Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace

Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace

by Deanna Singh
Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace

Actions Speak Louder: A Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Inclusive Workplace

by Deanna Singh


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"A timely, practical resource on creating teams and organizations where everyone has the opportunity to succeed."
—Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the podcast WorkLife
A step-by-step guide for managers, teams, and DEI leaders looking to create impactful, lasting change in their organization, from recruitment to retention, and beyond.

Are you tired of hollow promises about diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization? Do you want to take steps towards real change – beyond issuing mission statements, signing checks, and holding listening sessions – but don’t know where to start? This book is your answer. Designed for teams to read together, Actions Speak Louder offers a comprehensive blueprint for leaders and teams who are ready to get out of their own way, look at their surroundings with new eyes, and turn their energy into a concrete plan.
Renowned DEI consultant Deanna Singh has led diversity trainings for a wide range of organizations, from non-profits to Fortune 500 companies. Using narratives, case studies, and the latest DEI research, as well as interactive exercises, Singh will teach you how to:
   Write inclusive job advertisements because “minorities just don’t apply here” isn’t an excuse – you’re just not reaching them
   Design an interview process that reduces status quo bias and challenges hiring decisions that are simply “no brainers”
   Create a retention plan that considers and prioritizes the needs of underrepresented employees – if you haven’t intentionally designed one to be inclusive, you’ve unintentionally reinforced one that is exclusive.
   Lead inclusive meetings – the bedrock of company culture – by practicing constructive dissent and elevating underrepresented perspectives
As Singh has seen time and time again, any organization can meaningfully change – you just need the right tools.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593418215
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/31/2022
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,132,952
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Deanna Singh is the Founder and Chief Change Agent of Flying Elephant, an umbrella organization for four social ventures. Through their work in the spheres of DEI, healthcare, children's literature, and leadership, these four companies aim to shift power to marginalized communities. Deanna is an accomplished author, educator, business leader, and social justice champion who speaks to over 50,000 people annually, giving audiences the tools and courage to imagine, activate, and impact the world as agents of change. She has been recognized by the Milwaukee Business Journal as one of the community’s most influential 40 Under 40 Leaders, the State of Wisconsin as a "Women Who Inspires," and by Forbes as an "African American Woman Everyone Should Know." She recently published a book with American Girl, entitled, A Smart Girl’s Guide: Race & Inclusion.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One:

Use Your Privilege: Identifying Your Workplace Privileges

From the Block to the Boardroom

Spending years behind desks, staring at screens, and doing work so removed from immediate impact, I revere people who walk the streets and meet the people where they are: the elder who spends retirement running a community garden that employs kids from low-income neighborhoods, the peer who goes to murder scenes and prevents retaliation, and full-time doulas who spend long hours in maternity wards to improve birth outcomes for underserved populations.

This drive to get back among the people almost drove me to leave a job as the CEO of a multimillion-dollar foundation. The position was fulfilling, and it gave me the opportunity to fund amazing work. But I wanted to move beyond supporting the people who worked on the frontlines, so I could have more direct impact.

During this time, I attended a conference for Black foundation leaders. There, I met many like me, professionals who worked to serve the underprivileged and felt ambivalent about being so far removed from them.

On the final night of the conference, a colleague recalled a story where she sat in her high-rise office looking down on the streets below as they filled with marching protestors. Seeing the dedication of the crowds, she felt a pang of guilt. It grilled her, asking, "Who do you think you are? Better than them? Sellout sitting up here while your people are struggling down there. If you really cared, you'd go down there with them."

Unable to bear another minute of this interrogation, she changed her shoes, stormed out of her office, and hit the elevator button. As she descended, her thoughts began to race. Not only would she join the march that night, she'd join again the next day. She'd join the movement, dedicate herself to the cause, and quit her job.

When she stepped out the front door of her building and onto the street, she saw a pastor from the neighborhood. She ran to him and said she was ready. She looked for a picket sign and listened for the chants to repeat before rattling off her plans-this march, the one tomorrow, and then quitting on Friday so she could give her full attention to the cause.

But that was when the smiling reverend scoffed that she didn't have to be so extreme. She could march tonight, work tomorrow, and march the next night. She didn't have to quit one to do the other. He told her to look at all the people marching, a whole line of people filling the street. There were plenty of people who could march, but few had her privileges. According to him, the organizers needed her to be in that office representing them when nobody else would. They would be on the block, but they also needed her in the boardroom.

Having the education that can gain a job, the social stability to retain a career, and the resources to read this book is a privilege. Sometimes that advantage can seem like a disgrace that makes some want to quit so they can join the march down on the block forever. At the same time, however, that privilege can also provide opportunities to achieve goals even up in the boardroom. People in our position have privilege. Facing that reality, many feel the shame that compels them to deny its existence, and others experience the guilt that drives them to renounce it.

But advantages can become ethical if you use them to benefit the disadvantaged. For this reason, this chapter will walk the fine line of avoiding the temptation to either deny privilege or renounce it. Later chapters will explore organizational changes at the level of practices, policies, and operations, but to increase the likelihood that those other goals will succeed, start with identifying ways to use your privilege.

Defining Workplace Privileges

The most popular text regarding privilege is "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." In that article, Peggy McIntosh, former associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, focuses on the racial advantages whiteness affords people in the United States. Some examples she covers include the following: "If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I want to live"; I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me"; "I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed"; I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented"; When I am told about our national heritage or about 'civilization,' I am shown that people of my color made it what it is."

Over time, the concept of privilege has taken on a life of its own in public discourse. Some assume that claiming someone has privilege suggests they've had no difficulties at all. Some argue that the phrase "White privilege" implies every White person is racist, oppresses people of color, and enjoys the rewards of a racially unequal society.

For our purposes here, privilege has a different meaning. Here, privilege means gaining benefits based on your social identity. Everyone has certain privileges in certain situations. For example, I am a woman of color, and the meaning of that identity differs from one context to the next. In certain spaces, my racial identity presents challenges, but in other places, my education, work experience, and financial security grant me opportunities. While I might not have racial privilege in relationship to White people, having lighter skin means I have it in comparison to darker people. I am a woman who doesn't have the social privileges attached to being a man, but being cisgender shields me from the particular social disadvantages reserved for transgender people.

In addition to recognizing the degree to which everyone has certain privileges, it is important to remember the level to which everyone has certain difficulties. A White woman might have racial privilege but not gender privilege. A Black man might have gender privilege but not racial privilege. There are White business managers struggling to pay back student loans, make the mortgage, and save for retirement, all while knowing they are two checks away from financial ruin. Reductive definitions of White privilege can suggest that the 15.9 million White people who live below the poverty line in the United States have access to unbelievable riches when so many make less than $25,000 a year.

For these reasons, when talking about "privilege," this chapter won't imply that the people who have things like native-born, Christian, or neurotypical social identities automatically live a life of ease. Furthermore, having any kind of privilege doesn't mean someone intentionally stole advantages from another or consciously participates in immoral actions that ensure others suffer disadvantages. Certain social contexts privilege certain social identities. Regardless of who we are, what we think, or what we do, just showing up in particular social contexts with specific social identities gives us certain kinds of privileges.

While widening out privilege to address multiple kinds, it is also important to narrow our scope. When people talk about privileges, they usually concentrate on a broad kind. Most focus on social, political, legal, psychological, and cultural privileges. In these aspects, to have privilege means my group's values structure social interactions; my group is overrepresented in politics; my group's interests drive the creation and enforcement of laws; my group enjoys psychological comfort, security, and confidence; and my group membership grants me the cultural benefits that come from being overrepresented in media.

Besides social, political, legal, psychological, and cultural privileges that garner the most attention in conversations about privilege, there are also workplace privileges. We will define workplace privileges as gaining workplace benefits based on your social identity. Social privilege decides who's more likely to survive an encounter with police. Political privilege dictates who won't have to prove their humanity in front of the Supreme Court. Legal privilege determines who will get released on bail, found guilty, or sentenced longer. In light of these big issues, workplace privileges can seem relatively insignificant, but they are important. The gateway to social, political, legal, psychological, and cultural advantages is economic power. Ultimately, if they are the key to the economic power, workplace privileges become the nexus for others.

Identifying Your Workplace Privileges

Now that we've defined workplace privileges, we're going to do what I call creating a "Dinner Table."

Over the next few pages, this Dinner Table exercise will help you identify your own workplace privileges. I understand this process can be uncomfortable, but please gather the courage to examine yourself. This process isn't designed to inspire moral guilt. Trust me that we will end this chapter by turning it into a constructive exercise that will benefit others. But before we get to thinking about how you can "use your privilege," you must first take an honest inventory of what your privileges are. In private, with nothing but the truth and your conscience, please take a few moments to circle the following workplace privileges that apply to you, in the Porcelain column of the below chart.

Dinner Table

Porcelain Thali

1. I can assume coworkers won't ignore me because of my social identity.

2. I can presume that if I get loud, animated, or even angry in a meeting and ask challenging questions, my social identity will help me seem rational and assertive as opposed to emotional and aggressive.

3. I can presuppose the neighborhood surrounding my workplace, access to the building, and spaces within it won't pose a threat to me.

4. I can feel included in office culture, surrounded by people I feel comfortable with and who feel comfortable with me.

5. I take it for granted that most office policies, rules, and codes of conduct already conform to the norms of my social identity group, and I don't have to change anything about what I already do in order to automatically comply with them.

6. I don't have to work extraordinarily hard to ensure my ideas are heard in meetings, elevated during discussions, and advanced beyond conversations to travel up to levels where decisions are made.

7. I can expect social functions essential to networking and my professional advancement involve activities that conform to the values of my social group.

8. I've never thought I'd be asked to do extra, unpaid work (lead employee resource groups (ERGs), create affinity groups, hold learning sessions, conduct town halls, or start mentorships) related to my social group.

9. I can assume all my options for self-identification appear on the official forms my workplace uses.

10. I have a social position that grants me and employers the ability to reasonably predict my job performance.

11. I've never felt the pressure of representing my entire social identity group.

12. I have transportation accessibility that makes commuting easy.

13. I understand the cultural references that dominate workplace conversation.

14. I can relate to small talk about hobbies, weekend activities, and cultural events.

15. I can avoid people from social identity groups I've been taught to mistrust.

16. I'm confident people won't avoid me or fail to invite me to social activities because of my social identity.

17. People won't make assumptions about my professionalism based on my name.

18. Most organizational leaders are from my social group.

19. I work in a place where most people are from my social group.

20. I won't be expected to be a representative expert on the history, psychology, culture, sociology, and politics of my social group.

21. I won't feel alienated, threatened, or endangered by the dominant group in response to events on the news concerning my social group.

22. People won't misidentify my role, position, or title in the organization.

23. I won't feel the pressure to overperform so I can positively represent my entire social group.

24. Organizational policies are made with my social group in mind.

25. Standards of professionalism reflect the values of my social group.

26. I am more likely to be perceived as competent and professional even if I'm not.

27. I can use public facilities without fear of verbal abuse, psychological intimidation, physical violence, or arrest.

28. I don't have to worry about being misgendered or misnamed.

29. My mental and physical ability and behavior will conform with the criteria assumed to indicate "good work" and "high engagement."

30. My office will be closed on religious holidays that conform to my belief system.

31. Because of my age, people assume I am more competent.

32. I can feel comfortable inviting my partner to work events.

33. I can lift the weight often required as a prerequisite for many jobs.

34. I can assume my language (vocabulary, grammar, accent, volume, speech patterns, cultural references, diction level) will improve instead of undermine people's assumptions about my competence.

35. I can feel confident that my military status will ensure the continuity of employment and cultural understanding others have of me that is essential to retaining a job.

Now that you've looked at some of the most common workplace privileges, spend some time looking for others. Close your eyes and imagine an average workday from the time you leave your front door to when you walk back through it. Dig deep, pay attention to the smallest details, and ask the following:

1. Consider the environment where you work. Take into account everything from regional location in relationship to the city, physical layout from the parking lot to the building, and structure within the facility. Explore everything from the width of the hallways to the seating design in conference rooms to the artwork on the walls to the music playing in the lobby. For which social groups were these environments created?

2. Examine the practices of your workplace culture. Which social groups do they centralize? Which do they marginalize?

3. How would your normal workday differ if you were from a different social group?

4. What things that you take for granted would change?

Once you've surveyed some of the most common workplace privileges and spent a few minutes reexamining your everyday routine, take some time for reflection. Strive to be as creative and specific as possible about the everyday, common, and subtle advantages or your professional life. At the bottom of the Porcelain column, add all the other answers that you just thought up.

When I've done this exercise with people, many report how difficult it is. One reason for this difficulty is cultural context. In the United States, many place a premium on self-determination. One reason why many immigrants came to the American colonies was that they wanted to decide their own career path in ways other countries wouldn't let them. The United States is a nation that was born with a Declaration of Independence. Followed by this revolutionary fervor was a period of transcendentalism where Emerson's "Self-Reliance" became gospel and Thoreau's Walden extolled individualism as a virtue. Americans are a people who popularize the phrase "pull yourself up by the bootstraps," revere Horatio Alger type, venerate rags-to-riches stories, make a creed of the American dream, canonize "self-made billionaires," and anathematize "handouts." Sixty-five percent of American adults identify as Christian, and among that demographic, the most widely known Bible verse is "God helps those who help themselves," which doesn't even appear in the Bible. In a culture that idolizes merit, privilege becomes a cardinal sin that inspires severe guilt, dread, and repression.

Some critics believe DEI is unnecessary because they claim privilege doesn't exist or create unfair advantages. At the same time, many proponents of DEI undermine their own efforts because they fail to recognize the privileges afforded them. For example, I've seen plenty of attempts at greater inclusion disrupted by White managers who claim creating a Black ERG is unnecessary, but I've also seen plenty of disruption happen because of allies who've considered themselves honorary members of the Black ERG. The one falsely insists that there is no difference between the experiences of White and Black employees. The other admits there is a disparity between these experiences but fails to see how they have advantages their underrepresented counterparts do not.

The leaders who foster greater belonging are those who recognize unfairness but are also honest about how they benefit from it. For example, the best male mentors recognize that the assertiveness they display in meetings might prove disastrous for their female protégés. In their attempts to be allies, they remember that they receive privileges others do not. In order to craft DEI initiatives that benefit underrepresented groups, you must first recognize the advantages that the workplace affords to people from your social identity. In short, creating a more inclusive workplace for the underprivileged demands that you first recognize your privileges.

Privilege as Porcelain

Imagine privilege as dinnerware. Some have a porcelain set that is expensive, valuable, and delicate. They imagine privilege is an investment they must protect. They ignore the fact that they inherited it from people and only received it just because of how they were born. Of course, they might have done a lot of work to maintain it, spent countless hours wrapping, polishing, and dusting it, but that fact doesn't mean they did anything to initially earn it.

Over time, privilege deniers might see the porcelain set as something that they deserve to own and others do not. They may install protective glass displays, video monitoring, and security systems to ensure no one accesses it. They might manipulate markets in hopes that others can't buy it, and petition the manufacturers to discontinue production, knowing that the porcelain set will increase in value only to the extent that others don't have access to it.

They will be terrified that serving food on this porcelain will devalue their property. Working so hard to safeguard their possession, they are less likely to invite visitors inside for a meal. Even offering a morsel of bread on paper plates fills them with fear that, by gaining access to the dining room, a guest might notice the porcelain set in the display case. Protecting their investment, these porcelain owners will deny they own any dinnerware at all and refuse to share even the crumbs that fall from their table, sending guests from their house still hungry.

Others-critiquers-might recognize that the porcelain set they have was handed down to them for reasons decided before they were even born. They might critique themselves and declare this inheritance unfair. They might even throw open the front door of their house and declare to all the world how much they know they got their dining ware unjustly. They can take advantage of every opportunity to tell passersby that others are denied porcelain sets unmercifully. They may take to social media to make these proclamations, but acknowledging the fact that they unfairly possess a porcelain set does only so much good.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I Personal Development

Chapter 1 Use Your Privilege Identifying Your Workplace Privileges 3

Chapter 2 Check Yourself Diversifying Your Business Thinking 25

Chapter 3 Build a Bridge Making the Case for DEI 45

Part II Organizational Development

Chapter 4 Recruiting "Minorities Just Don't Apply Here" 67

Chapter 5 Hiring "This Is a No-Brainer" 81

Chapter 6 Onboarding "Look Who's Hanging with the Boys!" 103

Chapter 7 Retention From Poaching to Coaching 121

Chapter 8 Mentoring Share the View 141

Chapter 9 Meetings "These Kinds of Meetings Are Everything" 161

Chapter 10 Performance Reviews "Answers from the Void" 183

Chapter 11 Next Steps Personalizing Your DEI Approach 205

Actions Speak Louder 219

Additional Support 221

Acknowledgments 223

Appendix A Part I Exercises 225

Appendix B Part II Discussion Guide 231

Notes 255

Index 269

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