One time I was hired as a DEI consultant for male-dominated, majority-white company. Early on in this partnership, I hosted an optional DEI workshop, and I was delighted to see that many of the organization’s employees chose to attend despite that the training was not mandatory. Many of the men there, despite appearing a bit uncomfortable and nervous about the conversations to follow, proved to me by their very presence that they were willing to listen and learn. For that, I could hardly be more grateful.
During the workshop, one of the women in attendance stood up to share an experience related to the discussion at hand. In her narration, she kept referring to a white man that she interacted with as “the white dude.” The more she shared, the more she repeated this term, and the more I could see discomfort rising in the white men who were in attendance at this workshop. The issue here was not necessarily the women’s passionate reaction to her negative experiences — DEI means cultivating honest spaces, including spaces to be open about injustice — but rather that the ultimate goal of DEI is to call people in, not call them out. We want to bring others on board to support DEI, and the reality is that using callous language can ultimately wind up pushing people away. After all, an environment of inclusion is an environment that is inclusive for everyone, even people in dominant social demographics.
To clarify: monitoring the language we use when speaking of people who have access to greater social advantages is not about appeasing them! Rather, it’s about engaging with them on human terms because that is what we are asking in return. As such, “the white dude” might have been better referred to as simply “a/the white man,” as the latter acknowledges the privilege held by his race and gender without the demeaning edge that her tone and use of “dude” might suggest.
Another time, with a different company, I gave a workshop where one attendee was voicing perspectives all but identical to my own. I could tell we shared similar values and beliefs about DEI and the direction the world needed to turn in for societal progress. There was one key difference between us, however: she spoke as if everyone already agreed with her, not caring to bring in those who might be on the fence. Time after time, she used negatives and insulting terms, and the ultimate effect was that I found myself feeling uncomfortable and resisting her comments despite the fact that the core of our values were aligned! Again, it is crucial to think about how we’re delivering messages. Are we bringing people along with us through inclusive language, or are we leaving them behind through insults? Are we building or burning bridges?
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.