SEI: In A Zoom World, Diversity Starts In The Brain

SEI is always thinking ahead. Krista Deguffroy, the platform's director of inclusion and compliance, recently wrote an opinion piece for on how to make your post-COVID office work for employees who might not have "typical" responses to a day of video conferences.

It's good stuff. We've reproduced it below.

Every January, we see a barrage of commitments to a variety of things. “New Year, New You” dominates marketing in most aspects of our lives—from where we shop to the places we visit and more. This is also a time when many businesses revisit goals and strategic plans, and while 2020 had its own challenges, 2021 continues to test organizations’ approaches to achieving their objectives.

SEI is always ahead of the curve. I bet they'd be happy to talk to you about any issues or questions that arise from this article. Just use the VIP Messenger.

Many professionals in the inclusion and belonging space might ask how we can take 2020’s learnings and apply an intersectional lens. How can we move forward together as a business community, while ensuring no one is left behind? While these questions are heavy and not able to be answered with a streamlined approach, we need to be prepared to embark on this climb through dedication and commitment to an equity movement.

A critical component to the journey is identifying what exactly we are trying to achieve and defining what success looks like when weaving diversity and inclusion throughout business plans. To achieve success, leaders need to understand where they are currently, where they’re trying to get to, and the milestones along the way. One area that is often overlooked is understanding the differences between diversity, inclusion, equality and equity.

For example, consider ordering coffee for your team. Diversity is present when you provide different coffee for different members. Some receive decaf, some regular and some dark roast. Inclusion is when you ask these team members which type of coffee they prefer prior to placing the order. Diversity is about making the decision to have difference. Inclusion is when we seek input from each individual and then act on their voices to benefit their unique needs.

Let’s go a step further in this example to explore the difference between equality and equity. Equality is giving everyone two creams and two sugars to go with their coffee. Equity is providing choice, giving each individual the opportunity to order the particular cream and sugar options that allow them to feel their best. Doing so affirms their voice and welcomes them to speak up for their own needs.

While this example certainly simplifies these concepts, a company’s belonging journey is no simple task. The approach can often be broken down into small segments of opportunities, exposing and correcting for inadequacies and oversights to ensure people feel safe and that their voice is empowered.

Our Neurodiversity@Work program at SEI provides frequent opportunities to discuss intersectionality, which recognizes that no one exists today as a single lens individual. Every individual is a complex, multi-faceted person, who is filtering life through their own experiences and learnings. What works for some may not work for all. To succeed in belonging and equity in 2021, it is essential to refocus goals on our colleagues and their needs.

Many companies’ neurodiversity programs may have started through talent hiring programs. Yet hiring neurodivergent people doesn’t necessarily create a neurodivergence-welcoming company. Hiring may be the initial goal, but the journey of inclusion and belonging requires recognizing the opportunity ahead.

Let’s take virtual meetings as an example—something we’re all familiar with now. Many can relate to the toll these meetings can take on our energy levels, including the pressure to maintain eye contact, minimize distractions and follow conversation with people talking over each other.

When this challenge is viewed through a lens of inclusion and intersectionality, areas where the task brings forth inequities and counter-productivity come to light. Sensory over-stimulation can stem from 14 people being on a call; the difficulty in maintaining focus, so people don’t think you’re disinterested; and not knowing in advance if it’s a “camera-on” or “camera-off” meeting.

The toll that daily meetings like this can take is extraordinary. Combine this with intersectionality, and you begin accounting for education and childcare struggles, neurodivergence in how we learn, anxiety and other mental health concerns, introversion and extroversion, concerns about affirmation of your name or pronoun, stimulation, etc. The list can go on and on.

So, what can you do? Stop looking at single lenses and single facets of people to make improvements, and remember that all of us are coming together with a variety of experiences, roles, life learnings and more. Look for solutions that allow each person to be uniquely affirmed and accepted in whatever manner is best. In our virtual meeting example, this may look like:

  • Setting the expectation that it’s a camera-off meeting and sticking to it
  • Explaining how to edit your name and encourage pronouns or pronunciation to be added
  • As the host, muting anyone who isn’t speaking
  • Explaining how questions can be asked and answered (chat, raise hand, etc.)
  • Providing expectations of time and sticking to it: If a 30-minute meeting needs to be an hour, take a 10-minute break and have everyone come back.

These ideas and narratives may seem simple in theory—and in reality, they should be—but the problem with simple tasks is that they often don’t happen by accident. They aren’t check-the-box exercises if we want them to be successful. Creating authentic and safe spaces for all individuals is the ultimate goal of diversity, inclusion and equity programs. We need to keep our eyes and attention on our colleagues and look for ways to affirm and celebrate each person’s unique needs.

So the next time you’re thinking about setting up a virtual meeting or ordering coffee for the team, hopefully, this resonates. By the way, I take my coffee with two creams, no sugar.

Want to talk to SEI about any issues or questions that arise from this article? Just use the VIP Messenger.


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