The one thing I wish I’d known about working in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

I’m currently doing the #UPFRONT course, led by Lauren Currie OBE. In Module 7 – Building a Writing Habit – we have been challenged to write every day for three days. While I’m no stranger to writing, it has been over half a year since I last posted on The Writing Half (not coincidentally coinciding with the birth of my daughter) so it has been great getting a nudge to hit the publish button. The topic for day one? ‘What is the one thing you wish you’d known about the field you work in?’

We come from every checkbox on the ‘marginalised folk’ list. Do-gooders, determined that people like us will one day be able to replace the white guy called Dave or Chris or Mark who currently runs our company.

When I started volunteering in the field a decade ago, mainstream focus was on getting white women into power alongside those men. We wanted 50/50 at the top.

I was speaking loudly at protests, on Twitter, on blogs. I was at the forefront of ‘making a difference’. I was the annoying one at work ‘banging on about’ women’s rights and being ‘politically correct’.

I didn’t much care how white men felt about it. Why should I? They’d had it good for centuries, and it was time for women to have a go.

A decade later we have – thankfully – recognised that feminism that only advocates for white women is nothing to be celebrated. We have advanced our collective understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

And yet today, working in the field of DEI, I feel scared.

Despite identifying as the type of do-gooder described above, these days I am so frightened of speaking loudly about some of my views that I simply don’t speak at all. I guess this is a sign that I have swung on the pendulum into the ultimate sin – privilege.

Because you know what? It’s not the guys at the top I’m afraid of. It’s other people in my field.

The ones who are such fierce advocates of ‘inclusion’ that they alienate the majority. Who are so angry about not feeling included that they publicly shame and cancel anyone who says ‘the wrong thing’ – knowingly or otherwise. Who rally others to do the same. Who say ‘get onboard or get out’. This is diversity and ‘exclusion’. And it is who I used to be.

It is no better than the exclusive white feminism of old. But because it is led by the marginalised, to call that out is to be wrong. It is to be racist, or misogynistic, or transphobic. It is to be privileged. 

Some in power feel resentful and fearful of the DEI movement. Some fierce DEI do-gooders don’t care, of course. They don’t want those at the top to feel safe or included. As I used to feel, they say that those who have benefitted from the status quo should be unseated from their unfairly earned power. But to feel that is to miss the point of inclusion. 

On a more pragmatic note, the more that angry people cause fear and resentment among those in power, the less likely they are to gain mainstream traction. The less likely they are to replace the white guy who currently runs their company.

I am a privileged white woman, with some sway and influence and power to change things. But in this cancel culture I am dreading returning to this field at the end of my parental leave. And without fearlessness to speak up when I see something I disagree with, I am a pretty useless advocate for diversity and inclusion. Proof, if anyone cares, that a ‘get onboard or get out’ approach to change can undermine the very cause you are fighting for.

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