Stephanie Pinder-Amaker.
Courtesy Stephanie Pinder-Amaker
November 17, 2021 1:57 PM EST

Earlier this year, we wrote about an important book on inclusion called Did that Just Happen?! by Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth, clinical psychologists who work together at Harvard-Medical-School-affiliated McLean Hospital. Since then, it’s become the most popular book that Charter readers have bought after reading one of our briefings.

We hear from our readers that they don’t want to ease up on diversity and inclusion efforts, even amid heightened competition for talent and complications around the return to the workplace. So we reached out to Pinder-Amaker, for her thoughts on how organizations can best respond to this moment. Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for space and clarity:

What is the essential work around inclusion to be doing now?

The first thing is to name the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a priority of the organization. If that hasn’t been done before, it’s really important to make that a clear statement and to express that commitment across every possible platform within the organization. If it has been done before, then this is an important time to recommit, to restate and be very clear and vocal and transparent that this is a priority of our organization. I’d say next to make sure to both properly resource and elevate the work. It’s not enough to say this is what we’re doing, or these are our values, these are our goals. The work has to be resourced. When I say properly elevate, I mean that it shouldn’t be marginalized or hidden or buried.

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Whoever your top diversity, equity, and inclusion person is in your organization shouldn’t be tucked away in a basement office somewhere that no one can find. They should actually report very high in the organization. Think in every possible way, what does the elevation and amplification of this work look like? What does it look like when something is a priority within your organization? And however that’s communicated traditionally for your organization, the promotion of diversity equity, and inclusion work should be done at least at that level and beyond.

Then it’s important to commit to a process of institutional or organizational racial reckoning. That should be a high priority for organizations right now.

Say I’m at a company and I want to start a process of racial reckoning—what do I do?

I think about racial reckoning as an internal self study. You’re doing an intentional, deep dive within your organization seeking to answer the question, who are we relative to diversity, equity, inclusion? Who are we currently? Who have we been? What’s our history? And you’re making a commitment to understanding what that history has been. This is challenging because often the history is painful, and not very complimentary. Which is why I love James Baldwin’s quote that not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.

I like to design it almost like a research study. You’re trying to find out who are we relatively? Everyone thinks they know. But until you engage in this process, you do not know. The process often includes many components, but one is a listening tour. The listening tour can evolve in many ways. I think about it as a structured opportunity through which you conduct this self study in which you are inviting all members of your organization to come forward and share their lived, observed, and supervised experiences of bias, marginalization, and racism within the organization.

A lot of thought and planning has to go into making it possible to get meaningful data because people have to feel safe. It’s a tough question to answer, so people aren’t going to necessarily volunteer to come forward with this information. Everything has to be structured to promote people feeling like it’s safe enough to come forward.

A guiding thought going into the work is knowing at the outset that no matter what you do, there will be members within your organization who will never feel like it’s safe enough to come forward and share the truth of their lived, observed, and supervised experiences of racism within your organization. You should know that going in, because that’s what you’re up against when trying to get to the real information.

It can be especially helpful when doing this internal self study to include people who have left your organization. If you’re an organization that has interns and trainees, and you’ve had difficulty retaining diverse talent, you want to invite them into this process. They probably have a lot that they can share. I like to design both in-person listening sessions, and, for prioritizing safety, I also like to give people multiple opportunities and methods for sharing the information. Some people won’t feel comfortable participating in an in-person session but they may feel more comfortable completing a survey. Give people lots of different opportunities to submit, but with the guiding idea being what’s going to make people feel most comfortable sharing the truth of their experience.

And then presumably producing a report that is then shared within the organization?

That’s right, there’s a report out of those findings, almost like a scientific approach. It’s important that that report is transparent. It may not be a pretty picture. But you can come forward and say, this is who we are. And this is what we learned from people within our organization. And now this is who we want to be. Then begin to lay out the strategy for moving forward.

It’s so important not to leapfrog that process. People really want to go to strategy because there’s a lot of interest, passion, and motivation to become more inclusive at this point. But you’ve missed an opportunity if you don’t really commit to first understanding who you are and what the history has been of not only your organization, but also the field in which you reside.

The other helpful thing about that intervention is some of the resistance and many of the barriers to becoming a more inclusive organization exist within your organization. Some of those barriers, frankly, will be that you’ll have members of the organization who don’t think there’s anything to report out here. They’re going to say, this isn’t a racist organization—what are they talking about? But when you gather that data and they’re reported back to the organization, then you have an opportunity to bring those people along. They can say, I didn’t get it. I didn’t know. I didn’t think it was real.

There’s currently a war for talent. How do you see the diversity and inclusion dimension of that?

When we’re talking about the empowered worker, this means that organizations in the simplest terms need to be prepared to bring their DEI ‘A game’ at this point. Because diverse talent doesn’t have to settle—at this point they can go anywhere. It really steps things up.

This period that we’re in reminds me of what happened in the late 1980s in California following the Rodney King incident. A model emerged that was advanced by two physicians of color, Dr. Melanie Tervalon and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia. It’s a model of cultural humility. It’s a four-step process that organizations can look to almost like a guide sheet. If we can commit to adopting the model, then we’re eventually going to be much better positioned at both seeking and retaining diverse talent within our organization.

Read a transcript of our full discussion, including more on what differentiates the organizations who just put out press releases about racial justice from those who are committed to change.

Read our book briefing on Did that Just Happen?! from July.

Read more from Charter

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