Conversations around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have for the longest been emotion-based; they highly overshadow the systemic and strategic changes and very often ignore Equity. You know Equity right? – the middle child of every family? (P.S. we all know Malcolm from the Middle!)
Isn’t this so much easier? A ‘quick win’ to focus on making people feel ‘the feels’ of being included, but without equity, inclusion is a toothless tiger. We can certainly talk about the many ways of making people feel included but it will barely lead to any changes, unless we identify and focus on the systemic redesign to yield equal pay and diversity in leadership, building into greater areas of access to equal opportunities.
Equity in the workplace is about designing a strong system and a culture, to allow each one to have an equal shot. However, each one may have their own definition of what they intend to go for – success, happiness, work-life balance, etc. Instead of looking out for women to promote, we could allow equity to build a system where women’s needs are centered. Thus, having women in leadership positions become logical and natural.
Have you ever heard of The Heroine’s journey? No, you haven’t, because it has only and always been identified as The Hero’s Journey.
And once we hear the phrase – The Hero’s Journey, our minds inevitably jump to a fairly accurate approximation of what that journey must have been.
This is a well-known myth by cultural and religious scholar Joseph Campbell and also the template for many, many books and movies.
A chivalrous, daring, adventurer who comes across something wrong or experiences a crisis and decides to fix it. He sets himself out on an adventure to seek justice and overcomes the crisis against all odds. And then, he returns home victorious and suitably enlightened. Now, what’s inherent in this classic money-spinner of a tale is also an Unconscious Bias. Let me explain.
The Hero was never, ever told – ‘What will happen to our family honour if something were to happen to you’, or ‘Boys from good families don’t run around like this’ or ‘Can’t you save the world from home, who will marry a dark-skinned boy’. If you’re amused, be it! How do you have a journey after all, if there are so many barriers to stop you?
Let’s also think of what any Heroine’s Journey is all about. The obstacles she faces aren’t singular or tangible things to conquer. It’s insidious, these are invisible, and systems designed barriers to hold her in place. There are – a million and more well-placed paper cuts in her everyday life to prevent her from true emancipation and progress. This is why we hear very few of these narratives, and for those we do, we must recognize them as truly accomplished wins.
The Hero’s Journey certainly holds people’s attention. But it also makes the system invisible and silent, thereby reinforcing oppressive behaviours and protecting those in power.
And this is also why we need to talk about who can enable these journeys, not just for the heroes, but for everyone. And in many cases, this needs to be The Heroes themselves.
DEI requires power breakers who can redesign systems and cultures; if leaders aren’t on board, DEI initiatives will be inauthentic. It is the engaged leaders who are willing to use their power and influence to design a more equitable system, to give equal access to opportunity within their organizations.
Equitable leaders are willing to break the silence and become transparent about the system, their privilege, and the support they received from others in their story of success. Equitable leaders are aware of how their media presence either reinforces or disrupts stereotypes. They also make sure that all content is inclusive, accessible, and respectful to all populations.
Equity is a huge risk. It requires us to examine our basic assumptions about the world and think hard about the role systems and structures play in our lives, our communities, and society at large. and find a way to make the invisible more visible. Mostly, it requires us to dig deep into our internal desire for fairness and summon the courage to do hard things.
Equity gives more than it takes, and when we meet it with courage and humility, equity gives us innovation and opportunity. It helps us make everyone’s life a little bit better leading to a whole and so much greater than the sum of its parts.
(Rashmi Vikram, Chief Equity Officer, APAC, dentsu)