I’m in San Francisco getting ready for the SHRM Diversity and Inclusion conference that starts tomorrow, and I’m thinking about what diversity and inclusion mean.
On the plane here, I listened to an episode of The Guilty Feminist podcast about male privilege. The host, Deborah Frances-White, likened privilege to hot and cold running water. Most people reading my blog have lived their entire lives with hot and cold running water in their homes. It’s an expectation we don’t think twice about. We know in our heads that there are many people all over the world who don’t have running water, but it is so foreign to our own experience that we can hardly even imagine living without it.
Years ago we lived in a house with well water that ran on an electric pump, and once after a huge storm we lost power for about four days. I had three kids and a dog, and no running water. For four days. I don’t even remember being put out by the loss of electricity, but I remember not having water. After the power and water came back on, I thought to myself ‘I’ll never take this for granted again!’ But that gratitude probably only lasted a day at best.
Privilege is like that. Our experiences of privilege, by definition, are so assumed that we can’t separate them from ourselves. Intellectually we understand that other people don’t have the same experience, but we can’t really, truly understand what their experiences are like.
Thinking about diversity, and privilege, and intersection, I come up pretty good in the privilege sweepstakes. I’m white, middle class, able bodied, cisgender, and straight. Most spaces are open to me. I can assume I’m welcome, and included. Even in male dominated settings, my race and status often force the door open for me, even if I’m not fully welcomed.
As I prepare for the D&I conference, of course I’m wearing my HR hat. I want to use this time to add to my toolkit, and go home more equipped to ensure diversity and equity within my organization. But listening to that podcast, and remembering my four days without water, I want to be clear eyed about the lens through which I see the world. I want to recognize my own assumptions so that I can set them aside. I want to make sure that, when doing diversity and inclusion work, I’m not saying ‘let me create a place for you’, but ‘you deserve a place here, let me move over and make room’. It might sound like the end result is the same, but the message of inclusion isn’t.
My colleagues whose intersectionality is different than mine will have different experiences at this conference. I won’t begin to assume I understand the lens through which they will approach it, but I look forward to conversations and learning from them. A regular theme in my blogs is that we can’t separate ourselves as people from our role in HR. We bring our whole unique selves to the work and we have to understand how to be true to ourselves in how we approach the work. With diversity and inclusion, this can be uncomfortable. But we must be comfortable with our own discomfort if we are going to serve our employees and create spaces that are truly inclusive for everyone.