Is there legitimacy in any profession without Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Is there legitimacy in any profession without Equity, Diversity & Inclusion

Over the last eighteen months, there has been an incredible number of organizations that have taken steps to strategically adopt or embed Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) into their fabric. While this is incredible news, I remain cautiously optimistic as I’m also aware that there are quite a few out there who have not taken any steps at all to embark on this journey for reasons best known to them (this includes the `all hat no cattle’). This adoption of EDI presents a new shift in how organizations have always conducted themselves and how they view people. You will notice that I have used embedding EDI into the fabric of the organization as I am yet to come across any policy, process, position or aspect of the functioning of any organization that is an exemption to an EDI lens. This observation however begs the question, `is there legitimacy in any profession without EDI as a core competency?’, one that I would want to examine further.

Over the years, research has shown that core competencies are essential in the successful functioning of any organization. The Office of Human Resources at the National Institutes of Health describes competencies as “the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors that contribute to individual and organizational performance.  Knowledge is information developed or learned through experience, study or investigation.  Skill is the result of repeatedly applying knowledge or ability.  Ability is an innate potential to perform mental and physical actions or tasks.  Behavior is the observable reaction of an individual to a certain situation.  The target proficiency level for each competency will vary based on an individual’s position and the organization’s needs”. When we consider these core competencies (the knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours), it is pretty difficult to imagine how any of them would function successfully without an EDI lens today.

Before we examine some of the most common core competencies today, I would like to put a few things in context. Having EDI as a core competency requires a commitment to learning and unlearning. EDI as a core competency will not be achieved through:

·       A few guest speakers at your workplace presenting on cultural differences

·       The one powerful unconscious bias or anti-racism workshop

·       Active work by the EDI committee at your workplace

·       Observing a few workplace cultural events here and there

·       The incredible ongoing work by your EDI consultants

At this point, I hope you get where I am going with this. While all the above are incredible steps in sparking self reflection, nothing will change unless one takes incredible steps to invest in a life-long learning journey. If you’re waiting on your workplace to provide you with these opportunities and not necessarily taking the personal responsibility towards your own learning, you’re bound to encounter some serious challenges. Workplace learning should simply supplement or spark your personal learning. EDI learning requires a personal, internal intervention to challenge all one has learned and how they learned it and perhaps a sprinkle of the same passion one had acquiring any other of what they would consider their core competencies. I discuss this personal journey extensively in a previous article, Deconstructing your Equity, Diversity and Inclusion journey where I provide practical frameworks towards interculturalism and highly recommend this if you’re new in your EDI journey.

Secondly, I would also like to highlight that every Profession is biased to some extent and invite you to examine this through my previous article, Profession Bias where I discuss multiple signs where one may be contending with this bias.

So taking it back to core competencies, can any Professional successfully execute their roles at any organization without EDI as a core competency? Is EDI mutually exclusive from other core competencies? Edward J. Cripe at Workforce summarized about 31 different competencies that were developed by Workitect Inc many years ago and still in use today. Let’s examine a few of them.

Fostering teamwork

This could be described as the ability to bring different team members together in order to create the opportunity to collaboratively develop solutions in a way that encourages or promotes the desire to continuously work together. If an individual does not understand how team members may be experiencing inequities at the workplace, or lacks an understanding of the importance of representation, or power dynamics and many more which all allow every team member to bring their best authentic self, then I don’t see how one can successfully foster teamwork. Fostering teamwork requires emotional and cultural intelligence, the appreciation of what a wide array of differences brings to the team and an awareness of what prevents or allows every team member to show up authentically.

Empowering others

This is the ability to instill confidence in others in a way that allows them to use their discretion in making the best possible decisions through any challenge. Empowering others could take the form of simply making space for others to take charge of a situation. It could also be promoting others to own their ideas in a way that allows one to meet the organization’s goal or objectives. So how does one make space for others to take charge without paying particular attention to inequities that team members may face given their unique identities? How does one know whose ideas to prioritize based on potential power dynamics at play? Empowering others needs a careful reflection of the diversity in identities within the team and finding a perfect balance to instill confidence in each other in a way that promotes an ecosystem that is always there for each other. An EDI lens provides empowerment in our differences.

Developing others

This is the ability to enable others to become more effective by developing their capabilities. This could come in the form of mentorship, sponsorship, coaching, training or even encouraging someone to take on a bigger or significant challenge. We all experience inequities differently and there’s nothing like a one size fits all approach that would succeed in developing others. I’m reminded of a Leader that I worked with where they had provided several opportunities (at least they thought) to this Black employee to join these project teams. Unfortunately, this employee was unable to successfully influence the project team or perform to a level that was satisfactory to this Leader. After a careful review of this situation, I was able to reveal a few factors at play affecting the desired outcomes. There was always poor representation on these project teams. While there was a significant pool of a capable mix of employees at the organization to work in these projects, all project teams were represented by purely White Male employees. We also discovered that this employee had someone take credit for some of his own ideas in the first few projects he had been assigned to. This employee also revealed that while he was grateful of the opportunity provided, he didn’t want to disappoint his direct manager by raising the idea or thought that he was being treated differently (by this I mean not being allowed to own his ideas) and in effect felt no need to participate in sharing suggestions or ideas. The phenomenon of overeducated and underemployed among individuals that identify as historically marginalized is real where the barriers towards progress within an organization requires a considerate approach that best addresses the root cause of these barriers. An EDI lens provides an opportunity to understand the complexity of this paradigm where the ability to enable others is tailored in a way that best addresses the existing barriers. While this Leader had his intentions in the right place, he failed to understand those barriers he was unfamiliar with and how to best develop this employee. An EDI lens allows you to see your environment in context of everyone’s unique situation and identity.

Persuasive Communication

This is the ability to convince others through all applicable mediums presenting a rationalization in support of a position. Persuading others requires some level of influence by the persuader where one can demonstrate confidence to their audience through a deep understanding, knowledge and character of what they are in fact trying to convey. Persuasion without demonstrable action can become merely a bunch of words. One also needs to be able to understand their audience in order to successfully persuade them. Language used and medium, the crafting of the message, the rationale used, the graphics, stories, analogies etc are all complex requiring a careful approach and consideration. Understanding the complexity in which we all operate in is essential in hitting the mark and can be very difficult if this complexity is not considered. An EDI lens is poised to address this complexity.

Interpersonal Awareness

This is the ability to anticipate and interpret others’ concerns and respond appropriately. A great degree of empathy, humility and emotional intelligence goes a long way in this. This also requires active listening to a variety of cues, behaviours and responses in order to respond effectively. How can one successfully anticipate and interpret others’ concerns without understanding what allows someone to show up authentically? How does one respond appropriately to another person’s concerns if they cannot interpret the variety of cues or behaviours? How do you help someone who cannot read the look on my face when they decide to wear `blackface’ at the annual work Halloween party? An EDI lens allows one to effectively anticipate and interpret various cues and behaviours in a way that consistently reinforces a level of awareness and appreciation for others’ concerns.

Influencing others

This could be described as the ability to gain the support of others through some of the core competencies we’ve already discussed. One generally needs to win people over through persuasion and a great deal of interpersonal awareness. Influencing others requires gaining the confidence of others in finding solutions that benefit everyone which will generally require a few trade offs in the process. Having examined how difficult it can be to persuade others or maintain an interpersonal awareness without an EDI lens, then we can only assume the steep battle towards influencing others without these competencies. It is fundamentally important to build sustainable relationships if one is to be influential and that requires a keen interest in understanding people and what’s important to them. I don’t see how you can influence me if you’re not interested in understanding what’s important to me as an individual. An EDI lens allows us to decenter ourselves and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

In any matters involving human interaction, it is my view based on the examples I have provided above that an EDI lens is inseparable from these core competencies. There are many other core competencies out there and I’m yet to come across one that does not require an EDI lens in its effective execution. To that end, it is pretty difficult to fathom the thought of legitimacy in any Profession out there without Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as a core competency.

Author: Kevin Kamau, is the Founder and President of Kamau Consulting Group, a Management Consulting Firm focusing on a strategic approach to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion creating opportunities for inclusive participation through Inclusive Leadership.

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