Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Don’t Work. Let’s Change the Channel

This piece is much longer than I usually write. However, the topic is vital to the future of our country (and the world) and it is one which I have thought about for most of my life. While I have drawn on some of my personal experiences, I have tried very hard to focus on the lessons, not my stories. The truth is — we are ALL impacted.

The last couple of weeks here in Canada have been wicked. On the west coast, the bodies of 215 children were discovered in a mass grave. In the central parts of the country, an entire family was mowed down and killed on a beautiful sunny day. And in one of the easterly provinces, the 12th femicide of the year was announced.

At first blush, the apparent reasons seem simple enough. The first was about our indigenous people –people we prefer to ignore or forget. The second was Muslim and rampant Islamaphobia. The third was about women — the country’s unofficial second-class citizens. All lives eliminated because they did not fit in, were not white and male and represented a massive threat to someone or someones.

Much of the country is in an uproar right now because this is NOT who we are. Except, it IS who we are. Canadians are the nicest, most friendly people on the planet until the deep underbelly of racism rears its head. The truth is there are two sides to the Canadian personality. We are accepting and accommodating of everyone. And not. Canada has had this split personality for centuries.

Many are pointing fingers at the government to ‘fix’ this problem, adjust our country and make us perfect again. Yet, that is not where the solution lies. The answer lies with the Canadian population. Those of us who are NOT elected. Those of us who pay our taxes and call this country home. Those born here, or came here, have every skin tone, religious leaning, and gender identity. In other words, the entire human population of Canadians.

Humans the world over are a weird bunch. And the best way for all humans to go along or get along is to feel superior to someone else. Think about it. When life throws us a curveball, we love to find others worse off than ourselves. It is the fastest way to finding a small level of gratitude in our lives. As well, we can instantly feel better when we direct our anger, our rage or even our frustrations towards a group of people. It doesn’t matter who that group or person is. The only point is that person represents our personal battering post — proof positive we are better than them.

Centuries ago, witches were battered and persecuted. Then the Americans mastered the art of superiority over the blacks. The Chinese and the Russians have consistently, through history, demonstrated their amazingness at defeating many neighbouring countries. There is always the one who tries to outmanoeuvre the lesser siblings by being better than or superior to them in many of our own families. One-up-manship. The strongest rules. This is how humans have behaved forever.

Right now, we are witnessing the intersection of social media, a strong desire to correct many wrongs and unique technology tools to aid us. Not just here in Canada but around the world.

Over the years, the government has tried all kinds of initiatives in the interests of bettering society. The indigenous graves were a direct result of the government declaring that the original Indians were desperate for assimilation. The outcome was the government stole the Indian lands, and the Catholic Church tried hard to remove native-ism in favour of Christianity. (Learn more here.)

Decades ago, the government decreed — without first asking the population — that Canada would accept an increased amount of immigrants each year. Then it spent gobs of money trying to assimilate (oops, I mean help) the immigrants fit into their new society. The outcome was bitterness by many of the Canadian population and an uneasy alliance between all people.

Over the years, the government has tried hard to ignore the underlying issues driving domestic abuse and, in particular, granted more rights to the province of Quebec to govern itself differently from the rest of the country. As a result, it seems that more men feel liberated to kill off their women than seek help for the underlying issues of a bad marriage.

The worst programs the government ever devised were “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” Whether for business or society, it deemed that all people should get in line and accept that women were equal to men, that immigrants were as brilliant as whites, that indigenous were entitled to special privileges and that being known as a multi-cultural bowl of soup was simply the best.

Although well-intentioned, I say these are the worst programs ever because they were designed in a vacuum, unveiled as ‘good for us’ measures and came without any reasonable assistance to make them operational. As a consequence, they were not successful.

Let me elaborate.

Women have been fighting to be equally represented in all levels and positions within society for at least 100 years. First, it was about being allowed access to the white man’s world. Then it was about trying to be paid equal to a white man. Then it was about trying to be included in the same areas as white men. Finally, the government stepped in as the feminists got tired. Let’s look at how that one battle has progressed over the last 100 years.

Today, women are still viewed suspiciously by males. They make on average about 75% to the white man dollar and have less than 10% representation in the halls of power. Interestingly women hold 80% representation in the so-called menial jobs category. Men have done an outstanding job at holding on to their original rights and ideas. Correction. Wealthy white men have done an exceptional job holding on to their privilege and ignoring those who do not measure up to their plastic standards.

After 100 years of fighting, white women are exhausted and frustrated at what little they have ‘won.’ The black, brown, red and yellow ladies are taking up the fight. I predict it will be an epic battle.

Nevertheless, all levels of governments expect everyone to accept that equity, diversity and inclusion are natural and easy integrations — for both sexes, for all races and all beliefs! HOG WASH.

It’s time for the Canadian citizens to decide if they want to be (instead of being known as) the nicest, most friendly people on the planet. I believe the answer is yes. And yes is when the real work begins. It can’t continue with more empty phrases about equity, diversity and inclusion. Those have failed.

It begins with something different. We need to start with scrutiny of our built-in biases.

Biases are defined as “ that which cause to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something.” Biases are the fundamental root problem of hate, racism and the inability to accept changes to our status quo.

Listen, I am a boring white woman who gave up fighting the corporate fight a long time ago. I am closer to my sixtieth birthday than my fortieth. Let me share a few things I have learned about biases.

When I was a wee girl, I was never allowed to play with the Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese children in my neighbourhood. According to my father, none of them were ‘right for me.’ The day I introduced my black driving instructor to my family was when my father forbade me to date anyone who was not white. Early in my twenties, I worked for a huge, reputable, bedrock Canadian beer company. It was the darling of the stock market and the marketplace. One day, I politely mentioned to my boss I should be paid at least the equivalent of my non-white male co-worker who had less experience and education than I. That was when I learned how privilege went first to white males, second to males with families and dead last to white single women.

I was 40 when I got a profound lesson about how colour was only skin deep. One of my favourite supervisors came bounding into my office, closed the door, hiked up her shirt. She needed some time off and believed the most expeditious way to make her case was to show me her breast surgery which was not healing well. While her ebony skin had a beautiful glow, the inch-deep four-inch wide gash was downright nasty. What struck me was all the layers of tissue beneath the epidermis were the same colour and texture as mine! And just the other day, THE OTHER DAY, my hubby and I were dealing with an older (white male) lawyer who insisted on speaking ONLY to hubby. Until I finally announced I was the one who worried about the legal and money affairs for the two of us.

My point in sharing all these examples is to highlight that BIAS is everywhere. I have it; you have it; we ALL have it. We are raised with bias, we learn bias in school and, we work with bias our entire career. Yet, not one of us can stand today with an UNBIASED point of view. Because it starts with our parents and family, continues with our education, morphs in our careers, and always begs for our attention — until we die.

I believe a better way to deal with Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is to get brutally honest and question WHY we hold the beliefs we do. Obviously, this is work for us, the citizens, not for the government.

That WHY is the key to unlocking our acceptance or ease with accepting equity, diversity, and inclusion. That WHY is the foundation from which we can then decide if our thoughts and beliefs are correct or not. That WHY is the driver that will help or hinder us from accepting that ALL human beings as equal.

Many years ago, I was taught, by a brilliant Muslim gent, the trick of the 5 Whys. 5 Whys is a tool used in manufacturing to get to the fundamental truth of something. You ask five times for the reasons and then follow back all the answers to suss out the core of the issue.

So let’s use the 5 Whys with the example of the indigenous people.

Today, too many of them live in poverty, have drug and alcohol problems and are viewed as marginal citizens. Why? There is misunderstanding and jealousy about why reserves exist and why the government gives the Indians special rights. Why? Because almost NO Canadian adult was ever taught about the colonialization process that the Canadian government and Catholic Church tried to impose on the Indians. Why? It is complicated to put a favourable spin on horrible behaviour that occurred 300 years ago. It is far easier to ignore it. Why? How would you react if you were forcibly taken from your parents, housed in ugly institutions, given NO love or adequate medical attention, beaten, abused, sexually assaulted, and told every day that you and your parents were worthless losers? Why? Because both the Canadian government and the Catholic Church deemed it was far better to be assimilated into a foreign culture than continue to live the way they had lived for more than 1,000 years.

Do you see how most of our biases about indigenous people fall away once we try to arrive at the reasons behind them? Suddenly it is not about equity, diversity and inclusion. Instead, it is about what is decent and proper.

The Muslims in our country — both born here and immigrated here — feel unsafe to walk the streets. Why? There is a murder somewhere in the country, ONCE A YEAR, of someone who is Muslim. Why? Because all Muslims are easy targets. Why? They attend a mosque, not a church. They pray every Friday at the noon hour. The women wear coverings ranging from just their heads (the hijab) to their entire bodies (the burka). Why? The Muslim faith starts at the same place as other religions — LOVE — and has different customs and rituals about LOVE. Different is always a scary proposition for human beings. One such Muslim custom is the sacred respect for the beauty of the female. Only the husband is allowed to see the entire woman in all her beauty. For the rest of society, parts of her must always be covered. So the hijab covers her glorious hair and neck. The burka covers her entire face and body. This causes great consternation in a white society. Why? Whites are accustomed to displaying all kinds of body parts. (Some would use the term — peacocking.) By extension, whites believe someone who covers themselves is also covering up a secret — which is very deceitful. Why? Because many moons ago, white men thought the way to good business was to trust the other person. To trust means both parties are on equal footing. When one part covers up, that person is not trustworthy. Because when one part operates differently or distinctly, that person is entirely unreliable.

Again, once we examine the biases driving our thoughts and deeds, we see that ignorance is the fundamental root. We aren’t versed in ways other than our own, so we can’t trust that which is different.

I travelled extensively in the first twenty years of my career. My first trip abroad caused me angst because I was going to a country with no understanding or experience. I could have done what my father always told me. Stay in the hotel and order a PBJ sandwich. Instead, I chose to rationalize. The country had a vast population of healthy people who had eaten a particular way throughout their lives for centuries. The country was more significant than mine, so they must be doing something right. If what they ate was good enough for them, it would be good enough for me. I needed to ask them to teach me.

Today, in my own home, I cook more international foods than I do Canadian foods.

I believe genuine curiosity is the easiest way to break down and eliminate most of our biases.

Humans are a naturally curious bunch. Humans have a natural desire to be in the know and to showcase superior knowledge. So it makes perfect sense to ask ‘the others’ to explain their world and their background. Because here’s what we learn.

We are all human beings, wanting the same things for our families and our lives. Many people are way more intelligent than we are. Many are not. Individually, none of us all the answers. But, collectively, we are stronger together. We don’t need ourselves. We need one another.

When we realize THAT — equity, diversion and inclusivity fall by the wayside. When we realize THAT, we have turned the channel. By ourselves. Without government intervention.

We don’t need the government to invest more money into programs that we can feel good about and then wail they failed. Instead, we need to invest in self-reflection and activities that make US feel good both about ourselves and our fellow humans. The truth is, when we feel good about ourselves, we feel good about others. And that is when equity, diversity and inclusion naturally occur.

A straightforward, inexpensive exercise that all businesses and citizens can do is gather in groups and take some of the widespread beliefs we all hold and ask WHY? Five times. The discussions are incredibly revealing, unsettling, and the beginning of strengthening our communities — socially and professionally.

Thus far, I have shared some of the biases we all have and how we might begin to change the process. Now, I want to cover some of the techniques embedded in our society and show how technology, especially artificial intelligence, needs to be carefully managed.

In the olden days (before technology), when males ruled all facets of the world, inventions (like the wheel, freighters and airplanes) had a decidedly masculine flavour. There was nothing wrong with that because the roles of men were markedly different from women. But, as men took up academia, medicine, and business positions, the slant became more testosterone-filled. So it makes sense that heart attacks, that pulling all-nighters to study or work and that even pregnancy all came to be defined from a male point of view.

As history has moved along, we learned that women have completely different heart attack symptoms, that women learn and work in different ways that do not require all-nighters. And yes, there is a massive difference between being pregnant and watching someone be pregnant. And in general, much of the world is grateful for knowing the differences and distinctions. As a result, lives are extended, life is less stressful, and relationships are preserved.

Yet, the only way those revelations came to be was by allowing women into the traditional male temples. What would happen if we allowed even more ‘others’ into that temple? How much more complete would our conclusions — on pretty much everything — be?

There is a woman gynecologist right now in her mid 50’s who has written two books. Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible and the Menopause Manifesto are both bestsellers, and women all over North America and Europe are grateful to be finally armed with precisely everything they need to know about their bodies. No longer do they need to feel inadequate, shame or embarrassed about their uniqueness. How long has the medical profession been around? Centuries. And 2021 is when women finally have their own women-only by-a-woman books!

Over the last twenty years, some in the business community have realized that the old command and control is an obsolete model. That the fastest way to greater profits is collaboration, community and communication. The exact skills women have always had in spades. Have you looked at the results of women-led organizations? For the most part, staggering is the best word to describe the ascent of the trajectory.

There is one area that is very troubling. Technology. Traditionally a white male bastion. Much has been written and admired about the leaps and bounds that society has made on the back of technology. And much is expected of the artificial intelligence we all know is here to stay. Let’s look at just one area—international travel.

After 911, I remember discussing with several international colleagues the appalling fact that they had ended up on the ‘do not let fly’ list. This was a list of people deemed suspicious — by their last name and their skin colour. I promise you; my colleagues were brilliant, law-abiding citizens, skilled in travel rules and adroit at handling the culture of any country they visited. Yet, they were always forced to apologize upfront for arriving late and leaving early — because a human being had put them on the ‘protect all citizens at all costs’ list.

Today, large airports have scanning capability; most small and medium-size airports have them too. In milliseconds, the technology can scan and read faces and alert security agents for potential terrorists. Sounds perfectly fine, right? Here are a few facts for you to think about.

Most of the coders (the geeks who program the AI) are white males. Most of the technology can not scan properly anyone who is not white. In other words, black, brown, red and yellow people of both sexes get an automatic ‘can’t read.’ And ‘can’t read’ means pull them over and give them the potential terrorist treatment.

In other words, the white men coders have created a severe civil rights issue. Imagine being pulled over at every single airport because a scanner can not read your face! Is it any wonder that those who are not white have boiling anger in their veins? Is it fair that all whites get yet another pass? (If you want to learn more about this, watch Coded Bias. A movie, directed by a woman, now playing on Netflix.)

I fear this essay, at first glance, can be interpreted as a bash against white men. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. I have attempted to draw some lines through what Canada has become, and I AM bashing what we have allowed ourselves to become. I am very concerned about the power we have given away. We can’t rely on the government to rescue us. It is time we rescue ourselves.

Let’s drop the whole Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Pablum and embrace a serious look at our biases. Because what is holding us back, getting in our way and making our lives miserable is our biases. So the way I see it, the minute we begin to tackle our biases thoughtfully and genuinely, that is the minute we help move our country to what we want.

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Charlene Norman

BulletProof Your Business Now (dot com) Fascinated with most things business. Some experience in delivering massive results. Love dogs, gardens and wine.