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"The Only One" - DEI meets its greatest challenge
DEI initiatives – diversity, equity, and inclusion - can feel like lip service. Privileged people in positions of leadership do often profess to care about social justice, but when push comes to shove, meaningful change is glacial.One way to tell if your workplace is truly devoted to DEI, is how they treat the “only one”. If there’s a single person who represents something different from the community norm, and including them is a hurdle that cannot be overcome, then nothing short of a complete overhaul of the thought process is necessary. My opinion is that you need at least one strong person in leadership to lead the change, but also that the culture needs to be ready. I’m going to share four stories of the only one. A fully paralyzed student, a profoundly deaf student, a woman in an elite tech workplace, and the only black boy on the playground. Spoiler alert - only one of these stories has a good outcome. So if you want to feel optimistic about the state of DEI initiatives, skip the next four videos.
"The Only One" - The Only Woman on the work team
Shs the only woman in an all-male work team, a Masters educated skilled technician, intelligent, professional, hardworking, but has always bn underestimated and overlooked. Her job is a nightmare of hostility, crude talk, jokes about strip clubs, and a team lead who, during a meeting, dismissed two women’s promotions in the company, implying their successes were due to DEI initiatives. My friend went to HR and repeatedly requested transfer to another group. The team lead refused an HR-mediated discussion, never apologized publicly, and for months communicated with my friend only via email, which isolated and disadvantaged her. She began experiencing mental health symptoms which turned into panic attacks. Through it all, she perform her job successfully, which may have worked against making any headway in her complaints. In her words: “as long as I’m doing work, it’s not really a problem for anyone else if I face discrimination or have a mental health crisis.” My friend regrets not choosing a different profession where women are more accepted. She’s actively job hunting.
"The Only One" - can a paralyzed student have a lab experience?
WriI had a fully paralyzed student in my class once, no movement in his arms or legs. Since it was a lab class, with hands on work being a necessary part of the curriculum, we got creative. His full-time nurse served as the student’s hands, and I made sure they had all the resources needed. For microscope exercises, for example, a TV was hooked up to a scope so that the student could direct the nurse where to move the stage, how much to focus, which objective to use, etc.I prioritized ensuring this student had a legitimate lab experience, though admittedly it took a lot of time and effort. And, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off, but that the disabilities office at that school was well staffed and energetic – anything I requested was in place. So this was a successful “only one” situation. Most any stunt n can be met, with a culture that lays the groundwork to ensure accommodations are an important part of the institution. But it still requires a point person taking the lead. When I ran into him later, the student said I was the only professor who had gone to those lengths for him, and he changed his major away from the sciences.
"The Only One" = the only Black boy on the playground
I volunteered for recess playground duty, and I noticed one boy was constantly yelled at by the recess supervisor. This boy was our neighbor, he had play dates with my kids, he was polite and sweet - was he different at school? In fact, I didn’t see that his behavior was any different than any other kid, but he was the only Black boy on the playground. Through the years, there were several incidents involving this child and this school. I communicated with the administration, and apathy is the only word I can use to describe their response. With imagination and better communication, at least one of the situations would have resolved better. A school administrator is busy with many priorities. But in my opinion, if it comes to your attention that one of your “only ones” is being mistreated, you need to move that situation to the top of your priority list, and actively respond. The boy’s family moved out, in the middle of the school term, into a neighboring district. Their older son was able to continue at his same high school, but the younger son no longer had to attend ours. We moved out the following year.