Shifting the Paradigm
At Los Angeles Pacific University, we believe that diversity is an expression of God’s image, love, and boundless creativity. When we embarked on writing this column, we began to wonder, “how exactly are we leading a diverse and inclusive organization?”
We offer a training program, Leading the Diverse and Inclusive Organization, specifically designed to teach this, so our first response was to look inward and evaluate the actual practices of our institution. What we realized is that this pursuit of looking inward is the foundational principle of practicing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We took time to interview our committee members, focusing specifically on leading diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives for the organization. The overwhelming theme we found is that leading a diverse and inclusive organization starts with accountability and personal ownership, from everyone.
One of the best questions posed as we wrestled with these principles was “why is this so uncomfortable?”
One of the best questions posed as we wrestled with these principles was “why is this so uncomfortable?” This person realized that their discomfort stemmed from a lack of knowledge or understanding. This realization, and the subsequent learning and unlearning that is required, is the foundational principle of leading a diverse and inclusive organization. It requires an inward look at the personal biases we hold, and the ways in which those play out in our everyday lives.
Before an organization can lead others well, the leaders must lead themselves well. As Robert E. Quinn, author of Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within (Jossey-Bass, 1996) would write, change and leadership starts with the self. As we learned from our DEI team, to lead an inclusive and diverse organization it is imperative that we first alter our fundamental assumptions and paradigms about both ourselves and our environment. This starts with recognizing and understanding implicit biases.
Implicit bias is the belief that most members of a group have some similar characteristic; it is a kind of “distorting lens that’s a product of both the architecture of our brain and the disparities in our society,” says Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, author of Biased: Uncovering the hidden prejudice that shapes what we see, think, and do (Penguin Books, 2020). The fact that this specific kind of bias is implicit means that these biases are relatively inaccessible to us; they are unconscious, and we rarely think about them in any kind of intentional way.
As Christians we are called to live in community. We have a desire for belonging built into the very foundation of our faith. When we each have a bias that influences how we see and interact with our community, the effort towards being inclusive and embracing diversity as an expression of God’s love for us must be deeply intentional. In the Christian ministry space, this is not only imperative, but also fundamental to our calling as Christ followers. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, inclusion in the Christian faith must be indiscriminate; it must feel like embrace.
Miroslav Volf author of Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Abingdon Press, 1996) tells us that the will to embrace, or to practice inclusion, precedes any preconceived truth about others. Embrace redesigns our interactions with each other to say:
- Your needs are important to me.
- I want to hear you.
- I want to see you as you wish to be seen.
- I want to see you as God sees you.
Shifting the Paradigm
To lead a diverse and inclusive organization, try shifting the paradigm.
To lead a diverse and inclusive organization, try shifting the paradigm. Instead of working toward defining who your neighbors are, simply be a good neighbor. This requires the adoption of embrace as the overriding theme of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Self-reconciliation and accountability to your own biases are crucial.
As we are told in Ecclesiastes there is a season for everything, and the earth is ready. Start first by identifying your personal and professional assumptions to determine what season you are in personally. What counts as knowledge? What is valuable, and what is truth? What can be questioned? Lastly, and perhaps the most difficult question to ask is, how do you inadvertently violate your and others’ belovedness through implicit bias?
Answering these questions means that leaders, particularly in this Christian ministry space, need to set the tone for inclusion and hold employees accountable for those practices by developing ways to facilitate understanding and neighborly care. Inclusion can only exist when individuals experience it, so start asking the questions.
Don’t fall into the irresponsibility of seeing the story only as a universal story, but rather embrace the collective story as your own. Agape love, the kind of inclusive love we see demonstrated by Christ is love seeking to preserve and create community. Inclusive love is not a state of perfect caring, but rather a willingness to enter the struggle.
Blason Taon, Ed.D., is the Associate Director of Los Angeles Pacific University’s Military and Veterans Support Service Office, Primary School Certifying Official, and serves as the Imago DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) Committee Chair. Meghan Burns, MA, oversees the development and launch of LAPUx, which hosts professional development certifications like Leading the Diverse and Inclusive Organization. Additionally, she teaches at Azusa Pacific University with a focus on leadership, which reflects her PhD work in leadership ethics.