Shame is said to be one of the pillars of dehumanization. And yet it has been deployed in so many ways to control and move people to act, that the negative ramifications of it can be felt through generations — and also within organizations. As companies navigate multiple generations, cultures, identities and lived experiences in the workplace, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, respected, represented, and ultimately cared for. But the demand to see it through is at an all-time high. The cry for change is loud, but so is the shame surrounding the actions of leaders who are trying to make their work environments more equitable and inclusive.
On today’s episode of Inclusion in Progress, we break down the concerning trend around using shame as the primary tool of conversation within DEI., and hold space for an open conversation about whether or not there might be a better way forward. We break down the difference between shame vs. accountability, and why knowing the difference between both in ourselves first can help move the needle on equity and inclusion work. While we don’t have all the answers, we have a shared desire to see this industry inspire impact and sustainable change, not propagate the same types of exclusionary behavior we say we’re committed to dismantling. This is a big episode, and is likely to cause a moment or two of reflection and thought, so please press pause as many times as you need, and join us on today’s conversation.
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
Hey, everyone… welcome back to the show! And, again, a massive thank you to everyone. You have made April 2022 a record-breaking month for us in terms of downloads and listeners, according to the lovely folks who are producing the show for us and editing it, and putting all the work into making sure these episodes get out to you on time. So… thank you!
And, as I've said before on this show, Inclusion in Progress really is a labor of love for us at Team Inclusion in Progress - yep, we're very creative with that name there! And, anyway, we put a good deal of time and, obviously, energy and resources into making this resource accessible and available to as many people as possible. And every recommendation that you make as our listeners makes all the difference in helping spread the word and to invite more folks into the conversations that we share with as many people as possible. And I say we not as a royal “we” but, really, there are so many folks that are behind us in putting every single episode out - not just me as the person who is hosting you today. Because, ultimately, we know the value in helping support those who are officially in their job title or unofficially in their job title leading inclusion. Whether you're in a different type of industry or different country or cultural context. And we also know that everybody doing this work or engaging with it in some form… is also navigating the emotional labor at the springs and the feeling often of isolation, of “I just need somebody who gets it,” and who can share some stories from the frontlines with me. And that's what this show is about, we really want this to be a place where folks come to listen, to engage, to really think critically in your own little private space with us.
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So, in continuation of our theme this season on the podcast of psychological safety, we also wanted to bring attention to another conversation that's been coming up often in our client work: which is how to navigate the heavy shame and shaming that comes up in talking about equity and inclusion at work, especially as we hit moments of reflection like this month where, as we all know, it's the anniversary of George Floyd's murder.
Moments like this make me really reflective of how far we've come. And, naturally, I'm sure, as many of you are also thinking, whether or not we've made progress since that fateful day happened. And I've shared this on the podcast before but I do choose not to see this as an annivers- there's got to be a better word than anniversary… But I think the best substitute I can think of is an invitation: an invitation to pause, an invitation to reaffirm for ourselves our commitment to our role in creating greater equity and inclusion that first starts in our workplaces and spills over into our world, or vice versa. It's an invitation to reflect on how one man's wrongful murder woke us all up, how it forced us to confront what many had been unwilling to see or acknowledge fully, and really reflect on why it took another black death to spur us into collective action in this way. It's also an invitation to, hopefully - if you're in this with me - re-establish our commitment to building a freer, fairer planet, to reflect on what lessons we've taken with us since everything unfolded, what we are continuing to maybe unlearn, and how we can continue to deepen our understanding of the other humans who share this planet with us, even though we perceive them as “different” from us.
I like to think that the measure of a movement is not just milestones like this one… it's how we measure up to our own values, how we choose every day to lead with behaviors and choices that align with those values that, ultimately, piles up and leads to a ripple effect of change. And I'm hopeful when our team witnesses more intentional conversations about anti-racism, about allyship, about advocacy for underrepresented groups where maybe they were siloed or silenced before. I'm hopeful when I see people using milestones like this one to check in on their progress and hold themselves accountable when they’ve fallen short. And despite what you might see, if you're following, say, your LinkedIn or your podcast or maybe even your TikTok feed - I don't personally have it, but I know people use it… even though you might see on your feed plenty of folks sharing things like how companies aren't moving fast enough or have broken their promises or letting people down, which can be true in some instances. But our team can also reflect back to you that we bear witness every day to people who, more than two years later, are continuing to press forward in our workplaces to make them better for everyone.
But if I come back to those social feeds, I don't know if I'll do a whole entire podcast episode on just social media feeds in equity and inclusion… But, who knows? I've noticed a trend that is worrying me - that has worried me - if I'm going to be honest, for a very long time now. Specifically, how many people are using those social feeds to channel the anger, the outrage that they should rightfully feel into trying to shame people to take action right now, in this moment, followed by a very formulaic list of things to NOT do, and sometimes even a list of all the ways that they've been let down.
And, on the flip side of that, how many conversations I've had off of those feeds with people, actual people across the spectrum of culture and identity and lived experience and geography, who are consuming content like that every day in their feeds. And they say things to me, like, “I’m actually trying. Every day. Whether it's working to dismantle my bias or biases, advocating for others, and continuing my DEI journey. I mean, we can't go back to a world like what happened with George Floyd, we have to keep moving, but apparently, it's not good enough… no matter what I do. So why should I even bother?”
And lately, I've been rereading Audré Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Won’t Dismantle the Masters’ House”, and I'll make sure to link to it with the team in the show notes, because I have to come back to it regularly. I read it years ago to try and deepen my own understanding of my practice, of learning more about intersectional feminism, and specifically, the Black American experience - the Black female experience in my birth country, the US… and one of the tools of the Master a.k.a. the slave owner was shame.
Shame is and was a tool of oppression. Now think about it, when you belittle someone to the degree that they no longer see themselves as human, you have effectively stripped them of their humanity and their agency to make decisions for themselves, which gives you power over them for you to use and abuse as you see fit. Shame is one of the fundamental pillars of dehumanization. We've seen shame used in slavery, way back in the Roman Empire, to the Americas, to seeing shame used in apartheid in South Africa, to seeing shame used in European and American colonization, to seeing shame used in the multiple wars and genocide we've seen throughout history. Now, Brené Brown may be the most famous shame researcher, and she herself has come out and said that since shame begets shame and violence, it is NOT an effective social justice tool.
And it's not just Brown’s work on shame. Studies show that across different scientific disciplines, that when we go into shame, our bodies physically shut down because of our primitive limbic system, if you want to get nerdy for a second… because it perceives that we are in danger and forces us into fight or flight or freeze mode. Meaning that, unless you have the tools and the time to self regulate yourself out of a shame state emotionally, the physical pain of being in shame might lead you to react in a way that is doubling down or coming out swinging - if you're a boxer - or, worse yet, shutting down altogether. And it's exactly the opposite of the type of conversation that we need to be having if we want to truly build equity, by sharing accountability among all of us.
And this is a conversation that's a tricky one for me to have. Because I know that there are so many much-needed voices within the DEI, the social justice, the activist, the HR and People and Culture space that are all rightfully drawing attention to voices that have never been heard before.
But if we take a moment, you know, let's just put ourselves in the shoes of a stakeholder, right? Somebody who is actually looking for actionable ideas on how they can lead Equity and Inclusion responsibly at work… and is scrolling through their social feed. Let's take LinkedIn, for example, because that's where a lot of these things are happening. So that stakeholder is going to read all of the things that are very well-meaning and well-spoken and well within their rights of expressing what practitioners are sharing, often out of context for that person's particular situation, right? And they're sharing these things on a social platform that is designed to highlight content that spikes our limbic system to increase platform engagement. Without providing a window into, maybe, the mental state of the person writing or reading it, that would be very different if it was a face-to-face conversation. Where without having any real context beyond the advice that can be doled out in 500 characters or less, and the stakeholder has no way to decipher whether or not the advice that's showing up in their feed, in that moment is actually valid and applicable for them as they're looking to gain information on what they can do.
So imagine what happens when a stakeholder reads something like this… and this is an actual quote: “Just build a better system and stop with the bullshit.”
This is an actual quote, this is a true story! This was on my LinkedIn feed today from a well-respected practitioner, who, of course, was understandably upset, heartbroken, when more Black American lives were systematically targeted and taken… mere weeks before the anniversary of George Floyd's murder.
So please understand that before I dive into this conversation today, there is a huge difference to me between shame and accountability. Yes, we have to hear as many voices as possible… AND there are no free passes here for anyone when it comes to equity and inclusion work, myself included! Especially for those who are being forced to reckon with their role in holding up unequal systems in our workplaces, that transcended their education, or their lifetime, or even their generation, or their culture, in some cases… and there are definitely no free passes here for continued discrimination or exclusionary behavior, such as racism.
But, two years after Black Lives Matter swept the world and into our workplaces, here's what worries me: the organizations and the leaders that we need most, who continue to be, unfortunately, the majority in our workplaces, the people that we need most to keep effecting change are now navigating such a constant stream of shame that I'm worried that they'll stop participating in the work altogether. Because I'm seeing them be shamed for what they are and aren't doing. I'm seeing them be shamed for what they are doing too much of and for what they aren't doing enough of, without the context and the competency necessary to sift through their shame and into a continued state of accountability and action that will actually make a difference in the workplace… which is the goal, right? Meaning that one of three things will happen: (1) they'll stop listening, (2) they'll stop investing, and worst of all, (3) they'll stop caring.
And, sadly, the people who are most vocal about wanting to see greater equity and inclusion happen, are often the most guilty of shaming others… under the guise of having the moral right on their side, or the generational power dynamic on their side, right? And we've seen this across our work, it's shaming the people who look like them, who love like them, and live like them, or shaming those who don't. It goes both ways. And this is a genuine worry for me. And I know, I know, that if we want to sustain this work, that we can and we should do better.
So can there be a better way for us to lead DEI conversations that don't require us leading and leaning into shame? That's what we'll be exploring in today's episode.
So let's start first with some basics here. So y'all know I like to nerd out… But what actually happens to your body when you experience shame? Well, studies show that shame is one of the most powerful emotions because it has the same power to paralyze you the same way that you feel under threat. And, if you're somebody who comes from a marginalized or historically-excluded background, shame might also reinforce any past trauma and triggers that you might have. It might even be intergenerational trauma that you weren't aware of. And for those of you who are, say, veterans in the audience… you'll know about things like PTSD, right? Your brain doesn't know the difference between the first time you experience the trauma, i.e. hearing an explosion, and what's happening in the present moment, i.e. a car backfires or a firework goes off… because your body shuts down.
And even if you haven't gone to war, we've all experienced some version of shame. I know for a lot of people that I've spoken to in DEI work that a lot of it tends to come either from the workplace, when you've been on the receiving end of being shamed or ridiculed in public, in front of people by, say, an ill-equipped manager, or leader, or a fellow colleague, or for some people it goes as far back as their early education. The teacher who shamed them in front of the class thinking that would, you know, move you to action or make you behave better somehow, or the shame that you might have felt maybe in your own household with a family member. So, whatever that trigger is for you, even if you're not fully aware of it, you will feel your body shut down. Because your brain doesn't know the difference between time [present and past]. And one of the things that has been most eye-opening for me in this work has actually been that of Dr. Bruce Perry, the book that came out recently, which was essentially like a long podcast conversation between him and Oprah, called “What Happened To You?”. And I loved the fundamental conversation that they had of moving the blame of the person who was actually causing the harm to understanding what happened to them to contextualize what was leading to them causing that harm. And a big part of that conversation is all about trauma - and the fact that, even before we're able to speak, that trauma can reside in our brains.
And if that's trauma, as soon as you throw shame into the mix, whether it's around your feelings of unworthiness, or not belonging, or that you're not enough, do we really want to put ourselves in a situation where our bodies shut down?
The first thing we're going to do is want to get out of it, right? This is taking it back to basics, but when we think about shame in this way, it actually makes our bodies shut down. And if we're thinking about the person on the receiving end of shame, it makes them less likely to engage in the conversation from a place where they will actually (1) desire to take action, and (2) see a reason for them to not do anything except escape from the situation that they feel is shaming them.
Now, with that said, let's look at the impact of shame. So, the main thing we also have to discuss is how ingrained shame is in society, which affects, of course, how we have conversations in a more “formal” workplace environment about DEI. We have to ask ourselves how open or how likely are we, as a baseline for most employees in the workplace, regardless of if you're entry-level or a senior leader - how likely are we to be open about conversations that are uncomfortable, right? This idea of having to perform a certain way or show up in a certain way at work is rooted in that same shame, as well. That you don't want to be shamed in front of people whose esteem you value and respect. Because people think that by projecting a version of themselves that isn't open to criticism or is perceived as strong and, therefore, invulnerable… Or, if we're looking at the shame conversation, [they] won't be held up as an example of what not to do with their boss. So people are striving for perfectionism to the point of dehumanization often in the workplace, and this was pre-COVID. So, of course, when you think about it now, when we're all doing some version of performance all together in a virtual environment because, in many cases, we don't see each other's faces, we continue to strive for how we perform and are perceived. This is further exacerbated, as we know, by different cultures, how they interact, [and] what their norms are in different places in the world.
So there's this question of: “How do we navigate conversations when shame is something that all of us have learned, especially within an organization?”
We are incredibly good at telling people what they're doing wrong, right? Some of us take it too far and shame somebody either to their face, hoping that it'll somehow spur them to action, or behind their back in a way that helps us discharge to somebody else and makes us feel better. But we don't really tell people what they're doing right, what they can improve. And, therefore, we're perpetuating this dehumanizing cycle of perfectionism and performance, over seeing each other as people with their flaws, and with their ability to evolve beyond them. Most of us don't really know how to have these conversations in general, about how to help each other improve without shaming as a go-to tool unless you've had practice, unless you've had access to those tools. But most of us don't [have access to those tools] when we come into the workplace. So shame actually erodes this belief that we can do or be better than the moment that we're being shamed for.
Let me explain what I mean… if someone tells you to your face all the ways that you're doing things wrong, how it's your fault, how you're a bad person, how do you expect that you would react? Now, if you're like me, excuse the very millennial term… it's BITE ME! (Now that’s not very DEI of me, is it?) But whatever your reaction is, it's probably not operating from your highest self at that moment, right?
Now, if I wanted to act in a way that was aligned with my values, I'd have to move away from that, “Bite Me!” in my limbic brain, right… and move back into a state where I'm able to converse, preferably more than one syllable at a time, and not with my fists up, right? To move from limbic state to focus back on a state where I can hear what the person is saying, I can hear whether or not they're actually saying something to “shame me” or hold me accountable for when I fell short of their expectations and operate accordingly.
Now, imagine someone is telling you all the things that you're doing wrong, how it's your fault, or how you're a bad person in front of your colleagues or, worse yet, in front of the people who you're expected to lead in public. Now, you may not have had the pause that I had to go from “Bite Me!” to “Do the thing”, right? You might not even have the benefit of the doubt, or that moment to collect your thoughts to think to move back into a state that allows you to address that moment, effectively, without causing harm to you or the person in front of you. Because you're in a high anxiety position, your adrenals are all on fire. Or some people say that when they're in shame, they feel like this hot wave just, like, washes over them. All your body's telling you to do is get out of it as fast as possible. So you do what makes the most sense when there are a lot of eyes on you. You try to speak in a way that appeases the person as fast as possible, so you can move forward. Okay, obviously, that's a very extreme scenario… but it is not wholly unlike the things that we hear and see in the DEI conversation, particularly online.
Now, what I think many people don't realize about DEI work offline is this: to get a person to act in a way that is equitable, that is inclusive, and is actually something that they're doing daily as a part of a practice in the workplace, shaming them publicly in front of others will actually reinforce that engaging in the work is negative as a lesson for them. Think about it. Actually, I'll give you an example. One of the leaders that we worked with was making progress on his equity journey and watched how their employees tore one another apart in the chat of an all-company event, all because another leader at the event was accused of tokenizing or highlighting a Black leader’s accomplishments during Black History Month. Even though they weren't the leader on the receiving end of the shame of their employees, this leader shared privately afterwards, “You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't.”
Let's put ourselves in the shoes of someone who thinks that they're shaming in an attempt to hold someone accountable. Again, there is a difference. And we will discuss the difference between shame and accountability later on in the episode… but even if you think you are, anything that is spoken after you have shamed the other person that they say back to you isn't true. Because you are reinforcing this lesson. “I was told not to say this, so even though I don't think it or believe it, I was shamed into doing what I asked, and I just rolled with it.” The connection to DEI becomes more about how you're perceived, rather than how you can approach others with, as Michelle MiJung Kim says, compassion and criticality. Which makes the DEI work performative - which is exactly what we don't want.
If we actually want inclusion to become the standard of behavior that everyone adopts and models in the workplace, shame cannot be our primary tool for DEI work because it kills empathy. And empathy is the foundation of restorative justice. Empathy is the foundation of creating a workplace that is actually people-centered and focuses on people's well-being. Shame forces you to focus on yourself and your flaws and your faults or, as a loose translation of the saying here in Spanish, “to focus on your belly button.” And shame holds the focus on your emotions instead of the other that you could be helping. Whereas empathy invites you or whoever else you're trying to encourage to take action to make amends, to focus on the other person in front of them, and contextualize their experience in a way that they can relate to, or that you can relate to your own, and then decide how you want to move forward.
So what we've learned from working in DEI with people across the world and across different teams is this: psychological safety means cultivating an environment where everyone can collide with compassion, not just the people who we agree with or look like or see ourselves in. And it's the only way that we can build the foundation for workplaces that are equipped to leverage the ideas of everyone at the table. Psychological safety also means that the people who look after our employees also need to feel that they are in an environment where they can learn and not be shamed as they're learning, where they feel that the systems and people within the organizations that they are tasked with leading have their back to be able to do their jobs effectively and to operate in an environment where they can acknowledge that they need to seek outside perspectives to support their ability to build equity and inclusion for everyone.
If you're like the people that we know leading inclusion, as would-be allies, as marginalized folks, or somewhere in between, you all crave psychological safety. And you also know that you're human. If you're like them, you want to know that you're operating in an environment where it's okay for you to make mistakes along the way as you work to make inclusion possible for others, and if you have to lead and lean into a hard conversation, you know that your organization will support your desire to do so intentionally to help you deliver change and transformation in a way that everyone is held accountable and moves forward; and you know that you can't do it alone. So sometimes it helps to just have an outside perspective from someone who's tapped into the wider market, from people who are already tapped into different versions of these conversations and have heard everything, literally everything under the sun. And organizations need leaders and listeners like you with the integrity to recognize that you may not have all the answers, to have the ability to say, “I don't know”, and the courage to accept help when you need it. Now, achieving psychological safety, especially when we're talking about having hard conversations without shame, is incredibly difficult, and when you add in that layer of a remote environment it's even more challenging as teams continue to diversify, to spread across the globe, to opt for full-time flexible work instead of coming into the office... And that's why Inclusion in Progress is here to help!
Because our 100% remote team spans APAC, EMEA, and the Americas, and because we've worked with the likes of Red Hat and Instagram, the IMF, and Philips, we are best positioned to hear the conversations that will support your remote team with equity and inclusion. So we partner with leaders like you to help foster that inclusion, so you have the perspective of a trusted partner, and hopefully, one less thing to worry about when you're implementing a DEI strategy across your company. So if you'd like to learn more about how to work with us as a client partner, to help boost morale and engagement at a time when people need it most, head to the link in the show notes to get in touch with our team, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Before we close our calendar for the rest of 2022, we would love to share how we could partner with you this year to foster inclusion for your remote teams.
Now, it's helpful for us to also address the fact that we are operating now in multigenerational workplaces. And in a future episode, we want to talk more about how to manage a multigenerational workplace, particularly when you have the shifting expectations of up to five generations at once, including those from Gen Z and Baby Boomers side-by-side. So I can't have the conversation about shame without addressing cancel culture. I have talked about it before in a previous episode, but honestly, we're lightyears away from when we recorded that. So let's revisit it together, shall we?
Now Gen Z, particularly, have learned that “canceling,” i.e. harmful, sometimes public, shaming is a powerful tool to amplify the voices of those who were previously underrepresented, and even motivate action from not just private companies but also governments. So there's so many thought pieces on cancel culture… but, in summary, critics of cancel culture view the movement as a modern form of Mob Rule because, according to them, cancellation prevents open debate and, after all, the ability to entertain different ideas and perspectives creates the conditions for social progress and justice. In fact, some of the greatest breakthroughs in human history, they would argue, have occurred when cultures have shared and exchanged contrary ideas. Whereas critics of cancel culture say that they can actually execute opposing viewpoints without any sort of context or further desire to engage in the conversation.
Now, those who support cancel culture as an important tool in achieving, particularly, social justice, which is a big part of the reason why the DEI conversation is so powerful these days, really utilize the internet, in particular… so social media, providing a platform for those who are historically underserved, or underrepresented to share their views, their opinions and their lived experiences. Now, for example, Twitter offers an outlet for groups that were excluded from the institutions such as politics or education, or the media to have a say, and today historically-excluded groups are no longer reliant on establishments that were built when they weren't in the room. Every person with access to the internet can now write an opinion piece, can share their story and, where needed, speak truth to power. So put another way, those who support cancel culture would argue that it represents the voice of the voiceless.
But there's also a deeper layer of social and cultural and historical context that can be applied to this debate, that cancel culture doesn't actually exist! Ahh… I threw you for a loop there, didn’t I? Thought I was going to take one side versus the other. I didn't! Instead, this term cancel culture has actually become this convenient sort of red herring, right? Because those who use it will actually silence protests that are legitimate and rooted in accountability and try to maintain the status quo instead of acknowledging what has been brought to the table by those who are leading the canceling. And so, from this perspective, what we're seeing is actually an authentic attempt to write where wrongs happened historically and push for meaningful, sustainable change. So, so-called cancel culture was, as we know, instrumental in making the #MeToo campaign go mainstream, or making sure that Black Lives Matter is used on Twitter and has been used on that platform and Instagram since 2014, and even rallying millions of people globally to protest against Climate Change. So it could be argued that canceled culture is actually a synonym for legitimate criticism from groups who, until recently, lacked the means to express themselves and are the focus of many DEI initiatives in the workplace today.
So, with that said, cancel culture: the main thing that I want to highlight before we wrap up today's episode is who is sending shame and who is sitting in shame more in these conversations? And if you look at that, in the Gen Z and Baby Boomer context, there are generations who are approaching how they talk through what is considered “appropriate” and professional in different ways, how they approach speaking and communicating over technology in certain ways, differences in their idea of how they actually give feedback, or whether it's appropriate to shame somebody in public because they think it's called accountability, or even preferring to pull someone aside in private because they prefer to give the feedback in a way that they hope won't actually bring shame to the person. You have such different views across the generations of how to actually navigate hard conversations, that it's really, really difficult to have them without addressing the differences in how people perceive [the conversations] should happen. So obviously, as I said, we'll see those particular differences in a future episode because it really is an intriguing one that we've personally borne witness to at Inclusion in Progress. And I've been called to navigate and facilitate.
But I want to wrap up on a final piece here, which is: if shame, or cancel culture, or whatever you want to call it is potentially holding us back from DEI work moving forward? And potentially helping us lose allies and people who can support us and moving it forward? How can we invite a new way to sustain ourselves in DEI work that doesn't involve leading with shame into conversations?
I don't have an answer. I'm just hoping that from this place of a real desire to see change that benefits everyone, a real sense of pain for those who are actually trying and feel constantly shamed, or those who are so hurt that they feel that shame is their only option. I think there has to be a better way. And it starts with acknowledging ourselves.
Shame is felt in our bodies, acknowledging how we feel in shame and how that influences our actions and when it happens and how it feels helps us to understand and identify it immediately. Before we make a decision to act or say something that isn't aligned with the values that we want to lead with in our workplaces, there's such a huge benefit to taking a pause, physically recognizing that you're in shame, taking three deep breaths, whatever you need to do to move yourself out of fight-flight-freeze mode, and staying away from talking or texting or typing, or just at least long enough to help you process what you're feeling first. And if you're in a face-to-face situation, asking if you can take a pause to process and think about what's being said before responding is also something that's absolutely at your disposal. That pause is something I think we need more of. All of us should acknowledge that we are complicit in how our workplaces are shaped… and acknowledging that all of us are complicit, not just pitting ourselves against each other based off of whose lived experiences have had it harder, and therefore, who we perceive might be more worthy of shaming, moves us away from that dynamic and towards developing greater empathy for others.
Because all of us are complicit in holding up inequitable systems. Which means that all of us are responsible for the behaviors and choices that will lead to the inclusion we all want to see.
And I'm wanting to come back to Brené Brown here, before we wrap up, on her podcast episode on shame and accountability in July 2020, right after George Floyd's Murder. She said, “Shame is telling someone they’re a ‘bad person’, accountability is telling someone they’re ‘not doing their job.’” Moving away from name-calling and telling people what to stop and start doing... I honestly think there's got to be a different conversation that we could lead. How can we ask people to do their job - meaning mitigate their biases, continuing their learning and unlearning, to speak names into rooms where they haven't been heard before, and fight for the opportunities that would remove barriers to advancement and access for historically excluded groups at work - if we're shaming one another? Instead, let's move towards accountability, remembering that this is a shared responsibility for everyone on all sides of the equation of DEI.
For instance, a Black woman may be the expert on her lived experience, but at the start of her journey in understanding how to support an indigenous woman at work… should she be shamed for not knowing?
Or a biracial man may have plenty to say about the struggles of being on the fringes of both of his communities, but be at the start of his journey on how to support his trans colleagues or Black women in the workplace… should he be shamed when he gets it wrong?
Or a cisgender, non-binary person may have plenty to offer unpacking heteronormative standards in the workplace, but they might be at the start of their journey and how to support a colleague with an accent who struggles to be taken seriously when speaking English… should they be shamed?
If every one of those people were shamed at the start of their journey towards allyship and inclusion, they would never expand their circle of empathy to learn how to support others. Which means we lose out on more people doing the work in little ways to make a way forward for others beyond their own lived experiences.
Ironically, to actually hold each other accountable, we have to start by holding ourselves accountable. First, we have to cultivate self-awareness, we need to learn to move away from shame as our go-to tool, we need to recognize when we're operating far away from our values, and what we need to do to self-correct. If we know how to sit in shame ourselves and move through it in a way that builds our resilience, we can move away from utilizing shame as the only tool in our disposal and co-create a vocabulary that helps others do the same, and make this work truly inclusive for all, because it needs all of us.
So there you have it! Those are my thoughts on whether or not we as D&I practitioners or DEI practitioners can have conversations without shaming one another. And, honestly, from having listened to versions of this conversation off of this podcast and off of social media, it's one that I've been thinking about and the team has been talking about for some time. And I'm really grateful that, hopefully, as an extension of the work that we're doing, and in this space, we are creating a psychologically safe place to have this conversation. Not because there's one “right way” of doing things. But because we really need to stop and look at ourselves and understand how, if the goal is equity and inclusion at work, we need to build the foundation for that conversation to happen. Which will require us colliding with one another. Which will require us to navigate feelings that most of us are not equipped to lead within the work environment.
So if you're a person who's leading inclusion, whether you are a would-be ally, a DEI leader, a marginalized person, or somewhere in between, psychological safety is not just something that you should advocate for for you, but also for everyone else, because we're all human. And if you're like the people that we speak to, you also want to know that you're operating in an environment where it's okay for you to make mistakes along the way, as you're working to make inclusion possible for yourself and others. Sometimes, it's just helpful to tap into a resource that's already listening to these conversations across the wider market and be willing to say that you don't know, to be willing to sit and pause and think critically about how we can have this conversation in a way that is more sustainable for all of us moving forward. And that's why Inclusion in Progress is here to help! If you'd like to learn more about our work or to engage further in this conversation with us as a client partner, head to the link in the show notes to get in touch with our team or email us at email@example.com.
Now, we know there was a lot we unpacked in today's conversation. I'm sure it won't be the last conversation that we have about this on the podcast! But I think it's time. We care about this industry so much. And we care about it actually moving the needle forward. And we don't want to lose people along the way that would contribute to it actually leading to sustainable, substantive change in our organizations. So, as always, please feel free to share this episode with others who would benefit. Thank you again for continuing to listen and support the podcast and we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress!