The WE does not exist unless there are more than one ME. Your ME matters and so does my ME, but even as we bring up what matters in that space, we must recognize that matter makes us who we are and the need to use it to amplify ourselves and others.

Stage 3: Understanding the US

The US is a collaboration of the ME and the WE while understanding that at times separation may be necessary. US means that you have taken the time to work collaboratively and intentionally to create space for a collective approach. This is the result of companies building teams, creating strategy, and working together equitably to begin achieving equal outcomes for all. It is one of the most effective parts of the journey because this is where the results have proved whether or not your ME and WE are in a functional and supportive space. US means that you have already recognized your needs and those of others and have started to create a space for both to be positively impacted. This does not happen until you recognize your negatives. Here is where you start to ask yourself the following:

  1. Did we do what was right, equitable, and inclusive for everyone involved?
  2. Are the systems of measuring impact that we created sustainable?
  3. How did our privileges and oppressions show up in a collaborative way to impact positive change for those who we intended to serve?
  4. How do we move forward and accept that our job here is never done, and always evolving? or Are we all satisfied with reaching the level we have achieved?
  5. What’s next?

One of the most important things here to note is that you are not and should never be left out of the benefits from your journey. It should provide fulfillment, and other forms of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that are not gained by the fall of someone else.

These 3 stages require that we are always in some form of existential crisis mode, always questioning if what we are doing has a positive and negative impact on someone else or the metaphysical world that we live in. The relationship stages in DEI are all an ongoing evolution of the self and others and how you pull up and show up.

The ME, WE, US is a methodology was inspired by the work of Alex Oh and Nikolay Borisov of Oh-Lay in continuing to develop the ME, WE, US methodology. It is also important to note that this work was inspired by the work of many scholars who have been contributing to this area for a very long time. Thank you for the inspiration to write this article.

Dr. Cheryl Ingram aka Dr. CI, is a very successful entrepreneur, blogger, content creator and expert of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices.

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