DEI for Everyone: Teaching DEI for Maximum Impact

Karith Foster

In this exact moment in time, we live in a wonderfully diverse world- a world of options and choices. A world where you can get M&Ms in every color, jellybeans in any flavor and one famous ice cream store allows you to choose from 31 flavors. (In the history of their entire existence they’ve had over 1400 flavors on their menu.) We also live in a world where the people we work with and encounter on a daily basis have unique traits, attributes and experiences that equally run the gamut.

Often because there is so much to address it can seem and feel quite overwhelming; making the idea of having a one-size fits all solution wonderfully convenient. Who wouldn’t wish to make the topic as complex as DEI simple? Unfortunately, that’s not how this conversation works when we take into account the varied personal experiences and cognitive skills and abilities of a wide range of individuals. This means how we choose to move forward addressing and discussing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion must be intentional if we are committed to creating respectful and considerate workspaces where each employee feels valued.

Unfortunately for decades, DEI programming and training has been presented one way, one conversation, one style of delivery and a very one-size fits all application of a multifaceted multi-pronged, personal and emotional conversation that addresses a myriad of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Is it no wonder there is a disconnect for so many and a malaise that has turned into fatigue that has slowly crept in? Vince Lombardi said it best, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” We cannot afford to have cowardice on such a critical topic. We must take the reins of such an important conversation that should involve everyone and encourage thoughtful debate, engagement and resolutions- not more division and polarization.

So how do we solve this conundrum? It’s certainly not by over-generalizing or simplifying an incredible complex topic. But that doesn’t mean we make it more complex either. We start by breaking it down. We do not dismiss or ignore any aspect of it, but we start by understanding that it’s a great deal to grasp and just like a learning a new computer program, new skill or new language we get down to the basics.

The basics begin by understanding that there is no “one way” to have this conversation. Justas people have varying learning styles in school and coursework, we have different learning styles when broached with the topic of DEI. An equally important point to consider is that not everyone one is in the same place on their DEI journey. While some are old hat in this critical conversation there are many people for whom this is the first time they’ve been introduced to or have been part of this conversation. With all these considerations in mind here are the top 5 things leaders can start doing today to make conversations around DEI more effective and inclusive.

  1. Meet people where they are.

This can be done by implementing a few techniques all of which require setting the ego aside. This means:

  • Not having a determined outcome in mind based solely on your input and actions.
  •  Relinquish judgement when it comes to someone else’s experience or lack thereof.
  •  Set the intention for the end goal to be a better understanding around how thoughtful DEI application makes for a more conducive work environment rather than changing someone’s mind.

2.    Open lines of healthy communication. Healthy is the operative word here. Healthy communication means there is not just one person speaking and one person listening- that’s a lecture, but rather there is an exchange of words and ideas that can be freely expressed without fear of judgement of repercussion- that’s a dialogue.


3.    Be receptive and courageous. These are not the easiest of conversations to have. Many times, we are faced with looking not just at society but taking an inward look at ourselves and how we show up. That can be uncomfortable. But that discomfort is remedied by the fact that it’s temporary and that there are rewards if we are open i.e., receptive to learning something new not just about others but ourselves. This is where the courage comes into play. Human nature, the ego, etc.…have us all set up to want to be right. It takes courage to identify common flaw move past it and be willing to hear someone else’s thoughts, ideas and experiences especially if they are so far from our realm of comprehension. 


4.    Don’t expect instant results or buy in. This is a process, treat it as such. There are a significant number of people who are gun shy around the topic of DEI, especially if they’ve been going to multiple DEI trainings over the course of their professional careers and they’ve not seen much in the way of positive change or they’ve actually witnessed worsening scenarios. While many have had positive experiences, many have not. For those in the latter category buy-in for “more programming” may take some serious effort. But with the right and considerate approach more and more people will be inclined to participate in thoughtful programming that isn’t based on old paradigms of victim vs. villain -one that give people equal agency and voice in this multitiered conversation.


5.    Redefine Diversity. Yes, diversity is absolutely about the physical things we see and perceive- our ethnicity, abilities, gender, nationality etc.…all the wonderful things that make us- us. But there is more to it than that; more to being diverse and celebrating that diversity. We are at a pivotal time where we can consciously expand the idea of true diversity to include diversity of thought and ideas. This is paramount if we want to bring everyone into this conversation of inclusion. We are not monoliths; we are not the labels given to us by others or the ones we’ve given ourselves. Stepping out of that inconsiderate and insulting paradigm takes us one step closer to creating spaces of belonging based not on the tangible things that make us diverse, but all of the things that make us wonderfully diverse.


BOB has a wonderful lesson about veering away from linear thinking i.e. thinking outside of the box. This respectfully can be applied to how we approach DEI and how we talk about it.

We must take into account that this DEI journey not a destination. As there are living documents- this is a living conversation. It is ever evolving as we are. As long as we are willing to learn, be open to new ideas and concepts and always considerate of one another we will be on the right track to creating workplaces where people want to belong and feel like they belong.

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