By Rupal Ramesh Shah
Since I moved to Ohio from Maine, and have been navigating the search process for my next professional role, I have met many wonderful people. Each time I have interviewed, I have been asked to share my thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The questions are deliberate, with each organization clearly committed to addressing DEI, and wanting to know how I would contribute as the leader of their organization. The last time I interviewed for a job was in the spring of 2020 – pre-pandemic – and not one recruiter or employer asked me specifically about DEI. A lot has changed.
The DEI movement in the U.S.A. is not new. In fact, it was well underway even before the 1960s in the form of the civil rights movement, which was trying to address the inequities between Black, Brown, and white people, and ongoing injustice. Since that time, some individuals, communities, and organizations made a deliberate effort to add DEI-related jobs. Misty Gaither, director of DEI at the nonprofit Indeed, noted that there has been a significant increase in DEI-related jobs since the nationwide protests following George Floyd’s death in May 2020. According to Global Research and Consulting Group Insights, between May 2020 and September 2020, DEI-related job postings increased by 123%.
Benevity, a nonprofit that provides donation and grant management platforms to its customers – including organizations working internationally in disaster and crisis relief – defined diversity, equity, and inclusion in a three-part webinar: Diversity is the presence of difference that could be in the form of race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, and even political affiliation. Equity is an approach to ensure that everybody has access to the same opportunity, and no one individual or group of individuals is discriminated against on the basis of the aforementioned characteristics. Inclusion means that people with various identities and identifying factors feel valued and respected in order to ensure that the environment is welcoming for people of diverse backgrounds.
Although my recent job search is the first time recruiters and employers have asked me specifically about DEI, I have worked in global health much of my career, and our approach has always been one of inclusion, connectivity, and acceptance – so really the topic of DEI has been ever-present for me. When I interviewed for my last job in 2020, where the work was based in Haiti, I was asked about cultural sensitivity, inclusion, connectivity, and relationship-building strategies. This was to understand how I would engage and empower a group of people with a different background than mine.
I believe that every group of people has a unique set of experiences, and the people of Haiti are no different. Their history is unique, they speak languages of their own, and they practice a different religion from mine. During my interviews I shared my own experiences of assimilating to life in Haiti during my two years of living there. We explored the importance of developing Haitian solutions for Haitian problems, rather than being prescriptive and directive, based on what “we” think is best. Our work was centered on how to include local people at all levels of the organization, and ensure that they had the confidence, space, and opportunity to contribute in the most meaningful ways for them.
While we did not develop specific DEI policies at that time, our work centered on the true essence of DEI. For example, how do we ensure diversity within the organization so that there is equal representation of Haitians? How do we ensure Haitians have a voice and space to share their expertise, perspectives, and experiences?
When I worked at a hospital for tuberculosis patients in the village of Kibong’oto, Tanzania, I was interning for my public health degree. My mentor was a local physician who taught me about best practices, and worked with me to develop project guidelines and deliverables. My job was to collaborate closely with the staff at the hospital. Even at that time in 2015, our key studies were led by Tanzanians who were instrumental in driving and leading the programs. There was a focused effort to position Tanzanians front and center on projects, since they were trusted and valued as the primary subject matter experts.
For me, DEI is something that has been and always will be a part of how I navigate my life. Now that we are tackling this issue and addressing it more openly as a culture, I am committed to getting better at it, too. I am thankful that I have the interest, ability, and means to do so within our community and with the world at large, which is more aware than before of systemic racism and injustice.
As we continue this work, I hope that we will start to think of DEI not as a separate topic – but instead as a guide for conducting all our actions. A great future would be where matters of DEI could become embedded in our minds, and integrated into our everyday actions, in a manner that strengthens our entire community. I would hope it becomes as common as brushing teeth every morning! To me, that would be the ideal.