What will we remember when we look back on 2023?
I find myself caught in a whirlwind of emotions reflecting on a year that was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, especially for those of us deeply involved in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The elephant in the room was the backlash against DEI, especially at the state level in Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas where legislators placed efforts to dismantle and remove DEI education from state programs and universities. The very place where empathy, understanding and activism to support everyone’s lived experiences should be cultivated. It was disheartening to see DEI used to divide and separate instead of connecting and engaging through difference.
In the past three years, there has been pivotal moments that have created an inflection point affecting the equity, inclusion and social justice for almost every group with the murder of George Floyd, hate crimes against Asians, LGBTQI exclusion and inequities against many other communities. These occurrences led to there being a broader consensus on the need to take bold action to ensure American institutions centered, protected and advocated for everyone. It seemed that the whole world was united in embracing a simple idea: our organizations, communities and societies are stronger when the rights, liberty, voices and experiences of all people are represented, respected, and protected.
But in the short years since, the fissures in our society seem to widen even greater. This is not a U.S. problem alone, of course. Since October 7th, the daily headlines out of the Middle East have reminded us of the inability to see the humanity in one another no matter how close our borders.
But I’m still an optimist. If there’s a takeaway from this year, it’s that we must be intentional on bridging across our differences, connecting with others, and finding common ground within our shared experiences.
When we look closer, I think more of us were tired of the incivility and ugliness and took stronger action. This can be seen in 2023, where Texas passed the CROWN Act, joining 23 other states in passing the law prohibiting racial discrimination based upon natural hairstyles and textures — a testament to what’s possible when we unite our voices across public and private institutions and across sectors, political parties, and ideologies.
Despite this, 2023 didn’t unfold as I anticipated. This year more and more diversity, equity and inclusion efforts have been politicized and even used as campaign platforms overshadowing significant progress made previously making it challenging to measure sustainable impact and improvement. But I’m optimistic that an exhaustion of the rhetoric and politicization of DEI will yield a greater focus on concrete, tangible actions that will lead to systemic change in practice and policy.
As we step into 2024, we must shift our focus “back to the basics” and remember the true advantage that diversity brings which is building policies, practices and systems that benefit from a broad spectrum of experiences, perspectives and ideas that create a collaborative, innovative and collective society that respects and appreciates the contributions of all.
My hope in 2024 is:
· Less siloed efforts and more collective advocacy, incremental gains, and accountable practices
· Less overtures and more inclusive practices that eliminate systemic inequities
· Less vilifying those we disagree with and more focus on developing safe spaces for exchange, dialogue and learning
In 2024 we must demonstrate strength under fire and leverage DEI to build environments that provide psychological safety and allow for greater empathy and understanding. Seeking not to minimize differences but instead integrate them to learn, understand and create fair and equitable actions that allow each person to have their full potential, contributions and experiences realized to thrive and succeed.