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DEI as a Young Professional

The world has changed significantly. Not just in the last two centuries or the last two decades but even in the last two years. One of the hot topics of discussion has been diversity, equity and inclusion. Sometimes referred to as DEI. Or you might have seen D&I or EDI, or other acronyms. 

You’ll be able to find a lot of material online on “what is DEI,” why it is important, plus how organizations and leaders can create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. Though a young professional recently pointed out to me that there isn’t as much out there related to what a young professional, recent grad or student intern could do.

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance” -Verna Myers

When I ask a young professional, recent grad or student intern about DEI, they often don’t have much of a reaction. On occasion, there are a few that have been on the receiving end of some sort of discrimination. Perhaps it’s anecdotally a good sign of the times that youth are not as afflicted. 

Many entry-level roles at companies abound with folks from different genders, racism ethnicities, physical & mental capabilities, etc. It seems like youth are anecdotally being invited to the party and being asked to dance. DEI seems to be a concern for senior leadership. Though, as these young folks advance in their career, DEI will likely be more of a concern. Conversations are starting on what can be done to get ahead of the challenge.  

Speaking to some DEI-minded folks, The following were collectively brainstormed (though not exhaustive by any means):

  1. Awareness
  2. Understanding
  3. Practice
  4. Improvement

Awareness 

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change” -Eckhart Tolle

Have you ever thought of the people you work with? How are they similar to you, and how are they different from you? Have you thought about your workplace from a DEI lens?

A youth in a group I was chatting with was wondering if I could even ask these types of questions. I said, “are we now so sensitive that we can’t even talk about it?”

Let’s bring the challenge into the light so they can be acknowledged and addressed. That doesn’t make the process easy. When our unconscious biases are acknowledged, the process can hurt. 

I recall a recent interaction where someone felt I was discriminating against them. The issue escalated. When I finally had a chance to acknowledge the alleged hurtful remark, I realized that “having no intention to hurt them” wasn’t necessarily good enough. The issue was eventually resolved with separate previously unknown trauma at play, and it led me on a journey to an awareness that I am very much thankful for.

Reading this article may very well be your first step to awareness. The next step is to learn more to gain some understanding.

How? Get involved in your company’s DEI groups. 

Doesn’t exist? Start one. 

Perhaps find a community organization or a trusted DEI ally to help. 

As a young professional, recent grad or student intern, you can make a difference.

You don’t have to wait to be in senior leadership. Though building a relationship with an executive sponsor could be a good step to make your DEI initiatives sustainable.

Understanding

With some newfound awareness, the next step is to gain some understanding. Perhaps connecting with a DEI professional, talking to a learned friend, researching a bit of history, or learning additional points of awareness to be noted.

While the process can be quite awkward and nerve-wracking, approaching understanding from a perspective of curiosity can be very helpful.

Asking questions is a great way of gaining understanding.

A few good questions to ask:

  • What is your definition of diversity? Equity? Inclusion? If we’re gonna be aware and understand it, we might as well get on the same page regarding what it means to us as an organization. DEI is not just gender or race and can include physical/mental abilities, religions, cultures and age. While you can start with a dictionary definition, each organization will often have to pick their own interpretations and prioritizations. 
  • Why is DEI important to us? Benefits are plentiful, and choose the ones that resonate with your organization. Whether it’s improved innovation, enhanced employee engagement, reaching broader markets, or others, align them with your organization’s values. 
  • How do we know that we’ve been successful with our DEI initiatives? Initiatives could start with a few awareness emails, continue with various workshops and learning and hopefully carry on with a thriving community. The start and end state will be up to you. 

There are plenty more questions to ask, though you can start by progressing your close colleagues to awareness and then understanding. Extend to broader departments and groups based on which are receptive and open. Then see what other parts of the company would be willing to take part. You might need senior leadership buy-in to help that happen. Or may choose to make it a grassroots effort. Think progress vs perfection. 

Again, a young professional, recent grad or student intern can make a difference. You don’t have to be an expert. You just need to be willing to put in the effort to move the initiatives forward. Though you will eventually need some senior leadership support in order to really help DEI initiatives thrive in your organization. 

At the end of the day, prioritizing and making the time is an important step to allow understanding to happen.

How? I allocate a few hours of your month, an hour of your week, or even a few minutes daily to DEI initiatives. Promote awareness. Have conversations. Improve your understanding. That time consistently over time can easily turn awareness into understanding. 

Practice 

“Consistent action creates consistent results” – Christine Kane

DEI it’s not a “one-and-done activity.” It’s something that needs to be practised consistently and often in order to be effective.

Yes, you may have had a workshop and felt great about your new DEI knowledge. You might have completed some DEI training and implemented the initiative so that it was successful. But what about next month? Or next year? Or the year after next?

How often will it be up to you and your organization? Those earlier on the path to awareness, understanding and developing it into regular practice will need more time. Eventually, if you can embed DEI into the culture of your organization, then last time is likely because the time you do spend will be habitual. 

That may sound daunting for a young professional, recent grad or student intern, though hopefully, you’ve already realized that you can make a difference. 

How? Find your “tribe” of DEI allies within your organization or community who can help the understanding turn into a regular practice.

Improvement 

If you’re at this stage on your DEI journey, then your high-achieving self will likely want to make things even better.

Perhaps you can share your successes with other departments or even other organizations and join the broader DEI community. Perhaps you can bring in folks from other organizations and learn from them. Maybe even secure executive support for a DEI audit to see how effective your initiatives have really been.

And what you’ll eventually realize is that you ARE making a difference. That is, once you realize that even as a young professional, recent grad or student intern, you can make a difference!

Staying “Mentally Fit” During COVID to Combat Job Stress

I’ve received many positive reviews on workshops on staying “mentally fit” during COVID. These sessions were delivered for the staff and faculty of a few colleges/universities. Here are a few highlights from the session to help combat job stress. 

It’s worth noting that stress is helpful. Stress is what kept our ancestors alive. We wouldn’t be around without stress. However, even though we no longer have to deal with the threat of sabre tooth tigers eating us, our modern day stresses often seem just as dangerous.    

In these challenging times, many are having their mental states tested. It is interesting how we are often ready to take care of our physical health, yet when was the last time that you prioritized your mental health? Whether you’re an employer or an employee, faculty or staff, (or really anybody), we could all use a little help on the “mental fitness” front. Here are a few of my favourite helpful concepts.

Awareness 

The first step is to admit that you have a problem. You may not be on a 12-step program to recover from addiction, though you may be stressed from work, constantly changing circumstances, uncertainty of the future or a number of other anxiety-inducing thoughts many of us are having during lockdown. 

Take a note of when you have those thoughts. Or think back on your day/week and identify those moments of stress and anxiety. If you have stress in your workplace you might not be able to remove the factors that cause it, though you could change your perspective. Start with Awareness then you can shift your perspective. 

Perspective

“For there is nothing good or bad and thinking makes it so” -Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2: William Shakespeare

Here’s a thought: COVID is neither good nor bad. Our thoughts about COVID make it good or bad. 

Wait, how can I say that when people have lost loved ones? Could that loss turn into gratitude for the times you’ve spent with that person or the people that you still have around you? Could you give it meaning so that you can move on and thrive instead of just surviving? I’m not saying that you have to, I’m just asking if you could. 

Go through those points of stress and anxiety that you recorded in Awareness and see if you can change your perspective. Gratitude can be a helpful tool to change that perspective. 

  • “I have so much more work now that everything has been moved online” can turn into “I’m so thankful I have a job”.
  • “I lost my job due to COVID” can turn into “I can find my next new opportunity and chapter in my career”.
  • “I have no idea what the future holds” can turn into “I’m excited about the infinite opportunities and possibilities for the future”.

While it might seem like semantics, consider if your thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Wouldn’t you rather have better thoughts to be fulfilled?

Think of perspective as your “mental COVID mask”. You may encounter negative thoughts, though with an awareness to reflect and potentially change your perspective, you can prevent those thoughts from “infecting” you and ruining your day.

STFAR 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” -Viktor Frankl

If you’re with me so far, you might be asking yourself: How do I change my perspectives? 

Something out there (or maybe in your head) happens and you often just react to it. Sometimes in a positive way. Sometimes in a negative way. What if you took some time to reflect?

I use the acronym STFAR to help with the reflection process:

  • Stimulus: Something that happens. That something could be outside. Or sometimes that something is inside your head. 
  • Thought: The Stimulus triggers a thought. Sometimes conscious. Often not. 
  • Feeling: An energy in your body that comes from the Thought. 
  • Action: What you did as a result of that Feeling (which could be doing nothing)
  • Result: The outcome based on what you did (or didn’t do).

Let’s put this into practice. 

What comes to mind when I say COVID?

For many, it is THOUGHTS of stress. Cabin fever from having to stay locked down. Missing summer vacations. Loss of opportunities. 

Those thoughts may cause you to FEEL sad, lonely, angry, and even more stressed. 

The ACTION you take might be to eat to distract yourself, escape in your social media feed, or watch a streaming service to numb the stress.

However, the RESULT is a few extra COVID-pounds gained. 

Let’s try that again while intercepting thoughts and changing perspectives.

What comes to mind when I say COVID? Let’s find a beneficial perspective.

For some, the THOUGHT of not having to commute comes to mind and having more time to do what you want to do.

With that thought you might FEEL more motivated to exercise or learn that skill you’ve always wanted like speaking a new language or the ukulele or whatever that is.

Hopefully that feeling is enough for you to take ACTION and start practicing your Spanish/Mandarin, chord positioning or strumming. 

The RESULT is a new skill plus a sense of achievement on the growth.

While being aware, and changing your perspectives may seem challenging now, consider that if you were training to run a marathon, you’d slowly but surely be able to run a kilometer, then 10, then 20, then 42 and beyond! With practice, you can do it.

Practice

“Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action, and directed to a definite end.” -Napoleon Hill

Mental fitness is not about just knowing a tactic or strategy. It’s about putting them into practice consistently and over time. Being aware of your thoughts can be hard enough. Let alone constantly changing your perspective on the thoughts that don’t serve you.

The key is to prioritize time. I use the concept of “non-negotiable time” to help. That’s 60 mins daily (or 30 mins or as much time as you can manage) to invest time on these and other helpful mental fitness activities.  Just like you might take time to go to the gym, take some time to go to the “mental gym”. 

Use part of your non-negotiable time to reflect on your awareness throughout the day. As you reflect on your thoughts, look to change the perspectives for the thoughts that don’t serve you. Turn those thoughts and perspectives into action towards whatever result that you want. 

Meditation is another great practice to help with your mental fitness. Think of it as practice to increase the space between stimulus and response. When meditating, you focus on your breath, your thoughts, a word or something else depending on the type of meditation. Mediation exercises your focus on the present moment.

Even simple mindfulness exercises where you pay attention to mundane activities (I.e. washing your hands), or use your non-dominant hand to do something (I.e. brush your teeth), could help you put your mental fitness into practice.

Summary 

Start your path to mental fitness with awareness. Take that awareness and change your perspective. Use the STFAR model to help reflect and change your perspective. Allocate time to “exercise” and put your mental fitness activities into practice. When you do so, you’ll probably find that you’re less stressed at work, as well as less stressed at home. Especially in these trying times. They have worked for many others. 

Why not give it a shot?

About Luki

Luki is a career coach and likes to say that he has found his purpose helping others find theirs. A former management consultant and campus recruiting lead, he shares his SIWIKE Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier through books, podcasts, videos and other content. Connect with him on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukidanu/ or Subscribe on YouTube to access other content https://youtube.com/focusinspired