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August 31, 2022

DE&I Begins As An Inside Job

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One of the powerful things I’ve learned from Byron Katie is that ending war is an internal job. We have to end the war within if we are ever to end the war “out there.” 

My sense and experience is that diversity, equity and inclusion are the same. If I really want a world that celebrates diversity, has equitable opportunity for all, and is genuinely inclusive the starting point is inside of me. 

I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly new, fresh or insightful when I say this. Most writers on these topics ask us to begin by examining our beliefs, mindsets and biases. They invite us to see how we see. This is valuable and essential. But in addition to examining how we see ourselves and others, I’d like to offer an additional perspective that I don’t hear being talked about in this conversation. 

First, an assumption; none of us is a monolithic self, one self. All of us have parts or personas. With little reflection, it’s easy to see that the persona you show up with at work when talking to your boss is different from the one that is present when you’re partying with old friends on the weekend or the one who plays Candyland with your child or the one who makes love to your partner. We have parts;  it’s good and necessary that we do. 

What’s also true is that most of us do not value all of our parts equally. Or put another way, we don’t celebrate the diversity that exists within ourselves. We don’t grant equal opportunity to all of our personas or include them all consciously in the life we are living. If we imagine for a moment that we are the CEO and head of HR of our own lives, most of us are failing at creating an internal culture of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

This is important for conscious leaders because until you have a culture of acceptance and celebration on the inside you won’t be able to create one on the outside. As long as you have unowned biases toward parts of yourself, you’ll have blind biases towards others in the world. As long as you’re aggressing and microaggressing against your own personas you’ll do the same to people out there in your world. Put another way, you won’t be able to truly love all the people in your world until you can love all the parts in yourself. 

This is one of the reasons we are so devoted to identifying all of our personas or parts. The reality is that most of us have been trained to deny and disown many of the personas who live within us. We have learned to X them out, lock them away in some imaginary cellar. 

The necessary and deep work is to find and identify all of our parts. The first step of inclusion is identification. We can’t include a part that we do not acknowledge exists. I talk to leaders all the time who believe in and are committed to diversity in the workplace, but who are unwilling to celebrate the diversity that exists inside of themselves. They welcome certain parts but won’t give other parts a seat at the table. They listen to some personas but deny others a voice or a vote. 

I’ll say it again. You can’t love everything out there until you can love everything in here. Many of the wisdom traditions would go so far as to say that everything that is out there is just a projection of what is in here. I’ll go a step further and suggest that some of the energy being expended to create DE&I in the world is energy that comes from denying and reacting to DE&I on the inside. The more righteous I am about anything out there, the more in denial and lack of acceptance I am in here. 

Let me also say again what the title of this piece says and that is that DE&I begins as an inside job. It does not end there. I hold the perspective that there are structural forces at play that act on us differently based on where and to whom we're born. That paying attention and advocating in that arena can be good, honest, important, and necessary work, but it's only possible to create sustainable change (vs recycling the same dynamics with different groups being in and out) when we've done the inner work first. It is not either/or but rather both/and. 

If you’re willing to master DE&I on the inside here are some suggestions: 

  1. Identify your parts, your personas, including the ones you x-out. 
  2. Get to know them by interviewing them. 
  3. Give each of them love and acceptance for being who they are and for doing the jobs they have been doing. 
  4. Welcome them to the table and ask them what it is they most want and what advice they might have for you. 

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