bringing true diversity and community to any organization
by Laura Purdy, HR Generalist
pep provides many opportunities for employees to attend conferences and symposiums on topics of interest that could positively affect the company. This past December, I was able to attend the 2022 Fifth Third Bank Diversity Leadership Symposium where hundreds gathered to share knowledge and drive intelligent, empathetic, improved policies and behavioral trends. From a human resources and culture perspective, exploring trends in Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging is paramount. These themes bring true diversity and community to an organization. There is much work to be done, but trailblazers who have been paving the way for underrepresented groups for years are finally being acknowledged in the mainstream. This means more funding, support, and backing from executives, driving results once impossible to imagine.
I have attended countless courses, trainings, conferences, and networking events. Often attendees leave with one or two good ideas and some encouragement that change is possible, but I have had very few experiences where every speaker was passionate and energized, and change felt inevitable. That is exactly what I felt as I left the event. And even more heartening was the true feeling of camaraderie and mutual support. Strides for women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, and other underrepresented groups are long overdue. For many years I have held out hope that change would occur in the workplace environment, but it felt unattainable. Now it is being achieved in small but significant ways and building a foundation for more advancements.
room to grow: intersectionality and thoughtful allyship
One observation I made that provides insight on room to grow was that each breakout session had a similar but separate goal: To increase awareness and support for a particular cause. Similar to supporting a cause for which you have passion such as cancer, poverty, or civil rights, attendees were drawn to the workplace causes for which they had enthusiasm. One simple example was that in an LGBTQIA+ session, each of the panelists gave their pronouns, but that did not occur in the general sessions or other breakouts. Simultaneously enacting every recommendation towards a more equitable work environment would be unrealistic and overwhelming, but it was interesting to see that even at one singular event, these solutions could not be universally adopted. One speaker discussed how business case and pressure/guilt can never provide long term diversity, only the genuine desire of each person to respect others knowing that will positively impact them directly. This is not selfish; it is human nature to cling to our community, our upbringing. So the answer is not to blindly accept others’ communities, but to expand our communities collectively so that all are seen and heard.
If you have heard or said, “We have nothing in common”, you are familiar with the mindset of otherness or the idea that we are all different. While that is true and is celebrated, inclusion efforts strive to highlight ways to diminish the impact of intersectionality. Keynote speaker Michelle Mijung Kim urged us to understand intersectionality.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor at Columbia and UCLA who coined the term intersectionality to describe the way people’s social identities can overlap…It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts (para 1-2).
We are all connected by these systems of inequality. Whether by education, income, gender, age, race, sexuality, etc., we are all affected, if not personally then within our family or community. And that means we all benefit from a more equitable system. Many of us belong to two or more groups that overlap and create opportunities for shared education and camaraderie. Recognizing our connectedness and ability to improve inequitable situations can be the first step toward thoughtful allyship. Some people and organizations claim allyship by posting a flag on social media or highlighting a cause when it is nationally celebrated and then forgetting about it till next year. Thoughtful allyship is essential for lasting, impactful change and is described as “an active and consistent practice of using power and privilege to achieve equity, inclusion, and justice while holding ourselves accountable to marginalized people’s needs” (Kim, M, 2022).
Thoughtful allyship can be ignited when someone in a marginalized group has power and privilege in another group. An affluent person may suffer with a disability and therefore have the means to bring awareness, funds, and resources to a cause. As we ally with others in this way, we can be moved and challenged by our hidden stories. I know I am adding many unfamiliar terms to this post, but hidden stories are quite simply the ones we haven’t lived and the challenges we haven’t faced, even if we belong to a marginalized group. With the example of the affluent person living with a disability – that person will never face the common issue of unavailable or unaffordable health care. Shedding light on these hidden stories deepens understanding and empathy within and among groups facing inequity.
pep's committment to positive change
It would be easy to write page after page about inequity, lack of diversity, lack of truly thoughtful allyship; I prefer to see the roots of change growing and taking hold. At pep, we are striving towards an inclusive community where everyone feels they belong. This is a big task, one that will not be achieved as a short-term goal, mostly because belonging looks different to each individual. This symposium asked us to return to our workplace and ask the tough questions – are our employees connected in the way they want to be? Are our leaders championing, modeling, and supporting our endeavors? Are our motives genuine and just, or is this driven by money or fear of making mistakes? We are willing to explore these questions on every level of our company, and we encourage our employees to find their own safe spaces and areas of connection. We are expanding our wellness benefits and activities and are informing our leaders from the top down on how to magnify thoughtful allyship.
Though a business case should not be the reason for equity, inclusion, belonging, accessibility+ endeavors to increase diversity, business is often positively affected by these efforts. When diversity permeates business strategy, collaboration thrives. People are exposed to new ways of thinking, acting, and working, and we all benefit. Here and now, pep joins the companies who are intentional about diversifying leadership. I was so grateful and encouraged to see so many people and companies in Cincinnati who are committed to change. The Leadership Diversity Symposium hosted so many dynamic, honest, and courageous speakers, and I left with the feeling that change that seemed impossible even a few years ago was within reach.
Kim, M. (2022, December 14). Keynote [Conference presentation]. 2022 Fifth Third Bank Diversity Leadership Symposium, Cincinnati, OH, United States.
Steinmetz, K. February 20, 2020. She Coined the Term ‘Intersectionality’ Over 30 Years Ago. Here’s What It Means to Her Today. Time. https://time.com/5786710/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality/