[Ed. note: ESG in the News will be published tomorrow.]
Early in my career, a common response to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues was to take a colorblind approach. Today, similar ideologies abound and sound like the following:
“I don’t see differences in people. It doesn’t impact what I do whatsoever.”
“I treat everyone the same; we all should.”
“The solution to racism and bias is to treat everyone equally.”
The ideology behind colorblindness ignores core truths fundamental to the function of DEI, such as:
- Everyone has bias. The terms unconscious bias and implicit bias already let us know that we possess biases we are unaware of. When it comes to these, the goal is to become more aware of our own bias, learn how to mitigate it, and work toward daily improvement.
- Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination are baked into our institutions, formalized policies, and procedures. Even if a person acts without bias, they could still perpetuate biased outcomes just by participating in institutions with systemic inequity. In these cases, the actions of the individual retain some level of bias.
- Equality is different from equity. The basis of colorblindness is equality, the idea that we should treat everyone the same. This is not our current reality, and it never has been. Hundreds of years of legal racism, sexism and ableism have resulted in a world that favors some and poses challenges for others. Equity requires that we take a targeted approach to dismantle these challenges. Equity in action may look like providing additional resources or support only to groups that have historically been denied access to resources and support.
- Intent is not enough. Colorblind statements often stem from the desire for us to have a society that treats everyone the same. While it may be well-intentioned, intent alone does nothing to dismantle systemic challenges and level the playing field. To be successful, intent must be turned into action, practices, procedures and culture.
- It leads us to problematic conclusions. These statements ignore that people’s lives, health, jobs, wealth, etc., have been shaped by racism and sexist policies. It’s necessary to acknowledge the role of history and see these differences in access and opportunity to understand the wealth and health disparities we see today. Data that shows less wealth and more poor health outcomes for marginalized groups point to a deficiency in people – not structures and environment. Proper context must be applied when evaluating solutions/responses to equality.
Say (Do) This Instead
Instead of sharing colorblind ideologies, pause and consider where your words stem from. Often, it’s easier to deflect by making these statements instead of engaging with DEI topics because it may feel uncomfortable. Instead of running from it, recognize the discomfort and unpack the internal conflict. Are you triggered by topics of power, privilege, racism, or sexism because of your identity? Learn more about these topics and work toward resolving the internal conflict so that your actions can meet your intentions. It isn’t easy, but the outcome will be valuable and rewarding. PracticalESG.com members have access to a number of resources to help, such as checklists on Questions to Understand What Equity Means for Your Organization, Creating Your DEI Strategy: Ongoing Monitoring & Improvement, and What To Do When Things Go Wrong.