Grace Toll is a recent UM graduate who serves her community at the United Way of Washtenaw County in a variety of roles. Her blog posts will be published monthly.
We’re asking you what you G.A.V.E. today to make a more equitable tomorrow.
Equity -- fair and just policies that ensure all community members can thrive -- is a central component of United Way of Washtenaw County’s vision. By 2030, we strive to live in a community where your zip code no longer determines your outcome in life, which cannot be done without creating a community where every single person can thrive regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
DEI -- diversity, equity, and inclusion -- has become a topic of increased interest over the past year, specifically with the recent uptick in police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate crimes, and blatant socioeconomic injustices during the pandemic and a higher disposition to COVID-19 for minorities. Workplaces are actively working to advance DEI in their organizations and beyond, although there lies this lingering fear that workplaces are seeing this move as just a trend, and their commitment to DEI will fade over time as life “returns to normal.”
Meaning, when the COVID-19 crisis is under control and we can return to football games, and concerts, and walk around grocery stores without a mask, the privileged will be able to do what they’ve always done: go to these events with no fear for their safety, take month-long vacations to countries where COVID may very much still be an issue, and be able to afford the high-priced trendy appetizers sold at these stores. Meanwhile, the oppressed will be stuck where they’ve always been: in unwarranted traffic stops, at minimum wage jobs, and in communities where their zip code does determine their opportunity in life.
Unless workplaces are serious about their DEI work. Unless they use the four principles of G.A.V.E. to create a long-term, no-nonsense solution to ensure their work is not part of a trend, but a social justice movement.
DEI in the workplace is something that can be very performative for some, and when choosing where to give, it’s important to research and learn which organizations are serious about advancing equity and which just want you to think they’re serious about advancing equity. It’s also important to give to organizations that support and are led by the marginalized, such as groups run by people of color and LGBTQIA+ organizations. If you claim to be committed to workplace DEI but only give to organizations that help straight, cisgener white people, it’s unlikely that many people will take you very seriously.
Give to organizations that are actively fighting for and advancing DEI locally and beyond. Form relationships with these groups and learn from each other. At UWWC, we’re always challenging our staff and our community partners to learn about this work and put it into action. The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation’s pursuit of equity is a great example.
In order to advocate for DEI, you must recognize your own biases and challenge internalized beliefs. This is, arguably, the most important step, especially for those of us who are most privileged. Even if you grew up in diverse communities, even if you have friends of other races and gender identities, even if you took a sociology class in college -- everyone holds bias, and no progress will be made until we’re able to acknowledge and work through these issues.
UWWC’s 21-Day Equity Challenge, a self-guided learning journey that explores these biases, is a great place to start. Check out more here: https://www.uwwashtenaw.org/equity
All volunteer work is important, but there will always be times when some projects are more important than others. For example, wouldn’t it make more sense to volunteer to help rebuild a Black community that was struck by sudden disaster than volunteering to help build a bridge in a white community that already has three other bridges?
Workplaces need to stay up to date on issues in their community, and especially for organizations like nonprofits which ask for volunteers, it’s critical to make sure every community is represented in your volunteer work and opportunities.
UWWC’s National Day of Action, our largest day of service of the year, is right around the corner on June 19th. Visit VolunteerWashtenaw.org to sign up and do what you love. For others.
“Fair and just policies that ensure all community members can thrive.” In order to truly understand this definition of equity, it’s important to define the other components of DEI.
Diversity- “the presence of differences within a given setting.” Inclusion- “the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace” (https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion/what-does-dei-mean-in-the-workplace).
Another important definition, one that’s crucial to recognize in the wake of DEI, is tokenism- “the practice of doing something (such as hiring a person who belongs to a minority group) only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly” (https://business.vanderbilt.edu/news/2018/02/26/tokenism-in-the-workplace/). It can feel tricky to walk the line between hiring people from underrepresented groups because you want to hire them and hiring them because the diversity will make your workplace look good -- even if that’s not your intention. It can also be tricky to walk the line between “not seeing” race, class, age, sexual orientation, and gender identity in an interview process to make sure everyone gets an equal chance, while also recognizing their status as a minority and why this oversight creates difficulties for them.
The importance is authenticity. It’s about understanding why it is crucial to bring different perspectives to your workplace. It’s about recognizing and celebrating differences instead of pretending they’re not there. It’s about challenging your own biases and growing from them instead of instantly shutting them down.
Topics like race and class are typically seen as “touchy” subjects -- ones that have historically been left out of places like the workplace. It’s easier to ignore them, to pretend to not see identities like race and let those biases simmer forever.
But this solution is not long-term -- it’s a bandage over a much larger wound, one that will continue to get worse and worse until it’s finally addressed. DEI isn’t a trend that you can pretend to care about for a year and then forget about when life has returned to a post-COVID state. An issue that can’t be solved by hiring one person of color and calling it a day.
DEI is a movement. Workplaces will crumble without an effective DEI strategy because other organizations will be advancing due to the diverse perspectives and ideas marginalized groups bring to the workplace. It may be inconvenient for the privileged to take the time to uncover these biases, and it sure isn’t easy to completely change your way of thinking -- but if you care about your work and your employees, you will take the steps to not only advance DEI, but understand its importance.
So, what will you GIVE in the future to create a more equitable community for all?