October is recognized as Global Diversity Awareness Month. We have a saying at BE&K Building Group (BE&K), “We celebrate diversity because it’s the one thing we all have in common.” Diversity reflects ways individuals are unique, which goes beyond race, ethnicity, and gender and includes age, religion, culture, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, skill, background, experience, perspective, and more. This month celebrates the wonderful melting pot called humanity and the extreme value that can be discovered through strengthening our understanding of and appreciation for one another’s differences. An interesting aspect about celebrating Diversity is that it also marks the beginning of a larger journey that culminates in Belonging.
Most can identify with the feeling of Belonging. Whether it involves belonging to a family, a group of friends or small group, a volunteer organization, or a great company culture, Belonging matters. It’s a deeply rooted human need woven into the fabric of our DNA. And the journey from Diversity to Belonging involves two additional and very important steps: Equity and Inclusion.
Equity is NOT the same as Equality. While Equality attempts to make all things equal, Equity works to promote access, opportunity, and advancement for individuals by establishing systems and processes that promote fairness and prevent the formation of barriers that can prevent the full participation of some people groups. In an equitable world, one’s individual diversity or unearned privilege should not predict their future potential or outcome. Equity then becomes a “bridge” that connects Diversity with Inclusion.
Inclusion provides an environment where individuals feel supported to fully participate because they feel respected, free to express their ideas, and valued for their unique voice, perspective, and abilities so they can thrive in their community, organization, and/or company. When Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are working in harmony, a true sense of Belonging is produced.
All the above sounds great, right? It depicts a theoretical utopia in a world that we know is far from perfect. So, here’s a question to consider. In a nation that has become increasingly polarized in recent years (e.g., politically, socially, economically, etc.), how do we capture the many benefits, individually and corporately, available through a healthy focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to produce the desired environment of Belonging?
Today, I believe the greatest risk to DEI efforts is a misguided focus rooted in the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mindset. This mindset could also be further amplified as, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and eventually, you’ll see why I’m right and learn to think like me.” Many are guilty of this mindset regardless of where they may stand on the social spectrum, including some who may be DEI resistant and some who may be DEI advocates. In addition, some DEI efforts can intersect with deeply held personal beliefs. When individuals feel their personal belief systems must be defended, the tendency of human nature is to stake our ground and shore up our defenses producing an Entrenchment mindset (i.e., the “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality). Once again, anyone can be guilty of this mindset regardless of where they may stand on the social spectrum. In the end, Entrenchment gets us nowhere.
But what if we redirected our focus when it comes to addressing DEI in our companies, organizations, and communities? What if we focused primarily on purposeful Education, then allowed Education to do its job without trying to force the results? The purpose of this Education should NOT be to change another person’s personal belief system or opinions. That approach only fosters the Entrenchment mindset previously addressed. Rather, the purpose of this Education should be rooted in human kindness where we are simply working to promote a general understanding of one another’s “differing” views (which brings us back to this month’s focus on Diversity). Then, as we Educate to better understand one another’s differing views/perspectives, we’re promoting and advancing Empathy toward one another. Empathy, in turn, encourages Engagement that builds and strengthens relationships among diverse people groups.
As is the case for many leading companies and organizations today, BE&K is on this journey. With a company tagline that states, “It’s All About People,” we better be, right? It’s a journey without end because it involves people, and each new generation brings with it new perspectives and ideas. Our goal as a company is to continuously improve our company’s culture through Education that promotes Empathy that leads to Engagement because It’s All About People.
Some of the Education we have planned for our people over the coming year will address:
- Unconscious Biases — Attitudes, assumptions, and learned stereotypes at the subconscious level that can affect the way we feel, think, and behave toward others, often without our awareness. These biases can even be in direct conflict with our held conscious values.
- Microaggressions – Verbal and behavioral slights often resulting from unconscious biases. They can be both intentional and unintentional. They can be negative, hostile, derogatory, and even threatening, none of which promote a positive work environment.
- Inclusive Language – Language preferred by the individual or people group being addressed. Words matter. Effective communication is all about maximizing receptivity and minimizing barriers. There are usually communication win/wins available to achieve this goal.
- Privilege – Unearned advantages enjoyed by a people group or an individual beyond what’s available to another. Many advantages in life may be earned, but some advantages are the byproduct of simply being born into a particular situation or not being subjected to an unwanted situation beyond one’s control. Understanding unearned privileges produces understanding, empathy, and compassion toward others who may not have benefited from the same.
BE&K is committed to cultivating a rich, diverse, and inclusive companywide culture as we strive to reflect the communities and clients we serve. Our unique workforce positions the company to grow, enhances our presence in various markets, enables us to deliver exceptional results, and helps us build enduring relationships with one another, our industry partners, and our clients.
We invite you to join us on this DEI journey to Belonging. Please visit our Careers page to learn more about working with BE&K.