Dear Kiki: How can I say I’m not the DEI teacher they need?

Dear Kiki: 

I’m one of the only two BIPOC women in a white- and male-dominant workplace. I am often asked to review DEI pieces with a BIPOC lens, even though it’s not part of my job. I’m constantly put on the spot without any warning. The other day, I was called on during a team meeting to comment on the diversity at our organization and ways we can improve. It’s causing me a lot of stress. How can I raise this issue with my coworkers, particularly the CEO, and make them aware of the unfair emotional burden they are placing on us?

Only Asian in the Room

Photo Credit: Leon on Unsplash

Extra Expectations Placed on BIPOC to Lead DEI

Dear Only Asian in the Room,

It can feel incredibly overwhelming and lonely when you are one of the few BIPOC voices in the room. It’s daunting to speak up in front of the majority group at work and feel perpetually trapped between a rock and a hard place as you navigate the political minefield.

You may be struggling in silence, but I see you. 

I see the invisible mental battles you fight every day, and I hear the millions of thoughts that run through your head as you scrutinize your every move. Is this appropriate to say? Will my white coworkers be offended? Will I jeopardize my job prospects by offering my opinion?

The constant balancing act of self-perseverance and the positive change can quickly lead to a burn-out.

Thank you for using your voice for good and finding the courage to initiate this discussion. I recognize that you are not only doing this for your own well-being, but also for other BIPOC employees at your workplace. Both now and in the future.

While your workplace leaders may be patting themselves on the back for involving you in their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts, they did little to set you up for success. Instead, they thrusted additional responsibilities on you without providing the adequate tools, professional framework, and planning time to prepare for these loaded conversations. 

They also failed to consider the emotional labour required for you to perform these tasks outside of your daily role.

Finding Steady Ground to Set Yourself Up for Success

Many workplaces that do not have a deep understanding of DEI automatically look to their BIPOC employees as their resident DEI experts. 

There is little realization that it is a huge undertaking for one person to represent the voice of an entire community — let alone for that lone person to speak on behalf of the menagerie that is the BIPOC community. We are not all the same. 

Each of us has unique experiences and nuanced needs.

Overlooking the increased burdens that companies place on BIPOC employees in your position is not only a step backwards for DEI initiatives, it minimizes our challenges and worth.

When you are feeling fired up to escalate the issue, start by working through your raw emotions and thoughts. 

One of the best emotional outlets is freewriting. 

Grab a pen and paper or laptop and just write everything out. This will not only help you clear your head but also aid in structuring and articulating your message when the opportunity presents itself.

After you find clarity and calm in the chaos, figure out who you need to speak to. Identify the key players who have the power to transform the organizational culture and policies. 

Change usually starts from the top. So speaking to your CEO is a good place to start. You might even consider reaching out to other influential leaders who have knowledge of DEI and can champion your cause.

Setting Yourself Up for Success With the CEO

Once you have honed in on your message and secured meetings with the CEO, there are a few tools and tips to help you to prepare and drive your message home.

As you organize your thoughts, stick with the facts. Document exactly what happened, the questions asked and how you felt blindsided. 

Your feelings are important, but in this situation, it’s best to park the emotions at the door.

Photo credit: Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

Tangible evidence grants you credibility and relatability when it comes to speaking to an individual in power who might have minimal knowledge about your background. If you can, align these issues to the organization’s bottom line and goals to illuminate the magnitude of these issues. 

Once you have captured their attention, invite them to participate actively in solving the problem. You can do so by asking them pointed questions about their priorities and next steps. 

It is possible that they might disagree with you or fail to see your point, but that’s okay.

Make sure to ask them to verbalize the reasons why. This will provide you with an understanding of where they stand in order to plan your next move.

As always, it is important to remember to mentally check in with yourself before and after the meeting.

It can be triggering and traumatic to have to participate in these conversations at work, let alone initiating one. 

As one of the two BIPOCs at your workplace, your emotional safety is your number one priority. Although the timeframe for addressing a situation may be limited, give yourself permission to pause and check out if you need. 

More than just a seat at the table

Even though we don’t expect all the problems to be solved after one conversation, I hope your concerns will be met with genuine acknowledgement and concrete commitment from leadership. It’s one of the first steps to begin what sounds like a much-needed cultural shift. 

Despite having the best intentions, the majority group is the one steering the conversation and dictating the process for change. As a result, the approach toward issues are still centered in whiteness. 

In order to advance DEI, organizations must acknowledge the challenges and mental loads experienced by BIPOC workers and dismantle their deep-seated biases and expectations. 

It’s not just about giving BIPOCs seats at an existing table. It’s about creating a different and functioning platform that will serve the needs of all minority groups.

Photo credit: Christinaon Unsplash

It is not enough to just give individuals a voice, but organizational leaders must also create an environment that provides culturally-sensitive support for BIPOCs to thrive

By shedding light on the obstacles that stand in the way of our success, you are helping to overhaul the current system and build a bigger and better table that will truly be inclusive of BIPOC and other marginalized groups.

Always here for you,

Kiki


This story is made possible by Paperblanks and their commitment to supporting mental health in the Asian community. Paperblanks creates products that inspire creativity, empower expression, celebrate special moments, and connect artists to cultural movements.


Dear Kiki is Cold Tea Collective’s advice column and it is published in the last week of every month. To get advice from Kiki, submit your questions and comments hereOr, subscribe to our newsletter to get Kiki’s advice straight to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month.

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