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Understanding the Work of DEI in Today’s World

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Editor's Note: This article was authored by Dr. Lemuel Watson, Ed.D., MA, for the Institute for Organizational Science and Mindfulness (IOSM). Thanks Lem!

The work of Diversity, equity, equality, social justice, inclusion, and belonging (DEI) is dynamic and ever-changing, as it should be. We, humans, are a funny group of beings. We like our uniqueness, yet we know we must make pacts due to our need to be social.

The essence of DEI for me is to learn to stay open to learning about oneself, others, and the world. To be curious enough to learn about our diverse and multiple pasts, to excavate our internal ways of knowing to understand our reactions and desires, and to hold each other to the highest possibilities of integrity and appreciation of each and everyone’s journey and narrative.

Towards the Totality of DEI

So, to what end do we continue in the vein of diversity, equity, and inclusion? What other word must be used in the growing alphabet of the expanding industry of post-George Floyd to convey the importance of something that I think should be so simple and central to our lives, especially our work lives? I marvel at individuals, entrepreneurs, and academicians who put forth perfect solutions or models to fix “the” problems. In addition, there are authors, who present compelling cases in their books, and audiences who are so starved to learn to “get it right” that they rush to lap up the latest information without thinking about the totality of situations.

There is no magic bullet, but the most common layer we should grasp is that we are all similar and in the same group and species. We are more alike than different. We all feel pain, sorrow, heartache, shame, fear, happiness, joy, love, and laughter – we can relate to and empathize with common emotions, although we do not have the same experiences.

Rather than creating an entire industry of training, with spin-offs, and creative words and models, let's return to some of the basic knowledge we have – how to be curious, how to become aware, how to explore, how to listen, how to smile and say hello, how to respect and acknowledge each other as we enter each other's personal orbits. Connecting on the most basic of levels to ask “What shall I call you” or “By what sound shall I get your attention” – We should all remember that most of us value knowing that we are heard and that we matter, even if in some small way.

Valuing the Need for DEI

In our society, the U.S., we like to draw generalities; make sweeping categories for people. We live in a world that continues to build the difference between the haves and have-nots, urban and rural, leaders and laborers, and on and on. In other words, segregation is real and affects us socially in powerful ways.

We all know that there has been, is, and will continue to be various form of systemic “isms” due to this belief in separation – especially when it comes to skin tones and ethnicities. We know some individuals do not consciously think about race, gender, etc., and will migrate to those who are like them. It is human to do so due to survival, yet we also have the ability to recognize it and to make different decisions when needed.

Yet, many of us think we already know what there is to know about each other or “our group”. Why? Because we are bombarded with language, images, stories, and examples of who we should be in relation to others in our families, communities, and world from powerful media outlets and printed materials. It seems the more we are exposed to media and how individuals are projected as part of a group, the more difficult it becomes to accept one as unique and as an individual with their own unique characteristic preferences of existence.

What we have failed to ask is, why, and to what end, do we continue to put people into boxes? As we continue to become more closely affiliated and in close proximity, we find our assumptions and knowledge does not match what we have been taught about ourselves and others. Hence, we often find we feel embarrassed or constantly put our foot in our mouths as we attempt to be sincere with others who are different from us.

Our Communication of DEI

I love what the LGBTQ+ communities have given us regarding pronouns – they ask that you identify your pronouns. One is because no one wants to be missed labeled when they are spoken to, and identifying pronouns becomes work by constantly explaining yourself and your life. So, I embrace the fact that I can just tell you to call me by my name, and we can build from that in getting to know each other and how to co-exist in ways that respect and support each other.

At the core of many of the issues surrounding diversity, is the simple fact that people need the opportunities to have deep and sincere dialogue and the space and place to reflect with curators who can continue to assist them in learning how to continue sustainably learning about each other. While learning about ourselves, and each other, we must learn about our past and how it affects our present-day dilemmas and our future. Exploring various data and facts and how to interpret them in context is part of the process of learning. Managing emotions and learning how to communicate across cultures and people are equally important for today's leaders and are necessary skills.

The Essences of DEI

The essence of DEI should be blended and incorporated across individuals, groups, organizations, and societies as ways of living, learning, and developing together. Learning and understanding our diversity and our stories as individuals, groups, and people affect how we see others and ourselves and, eventually how we treat each other. DEI affects every area of our lives, whether you are aware of it or not.

There has been such an investment of time, talent, and resources to train and educate people to know and do better. However, there is overwhelming evidence that most of the DEI training does not work. In fact, a great deal of classes and curriculum built around DEI does not show overwhelming positive outcomes either. Many initiatives around diversity do not work because employees think they are not the problem, it feels punitive, it lacks focused objectives, and it creates resentment. Maybe that is the intent of initiatives; however, they are not lasting.

Diversity initiatives that seem to have the most effect have three basic general components, they engage individuals in a broad way, they expose individuals to people from different groups, and they encourage social accountability for change.

Through Integrity to DEI

DEI also begins with understanding our contract with organizations. Most organizations have a vision and a mission statement, values, and goals. Often organizations will include in various statements the need to be culturally aware and sensitive, to welcome diversity, and to create organizations where all are welcomed. Organizations also would convey they believe in integrity as a general value, as a building block to educate, operate, and hold each other accountable.

For example, by signing a contract with an organization, you have agreed to such said values, and you agree to hold yourself to the highest integrity for your work in order to get paid or obtain resources from the organization. Integrity is doing the right things when no one is watching. It also means you are trustworthy and reliable, you practice and encourage open and honest communication, and you are responsible for your actions.

Acting with the highest integrity means you are true to yourself and would do nothing that demeans or dishonors you or others. Just beginning with integrity takes us on the road to exploring our differences in order to serve our clients, constituents, and population. The broader question that always comes up in DEI work, is what unassumed contract we have with our communities, countries, and world that needs to be considered from a historical political-social perspective. A wise leader would not ignore how the influence of context and environment affects culture.

Therefore, if we can accept that any kind of discrimination or racism lacks integrity, then having a high degree of integrity means taking an active stance to look for and eliminate false notions of superiority that linger in society’s consciousness and can be embedded in our words and actions. It means actively changing our attitudes, knowledge, dispositions, and behaviors.

Hence, we operate from true integrity as employers of our organizations with a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Therefore, according to my duties, our mission, values, and goals of the organization and my unit, how do I ensure I am acting with integrity becomes a central goal for leaders?

Concluding Thoughts

The way our society is set up today, with constantly being connected to technology, as we walk, stand in line, drive, and sit, it becomes a challenge to just stop and recognize others. In our organizations, we rip from one meeting to the other. Our greetings are so quick and shallow that they mean very little, but at least someone is acknowledged. I remember times when individuals used to say good morning like it really was!

Imagine if you are the “only one” in an organization or community, and no one speaks to you. Not because you are the “only one” but because it is just the way. What is this person to feel or think? What if this “only one” brings enormous skills to the unit and is made to feel as if they do not belong and are not welcomed due to just poor etiquette? How are they to know? The world continues to change, populations are dynamic, and we will continue to learn, fumble, and grow.

We intend to raise awareness and engage individuals in ways that matter to them and their organizations. DEI efforts are well documented and show that retention, recruitment, profit/loss, well-being creativity, innovation, etc. are positive outcomes. DEI should be as close to the center of your organization and intentions as budgeting, marketing, etc. It should be natural to think in ways that build upon the strength of diversity because it is the natural thing to do.

This opportunity will allow individuals to learn from one another while having a curator and facilitator to guide and work with you as we dialogue, discuss, discover, design, and develop what works for you, your team, and your organization.


Lemuel W. Watson Professor, consultant, and mindfulness and awareness teacher. In addition, he is a Professor of Leadership and Change at Antioch Graduate School of Leadership and Change and the CEO of Watson Consulting Services, LLC. As a certified mindfulness teacher by Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and as a certified Organizational Mindfulness Strategist by the Institute for Organizational Science and Mindfulness, he currently focuses on mindful leadership and talent management to enhance work and learning environments.

Institute for Organizational Science and Mindfulness (IOSM) is a membership association of human capital and operating leaders, educators, and executives, with a shared mission to bring science-based neural training into the mainstream of business, healthcare, education, and government. We're working to create a global community of shared experience, conduct research, define standards and practices, develop educational programs, and determine the measures, metrics, and analytics for organizational mindfulness.


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