September's Executive Order on DE&I - We Have Work To Do
When I was approached by the Together SC team to share my take on the White House Executive Order (E.O.) on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping related to federal employees receiving diversity, equity, and inclusion training, I thought I knew what I was going to write.
However, I struggled immeasurably when the time came to complete the task, despite being a practitioner in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) work for 17 years. Why was it so hard to write about something that falls within my field of work?
Why was it challenging to put words to paper when I had no lack of words about the subject at hand?
Why was I not feeling it, when it aroused and agitated every feeling within me?
After a good bit of honest reflection, I came to a conclusion - one that simultaneously brought me peace and clarity.
I was tired. I was frustrated. I was angry.
I was tired of having to sit down and once again try to convince someone of the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I was tired of laying out timelines, examples, historical references, and current events that will be new to some, old to a few, and denied or excused by too many.
I was frustrated with being in this hyper-politicized world where, even when politics enters my work, I have to be careful to not come across as partisan or political, because that will often shut down readers and participants because they assume I'm on the "other side."
I was angry because I know the history of America; and I, a USAF Veteran, still love America.
However, in too many cases America doesn't love me enough to let the totality of my story, my elders and ancestors story show up in the history books.
Therefore in 2020, people are still debating if racism exists in America and if racism played a role in the founding, forming, and functioning of America.
So, after processing my tiredness, frustration, and anger, I have a suggestion.
You should read the Executive Order for yourself.
In our click-bait world, we don't normally get past the headlines, but this is one that I think you should read beyond the title.
Even though the E.O. may not have an immediate impact on your organization and it is highly likely that the new administration will rescind this order once they are sworn in in January, it would be wise for nonprofit leaders to look at the language in this order.
I will admit, I have a number of serious concerns that include the framing of the language, the references to significant historical leaders and events, and the juxtaposition of ideologies.
Regardless of what transpires with the Executive Order, here are a few lessons learned that I'd like to share about DE&I learning experiences (workshops, coaching, courses):
- DE&I learning experiences can be uncomfortable - as some of our past participants have stated. And, for some, uncomfortable is synonymous with unsafe, bad, and fake, and therefore they think it should be avoided. I want to challenge you and your team to push through those uncomfortable moments because they are not unsafe, bad, or fake. If you and your team are not willing to engage in uncomfortable dialogue, you will never be able to truly grow.
- America did not just get this way and our current state is not accidental. To truly understand the need and value of DEI learning experiences, history has to be infused in the lessons and conversations. These are normally the moments - uncomfortable moments - when participants are introduced to history that they did not know, such as that shared through the 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. This thought-provoking, paradigm-shattering, norm-challenging piece is perhaps one of the best ‘history lessons’ that I can recall reading in a very long time.
- DE&I learning experiences are absolutely critical to building a cohesive team and fostering an organizational culture that is conducive to everyone being seen, heard, and valued. Effective and impactful DE&I learning experiences not only move participants to question the status quo, you also begin to question assumptions you've previously made.
Let me end by encouraging you to be thoughtful, open, steadfast, and deliberate in advancing your individual and organizational DE&I efforts.
It’s a journey.
Make sure your organization values reflect your commitment to enhancing diversity, modeling inclusion, and cultivating a culture of equity. Then, make sure your words, decisions, and actions are consistent with those values.
Even if you get tired, frustrated, and angry, honor your feelings and push through.
We still have much work to do.
Your Equity Ally,
The EO applies to five groups: federal departments/agencies, the military, federal contractors, federal grant recipients, and potentially all employers in the country. Nonprofits could fall into one or more of the last three categories.
The EO prohibits government contractors (in contracts entered after Nov. 21) from providing “any workplace training that inculcates in its employees” training on race or sex diversity, equity, or inclusion involving 11 “divisive concepts.” Grant recipients have a little more time; November 21 is the deadline for federal agencies to report to OMB all grant “programs for which the agency may [in the future] …require the recipient to certify that it will not use Federal funds to promote” the forbidden concepts. (Emphases added to highlight differences and some of the vague and ambiguous wording.)
The forbidden concepts deemed “anti-American” and “divisive” by the Administration include anything that might make someone “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” This is offered as an example: workplace diversity trainings that suggest “men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist.”
The EO and other materials run counter to the widely respected view that being informed about racial and gender diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential to the healing and wellbeing of the country and important for high-performing organizations.
- National Council of Nonprofit's Background Information on The Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.
- Joint Letter signed by 161 businesses and nonprofits, including Togethe SC, the National Council of Nonprofits and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of their thousands of members, Private Sector Letter to the President in Opposition to the Executive Order on Race and Sex Stereotyping, Oct. 15, 2020
Implicit Bias Training EO Litigation:
- Nat’l Urban League v. Trump, D.D.C., No. 20-cv-3121, complaint filed Oct. 29, 2020.
- Santa Cruz Lesbian and Gay Cmty. Ctr. v. Trump, N.D. Cal., No. 5:20-cv-07741, complaint filed Nov. 2, 2020.