The journey towards equity, diversity and inclusion is paved with opportunities to fail and opportunities to abort the strategies that must be implemented to achieve equity, access and success. The last few years of working in this field has taught me that equitable change does not come without angst, resentment, blame, envy, selfishness and racism. If equity and inclusion were easy to achieve, we would not be in the position we are in today. Let’s examine how equity boxes must be moved to address systemic racism and make inclusion a reality for all.
The Equity Baseball Game
Many equity practitioners use the visual of three kids watching a baseball game to differentiate between equity and equality. As you can see from the visual, equality is reflected by each kid having one box to stand on and watch the game. The kids are of different heights so although each kid has one box, you can see that they cannot all see the game. The shortest kid can’t see over the fence even with a box. The medium height kid can barely see over the fence with a box. Lastly, the tall kid has a box, but really does not need one to see over the fence and view the game. Equality does not seem to work for everyone.
The visual for equity is reflected by boxes being moved to accommodate the needs of all the kids. The shortest kid now has two boxes and is able to see over the fence. The medium size kid remains with one box and is still able to see over the fence. The tallest kid has no box and because of being taller is still able to see over the fence and view the game. The box that was once used by the tall kid is now being used by the shortest kid in order for equity to be achieved. Equity seems to work for everyone – Or does it?
Who Moved My Boxes!
Many people describe the journey from equality to equity as NOT being a zero sum game. The theory behind this contention is that although equity will provide greater access and opportunities to others, no one who had those opportunities previously would be negatively impacted. The belief is that there is enough pie (opportunities) for everyone to be successful. Let’s examine if that is true.
In order for the short kid to receive enough boxes to see the game, someone had to give up a box. If the medium kid gave up a box, seeing the game would not be possible. However, if the tall kid gives up a box, which seems to have occurred, the tall kid is still able to see the game. You would expect the tall kid would be ok with missing a box since the game is still in view. Let’s further examine this experience through the lens of the tall kid.
The tall kid is representative of the status quo. The tall kid has the power and authority of those who have traditionally benefited from the system. The tall kid family have always had high wages, great jobs/careers, immense wealth, protection from law enforcement, more than average housing and access to high quality foods and services. In reality, the tall kid family has always had more than one box. The tall kid family has had many boxes for many centuries. The visual in the picture entitled reality better reflects the present circumstances. We are not asking the tall kid family for one box, we are asking for many boxes in order to achieve equity. Let’s examine the life of the tall kid and see why it may cause some angst by taking these boxes and giving them to the short kid.
The tall kid family are use to being in leadership roles (CEO, VP, Sr. Director). If you take that box what happens? The tall kid family is used to having revenue generated from contracts from major corporations. These supplier contracts and usually spent 95 to 100 percent of the time with the tall kid family. If you remove that box what happens? The tall kid family is use to having all wealth and access to high quality education, housing and consumer resources. If you remove those boxes what happens. The reality is that for every box moved, the tall kid family is not happy. The tall kid family may say publicly equity, diversity and inclusion are ok, but behind closed doors, their actions may indicate they don’t want any boxes to be taken from the family.
Rachel Nichols, an ESPN reporter, said it best recently when she represented the tall family in all its greatest. Rachel was made aware that a black woman colleague was being considered for some work in her area that she was currently responsible for. Rachel, made outward public displays supporting equity, diversity and inclusion, but in a private conversation she said the following regarding her employer ESPN,
“If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it,” “Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing [box] away.”
Rachel and her reaction to boxes being removed reflects how the tall kids may look at, and react to recent positive commitments by companies and public entities towards equity, diversity and inclusion. The tall kids may make non-public statements about the boxes being given to the smaller kids. They may say some of these things:
Are the short kids qualified to receive MY BOX?
Are the short kids only being given MY BOX because of their race? Isn’t that reverse box discrimination?
Why are we focused on just these short kids? Aren’t there other kids with disabilities and LGBTQ kids who need MY BOXES too? What about them?
The tall kids are not willingly giving up boxes and in fact they may question the need for giving boxes away. They know they are tall and may not need the boxes, but they have had them for many centuries and in fact may not want to disrupt the system (systemic racism) to better distribute equity.
What’s in Those Boxes?
The illusion of Equity is sometimes reflected in the visual of having the boxes removed from the tall kid and given to the short kid. We look at the result and appreciate the opportunity the short kid has to view the game. However, you need to ask yourself a few important questions: 1) what’s in those boxes and are they useable and sustainable and 2) are the boxes being given to the short kid designed for the success of short kids or were they made specifically for tall kids.
Have you ever used boxes to move. Some of the boxes you use are new and crisp and can hold lots of weight from all the items you need moved. These boxes will not break and will keep your items safe and secure. However, have you ever had moving boxes that are weak and have been used too many times to be useful. They may be wet, they may be worn, they may be missing a lid, they may have a slight tear or hole in them and they may have no use as a box anymore.
What if these weak boxes were the boxes that were given to the short kid from the tall kid. What might happen? The tall kid could have a box named mentoring and sponsorship and it could be given to the short kid. However, the tall kid did not tell the short kid that none of the mentors or sponsors in the box look like the short kid and some have never mentored a short kid. In fact, they are not comfortable with short kids at all because they did not grow up around any. Is this box still useful? The tall kid could have a box named C suite leadership and give it to the small kid. However, the tall kid did not tell the short kid when you use this box people may question whether a short kid like you are in the C suite just because you are short. Also people you are asked to lead within this box may say that nobody who looks like you has ever led them in their entire career. They are not comfortable with you having this box and have also expressed their concern to all of the kids involved in the game. Is this box sustainable? In short, the boxes being taken from the tall kid and given to the short kid must be examined before it is expected the short kid can use them. The boxes may not be useful or they may even be detrimental if used by the short kid. Keep in mind the boxes were not built with the short kid in mind. In fact, the boxes may have been built and used to oppress small kids. So to except the small kid to be use them for equitable success is quite ironic.
The Fence is Down – Is Equity Achieved?
The equity visual eventually shows a baseball game where there is no fence so all the kids can see without boxes. Whether short, medium or tall, all kids can now see the game. Is fence removal true equity or justice? I say probably not. When the kids see the game is it a game they all want to participate in? Is it a game that still oppresses short and medium size kids and benefits only tall kids? Is it a game that requires stopping this game and changing to another game? Do we need to analyze whether we should be playing a game in the first place? Justice only exists when the fence is down and disruption of a system built on racism and white supremacy is dismantled. No games can be played until this occurs and equity cannot be achieved.
We must realize that equity inclusion and diversity work will cause angst, fear, anxiety, pain and a feeling of loss. The new outcomes produced by equity and moving, replacing or destroying boxes will make people uncomfortable. It will not be a zero sum game. No more boxes are being produced and those who had many will now have fewer boxes when we create access for others to obtain the opportunities in the boxes.
Who moved YOUR BOX? Does it cause you to feel a little uneasy. Being uneasy and uncomfortable is what equity brings. Your boxes will be moved and true equity will make you feel discomfort. You might have to get used to it.