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Don’t Forget the Difference a Leader Can Make Day to Day

Kemy Joseph, MS, EdS
CEO & Co-Founder F.E.A.R.S. Advantage™

The name of Kemy Joseph’s DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) consulting firm works in several ways. First, it stands for Fuel Equitable Actions, Relationships, and Systems.

But it also recognizes that DEI can bring up some fears.

“Oftentimes, fears cause us to respond either in anger or frustration—or to run away from a problem,” Joseph says. “We begin by asking the question: What problems can you solve by running away from them?”

“Most times, you cannot solve a problem by avoiding it.”

His firm offers action classes, strategic planning, and executive coaches to organizations including Morgan Stanley, Florida International University, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, but Joseph also gets many kudos as an inspiring and informative speaker.

For this piece, excerpted from a longer interview, I had asked about how to motivate changes in DEI and bias after the difficulties of the pandemic, when some senior living workers have been left in states of disengagement, burnout, and grief.

Finding your why

The avoidance of these issues—as well as the frustration, anger, and the burnout that can come with it—can cause you more problems. It fuels more fires, instead of fueling forward progress.

First and foremost is to get clear on your own why for seeking positive change. Get clear on your why personally and also the why as a business case. When the leaders get clear on their why, they can help their employees to do the same.

People have different definitions of what DEI is. Some are expecting businesses to solve all the world’s problems. That’s not what we’re asking businesses to do—it’s about creating a culture in your workspace where people can be safe, and they can thrive.

And the why behind this approach is to decrease the grief and the burnout people may experience inside of your organization: It’s knowing that our organizations can be a buffer to the tensions that are happening nationally and globally.

While we’re not expecting companies to solve all the world’s problems, we want to make sure that their workplace is not re-traumatizing people or causing additional pain and frustration on top of what the rest of the world is inflicting, especially upon marginalized individuals.

Making DEI attainable this way allows you to generate your own motivation to be more inclusive. We’re asking people at all levels to treat their teammates with kindness, with respect, with concern and empathy.

Dr. Michelle Borba (author of Thrivers) says that when our anxiety levels are high, our empathy levels are low; she calls that the “empathy gap.” When people are feeling the grief and the burnout, they are way less likely to be empathetic.

Recharging empathy

So we need to create an organization where we are helping people essentially to recover and recharge—especially when we’re putting them in front of the community of elders, who are most at risk for a lot of the inequities COVID brought to the forefront, who need additional care and empathy. If we’re not helping our employees recharge, how are they going to give compassion to our clients?The how is about embodying our why. As a leader or manager, think about your level of influence and the area where you have the most leverage. There are people getting burned out because they’re trying to make change in areas where they don’t have leverage—and they’re also missing opportunities to have a positive influence. They’re measuring their impact elsewhere but forgetting about the impact they have on a day-to-day basis.

DEI is not just about the policies and procedures. It’s about the practices we bring to people every single day: Why and how we can focus our attention on where we can make the most positive impact right now, today, to help to resolve our burnout and grief.