Wi16 Education Recap: Creating a Work Environment That Embraces Access, Equity, and Justice

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On Thursday, February 18, Winter Institute attendees tuned in for a session called “Creating a Work Environment That Embraces Access, Equity, and Justice,” which guided booksellers in recognizing harmful practices as well as taking steps to dismantle a culture of white supremacy in the workplace.

The session was moderated by Amber Cabral, author of Allies and Advocates: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Culture (Wiley Press), and included speakers Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth, authors of Did That Just Happen?!: Beyond “Diversity” ― Creating Sustainable and Inclusive Organizations (Beacon Press).

Booksellers can view a recording of this session and access handouts on the Education Resources page on BookWeb.org.

Here are some of the key points discussed in the session:

  • The session started off by addressing some of the missteps people make when making their workplace more inclusive. One example was putting the cart before the horse; this often occurs when management recruits diverse talent, but doesn’t do the work of making the workplace welcoming. Another is putting the onus of deciding how to make change on the employees of color.
  • Oppressive listening is also another common misstep. When an issue is brought to management, they might invalidate the concern, deny it, act defensive, explain the concern away, or engage in other tactics that discourage open communication.
  • To properly create an equitable work environment, organizations will likely need to invest in long-term, consistent training. Working with professional consultants is key, as diversity, equity, and inclusion is a specific realm of expertise. Organizations will also need to regularly check in with staff and be sure everyone is committed to making a change.
  • It’s also important for organizations to address their history. While hard and uncomfortable, it’s an essential part of creating sustainable change.
  • During this process, people are likely to make mistakes. This is expected and shouldn’t be feared. Wadsworth noted that white people shouldn’t start the work expecting to be praised — engaging in this kind of work takes a lot of skill-building and engaging with feedback that might be negative.
  • Learning how to properly apologize is important. Cabral shared a simple formula: I apologize for [blank]. Moving forward, I will [blank]. Pinder-Amaker added that it can be helpful to ask the person being apologized to if following up would be helpful, so they can see that the issue in question is being addressed.
  • If management must be convinced of the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion training, it can be helpful to bring up that diverse teams across all identities perform better, are more creative, and are more effective.
  • A helpful acronym for thinking about inclusivity is Dr. Pamela Hays’ ADDRESSING, which stands for age, diagnoses, disability status, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, race, indigenous status, nation of origin, and gender identity. Diversity training can start with an exploration of how each employee identifies across that whole spectrum, following an exploration of their privileges and what parts of their identities have been associated with barriers.
  • In terms of dealing with customers who are rude, insensitive, or racist, leadership should develop strategies with their internal team, which can include engaging directly with the customer, or simply standing by staff to show support. De-escalation techniques can also be employed. Afterwards, leadership should follow up with affected employees. Cabral recommended that teams role-play these techniques together, so they’re more prepared to handle difficult situations in the future.
  • To make staff feel more comfortable in approaching leadership about issues, it’s important for leadership to be the one to open up dialogues themselves and encourage staff to as well.
  • Invisible disabilities should also be kept in mind — employers can provide universal accommodations, such as asking how they learn best, to create a safe, comfortable environment for their employees.