I have an accomplishment to share. On September 13, 2021, I have completed the coursework and received my certificate for Diversity and Inclusion through Cornell University’s e-learning program. This was something I set the intention for earlier in the year, last April to be exact. Honestly, I did not do a bunch of research into different programs or figure out what certificate program would be the best, most cost-effective use of my time. This was an exercise in good decision making in the era of unlimited choice; search for and go with the first viable solution to the immediate problem.
I did briefly inquire at work about whether there was a training budget for this sort of thing. My supervisor at the time knew it was beyond his pay grade for approval so I went to my department head, who said he would only approve coursework related to my immediate position. So I went to HR and my request was escalated to the chief people officer who told me, through an intermediary, that the company would consider paying for half of my coursework only if I were to give a presentation on what I learned to the DE&I Council upon my completion. By this time, I had already paid for the series and I have never been one for public speaking, which the HR executive probably anticipated. I’m not really sure why an awful presentation done under duress would be worth more to the company than the course transcripts I turned over to one of the DE&I Council leaders who also works on the education and training team for all employees, but people make strange decisions sometimes.
I was originally introduced to this series of courses by a friend of mine who wanted me to look at the information provided on their program website to let her know if I felt like there would be enough/any mention of neurodiversity in the courses. Well, now I can say from experience, while there wasn’t necessarily much mention, I absolutely made certain to bring it up in all the discussion forums whenever it was appropriate. So my sessions were all-encompassing because my presence made them that way and I am quite proud to have been able to represent my ND community.
I had two significant takeaways from the series of courses that I would like to share here. First is that my company has incredible opportunity for improvement with regard to re-establishing employee engagement, recognizing and conquering unconscious bias, enhancing inclusive hiring processes, and creating and maintaining an inclusive climate. I’m not going to say it was ever better in one office or another because some folks really don’t like to hear about that. I will say, we are now consistently bad at most of these things and it really feels like those who are supposed to be leading are at a loss about what to do. Or maybe they still just don’t see the problem. Even if I make no assumptions about intent, ignorance is bliss only if you have already benefitted from the existing power structure.
The second concept I came away from the class with is that if more cisgender, heterosexual white men don’t take an interest in learning about what Diversity, Equity and Inclusion really mean, real progress is going to be slow, and I mean REALLY SLOW! In my 4 courses, we had a veritable cross section of society, people from across North America in major cities and small towns, but very few white guys who were not openly gay. Many Black women, especially in leadership positions or running their own businesses, actually had the biggest impact on my learning experience. But they don’t have the power, the power of always being considered the “default” identity.
In our society, we have one dominant identity, whether they want to admit it or not, and that is the white male. White men created the systems we all live within in America, and it’s not because they tested out a whole bunch of other systems and everyone voted on how they’d like things to be. It’s actually because all the “others” were summarily excluded from decision-making through time. Just as an example that has huge impacts on women, most pharmaceuticals are not well tested on women to this day because we are apparently “too complicated” with hormones and cycles and all that. Now why TF would any woman want to consume any pharmaceutical product, knowing that?
Ultimately, it comes down to this. Women, BIPOC folks, disabled/neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+ and any other representative “out groups” will 100% inevitably need to learn how to make white men NOT feel threatened by them and their opinions at a very young age. And white men will never need to learn these things about others. They are allowed, with no form of accountability, to believe that their actions and words are just fine because they fit the mold of what is expected (the mold they created)! They will be welcome to educate themselves through a course that will teach them that there are other equally valid ways of going about things, and that is apparently so uncomfortable that few choose to do it. Heck, I’d even say a solid, equitable marriage is a good learning opportunity, but many men run away from those as well.
Yeah, yeah, not ALL men.
The point is choice. If you have it, that’s privilege. And if you don’t, you don’t.
So men, especially cis-het, neurotypical white men, you know who you are. DO BETTER! Stretch yourself. Take a class. Hear from people who don’t look like you and actually LISTEN. Validate them! Lift them up so that they may lead! Work on building a diverse community at work or in your social groups. Actively seek input from the “others” and take it; really let it sink in. Don’t just dismiss it because it doesn’t conform with your long-established views of yourself and how things “should” be. Choose to do these things because you CAN!
And do it fast, because you are already being left behind by the masses of “others.” We are attending the classes. We are networking across identities. We take an interest in each other. We are building diverse coalitions and we will help one another and be successful. We might just save the world. Get on board!