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DEI & Power
Author: Jeff Couillard
Research clearly shows the benefits of improving the experience of diversity, inclusion, and equity within your organization and on your teams.
Higher levels of psychological safety, employee engagement, innovation, and profitability, are just some of the significant benefits that teams and organizations can achieve by increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity - aside from the very real human benefit of improving the employee experience for any marginalized individuals.
And the reality is that a lot of organizations and teams are struggling with how to improve DEI in a meaningful way.
One of the most consistent underlying challenges of “DEI” work within most organizations is the fragmentation of efforts, programs and approaches as leaders and teams attempt to wrangle a multitude of important issues.
From race and ethnicity to religious views, sexual orientation, gender identity, cognitive diversity, physical and mental abilities, language, education, marital status, age… diversity comes in so many flavors and shapes that the conversation and approach often becomes fragmented, unproductive and “stuck”.
Or organizations will bring in a very narrow DE&I course, training module, or mandate, treating it like a box to tick instead of a meaningful conversation to engage in. “DE&I? Oh, yes, we brought in [insert speaker] for a lunch and learn last year…”
“It’s much more impactful to consider issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as fundamental issues of Power than it is to try and work with them as individual and, often, competing issues.” — The Ally Co.
What does Power have to do with this?
We believe that all roads eventually lead us to a conversation about power. Each of us has a unique ability to influence and affect change in the world, and this “power” is a combination of who we are as individuals (our personal power), the positions that we hold in relationships or organizations (our role power) and the memberships that we have in various groups in society (our status power).
It’s this “Status Power” - a type of power that has roots in how society views (and values) one group over another, that shines a new light on the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion. It is one of the five dimensions of power, and status is like holding a membership to a group or demographic in society, a group that has increased influence and power. Often, status power is reflective of majority stakeholder groups, and the characteristics and shared identity of that group.
And one of the first things that we need to do, to have an honest and open conversation about this type of power, is come to terms with the fact that we are not equal. The society that we operate in has not created a level playing field for every member.
Society gives extra power to people with certain statuses.
You will be familiar with the most common types of statuses, many of which were outlined above. Statuses like being a cisgender, heterosexual, white, English speaking, well-educated, middle-aged man - the “jackpot” of the status lottery.
Membership in a group that enjoys additional status power in society grants you extra privileges, in that opportunities are available to you, and hardships are avoided, not due to your individual merit and hard work but because of your gender, ethnicity, language or any number of statuses.
What difference does this make to the DEI conversation?
In recent years the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion has become increasingly polarized and politicized. Leaders and organizations are left wondering how to approach these important and meaningful discussions and decisions for their teams, in a way that doesn’t perpetuate existing biases, prejudices or oppression.
Or being perceived as a token effort, simply a checkbox to be ticked.
Enter “power”, and particularly the Right Use of Power (RUP) framework. Originally designed to help psychologists and social workers better understand and navigate the power dynamic that exists between helper and client, the tools, skills and principles within the framework are broadly applicable to all relationships where there is a power imbalance.
And the first step to being in “right use” of our power in our DEI efforts - ensuring our impact is aligned with our good intentions - is being aware of what power is, where it comes from and how it’s being experienced by those who have less of it.
Diversity + Inclusion = Better outcomes: https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/deloitte-review/issue-22/diversity-and-inclusion-at-work-eight-powerful-truths.html
The Right Use of Power Institute: www.rightuseofpower.org
The 5 Types of Power blog post: https://www.theallyco.world/resources/the-five-types-of-power
About the Author: Co-CEO at The Ally Co. & Advanced Trainer with the Right Use of Power Institute, www.theallyco.world
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the original author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of CPHR Alberta.