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Leaders and DEI

Warning! This article examines commonly accepted principles and you may find it disturbing. If you are unwilling to challenge current orthodoxy, or if you are easily offended, you may want to skip this one. I will not be offended, although I would question your ability to be a good leader.

The concept of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, DEI, has become a big player in the world of human relations and therefore, leadership. In my leadership development programs, some aspect of DEI usually comes up, even if it isn’t part of the curriculum. In general I find that these words tend to concern and sometimes even scare leaders. That’s understandable as it seems that those three letters, DEI, often require action that is contrary to good leadership.
I can’t tell you how your company approaches the subject or define your company’s culture. What I can do is provide suggestions for how you can approach your leadership responsibilities. Let’s look at each individual word.

We’ll start with diversity. To many this means having one of each on your team. Each what? It seems they mean each race, or gender, or, well whatever. If you look around the room at your team and everyone looks alike, is that a diverse team? Yes it is. Even if they all look alike, they don’t all think the same. They don’t all have the same knowledge, experiences, and skills. However, if they all look alike, you may be missing out on a richer knowledge, experience, and skill base. As the team leader you may or may not control hiring but if you do, I urge you to look past outward appearances and make a real effort to understand who the person is. Ask yourself what they will bring to the team and how they will fit in. Also ask yourself how you can help them advance their knowledge and skills.

That brings us to the next word; inclusion. I honestly don’t understand why this is even an issue. The concept of inclusion is closely related to diversity. In a recent leadership development program, a person said she found it difficult to be heard and respected because she was a woman. Another person said it was even harder as a black woman. I find this kind of 19th century thinking absolutely astounding. Why would you have someone on your team and not respect their contribution because of their race or gender? Each member of your team is there for a reason. They contribute something to the team’s success. If you aren’t going to respect that contribution, why are you paying them? More importantly, if you supervise other team leaders, and they have that type of attitude, get rid of them. They are bad leaders and toxic to your company’s success.

The final word is equity. From a leadership perspective, this is a terrible word. It implies that the team should descend to the level of its least capable member. Recently it was reported that students attending high school in Portland, Oregon will no longer need to demonstrate competency in reading, writing, or math. The reason? Supposedly, such requirements are not fair to “students of color.” That’s ridiculous. Of course the “students of color” argument is stupid, skin color does not preordain academic potential, but think about what your team would be like if you decided that you were only going to achieve at the level of the least capable member. Leaders must disparage the very word equity. The correct word for good leadership is equality. Everyone must be provided with the same opportunity to succeed. Of course not everyone will reach the same level but a critical leadership responsibility is to help everyone on the team improve their knowledge and skills. Yes, that requires work, but it’s a fundamental part of the job. Strive for equality, not equity.

A leader’s task is to know their team members, not for what they look like but for who they are. Then provide them every opportunity to succeed.

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