For the past two months, I have been immersed in a Global DEIB Strategy certificate and have loved almost every minute. Were there uncomfortable moments as a non-disabled, cisgender, queer, white woman? You bet there were. But I would argue that if I wasn’t uncomfortable at times, I wasn’t learning.
One of the suggested readings for the course was The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change by Michelle Mijung Kim, and with a phenomenal over-deliver on the part of our instructor, Dr. Cornell Verdeja-Woodson, Michelle Zoomed in for a Q&A during the course. Here are my big takeaways from the course, the book and Michelle’s time with us.
Know why you want to do this work
Actual progress in creating inclusive environments and dismantling systemic barriers can only be achieved when the commitment comes from a genuine desire for change. When people and businesses engage with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) work solely to avoid being called out or for the sake of appearances, the efforts remain shallow and fleeting, lacking the authenticity required for sustainable transformation. As I mentioned earlier, this is hard and uncomfortable work. If you’re in it for the wrong reasons, giving up is too easy when the going gets tough. But my children are still transgender no matter how weary I get, and a person with a disability doesn’t get to take the disability off just because they’re tired of fighting the good fight.
On the other hand, when we dive into this equity and belonging work from the heart, it’s a game-changer! We understand how important it is, and we’re genuinely fired up about making things fair and just. That’s when we become real change-makers and help others to jump on board too. When we walk the talk and stay true to our values, we’re creating a whole new vibe of empathy and compassion. And guess what? We’re moving full-speed ahead to a future that celebrates diversity, keeps equity alive, and makes every single person feel like they truly belong.
Yes, white women can help
Allyship means that if I am in a room of only cisgender people and someone says something disparaging towards the transgender community, I speak up. I am not transgender and have a great deal of privilege, so I use that privilege. The same applies to race. I will never know the discrimination a BIPOC person faces daily, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be an ally. Am I uncomfortable when a person of colour mentions a long history of white women’s saviourism? Of course! But my white fragility points to where I need to do more work.
I am a firm believer that we as white women need to overcome our guilt around recognizing our racial privilege because if we all come together as marginalized groups—racial, ethnic, ability, neurodiversity, gender diversity, body size, housing access, sexual orientation—we end up being a majority against those sitting at the top with all the power. If white women choose to sit down and be quiet for fear of being called out, the patriarchy and white supremacy win. To this end, historically marginalized groups also need to let go of looking for perfectionism in allyship if we are to get ahead.
Oppression needs liberation
Through The Wake Up and my DEIB course, I have learned that being a true ally means centring historically marginalized people. These individuals are experts in their own experiences, strengths, and needs and deserve to have their voices amplified and their perspectives respected. Instead of being “rescued” or “spoken for,” they should be empowered to be the architects of their own liberation.
Authentic allyship involves actively listening to and learning from these communities, understanding the hurdles they face, and working together to break them down. We’ve got to drop the idea that we know everything and what’s best and instead be committed to tearing down unfair systems and building a world where all perspectives are appreciated and celebrated. That’s how we get closer to a truly fair and inclusive world where everyone can shine without barriers holding them back.
So, do I believe white women need a wake-up? Some do. I think we’re always learning. We can learn to let go of our need to save others to earn a gold star and embrace empowering the historically oppressed. One of the ways we can do that is by reading Michelle’s book The Wake Up. To the white women who are actively doing the work, I see you. Keep it up!
Find out more about how I can offer training in your organization here. Book a discovery call here if you want to take more significant action by Braving Up Your Business with one-on-one Allyship Coaching.