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Unveiling Textio's DEIB wardrobe

Have you ever read The Emperor's New Clothes?

This is not a story about fabulous fashion. Instead, The Emperor's New Clothes is a children's story written by Hans Christian Andersen and was first published in 1837. It is the story of an arrogant emperor who falls prey to two criminals who claim to make clothes that only people intelligent enough can see.

But the emperor pretends to see these nonexistent garments. He walks around the town totally naked, in fear of seeming ignorant to those who can see him. Instead of stating the obvious, his subjects, fearful of being labeled foolish, play along, letting him walk around "showing his glory" (as Grandma says) to the whole town! And then, a child blurts out the obvious: the emperor is naked!!

This was one of my favorite children's stories and a metaphor for the importance of honesty and the dangers of pride. It teaches us that speaking up, even when uncomfortable, is vital. It also teaches us that it often takes a fresh, unbiased perspective to find and address the problems we need to solve. When I first read this story, I promised myself that I would tell them if I ever saw an emperor walking around naked.

Flash forward to 2022 after completing my first year at Textio and being asked to write Textio's first-ever Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging report. It felt like I was being asked to evaluate the emperor's (AKA Textio) new outfit (AKA the new DEIB programming!) I would have to do what I had promised all those years before and let Textio know the outfit it had on may not be as expected! This comparison may seem silly, but The Emperor's New Clothes can teach us important lessons about what DEIB looks like in your organization and how to present it to the world. In this blog, I will share how it impacted how we gathered the data to produce Textio's DEIB report and some of the highlights you will find when you read the report.

Facing uncomfortable truths

A DEIB professional, just like the child in the story, must tell the organization about the overlooked truths and potentially harmful systems that prevent it from being a fair organization. It is important to tell your entire organization the challenges they face regarding DEIB and the potential impact. Even if it is uncomfortable. Even if it is scary.

Despite their position, the emperor in the story becomes vulnerable due to their inability to confront reality. Similarly, writing a DEIB report requires a company to be vulnerable and authentic, acknowledging areas where it may fall short and needs improvement. Just as the child's honesty in the story brings about a realization among the crowd, a well-crafted DEIB report can have a significant impact by bringing to light issues that might have been ignored or unseen. It can spark conversations and actions toward more inclusive practices.

It will require honesty and transparency about where the company stands in Diversity and Inclusion. It is the whole organization's job to ensure that they are implementing inclusive programs, and it is your job to measure the overall impact and ensure the work is getting done. The organization can only rally behind you if they know your challenges. So, get ready to let them know what that DEIB outfit looks like.

The danger of groupthink

If you have been following my journey for a while, you have heard me say, "The future of DEIB (Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) is not 'Googleable.”' The reason I say this is because this field is dynamic! It is deeply blended into today's societal and cultural norms. That means what is out there broadly, will not fit your organization because of its unique and distinct context. And yet, we often hear about the same played-out programs that get implemented even though they do not work because that is what all the other DEIB professionals do. But make that make sense! At its core, DEIB is about the complex interplay of human experiences, emotions, and interactions, which requires empathy, emotional intelligence, and a commitment to continuous learning.

For a DEIB program to be successful, the path forward should be navigated with adaptability, innovation, and a deep understanding of the human element at its heart. When you read the report, you will see programs and activities introducing you to a new way of thinking. At Textio, we constantly iterate over what we can do to have the most impact. If something is not working, we will change it!

For example, you will notice we do not have Employer Resource Groups (ERGs) at Textio. At this time, based on the size of the organization and the impact we are trying to have on the world, it does not make sense. However, I have long been criticized for my stance about whether these groups effectively use company resources. But I must do what is best for the company – not do what will make me famous.

In the story, everyone pretends to see the clothes because they fear being seen as foolish. This mirrors the challenge in organizations where employees might conform to the dominant culture or popular opinions, suppressing their true thoughts. In our DEIB report, we will show you how Textio is breaking this cycle by creating and implementing bespoke solutions that will work best for Textio. It may work for you too! But if not, continue being open to new ideas and check out what others are doing that ARE working. Then, customize the work to help solve your unique challenges. Just do not stop iterating.

Understanding and educating

Recently, we have seen criticism of DEIB programs in education, local communities, and corporations in the news. Some have gone as far as to say they feel that DEIB is under attack. Interestingly, there seems to be a bandwagon that says it is cool not to support diversity. In fact, there are groups that, to implement equitable solutions, have decided to take the words' 'diversity' and 'diverse' entirely out of their public-facing materials. This is happening partly because people do not know what DEIB professionals do and, therefore, cannot fathom their importance.

The tale of The Emperor's New Clothes teaches about pretense and honesty. If people were honest, they could discuss how their workplaces could use help being fair. I hope you, the reader, can assess the state of DEIB at Textio. A few of you will feel more educated and informed about DEIB, why it is essential, and how everyone can contribute to fostering a more inclusive environment. I can think of no more fantastic compliment than hearing that you learned about a program that could help you build a more equitable workplace by reading this report. I would be equally excited if you saw something that, when implemented by your team, will have a better outcome than we did! This would only be trumped by hearing that someone not in the DEIB space read it and was able to better see why DEIB work is essential. When you write your report at your organization, use it as a learning opportunity to show how your work impacts your organization's bottom line.

Wrapping up this journey, let us circle back to the essence of The Emperor's New Clothes and its striking relevance to DEIB work. In the tale, the emperor's glaring vulnerability, masked by his subjects' fear of speaking out, mirrors the challenges we face in fostering genuine Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the workplace. Just as the child in the story fearlessly voices the truth, our DEIB report at Textio aims to unveil the realities of our organization - even  if it means acknowledging our shortcomings. It is about boldly stripping away the pretenses and confronting what is really there or, in some cases, what is not.

Much like the story, our journey through the DEIB landscape is filled with moments of introspection, courage, and a commitment to authenticity. We are not just following the trends or echoing popular opinions; we are tailoring our approach to fit Textio's unique fabric, continually iterating to ensure our initiatives resonate with our mission and values. Just as the child's simple yet profound statement stirred a wave of realization, our report is designed to inspire, educate, and challenge the status quo.

By sharing our experiences, successes, and lessons learned, we hope to spark a broader conversation about the essence of DEIB work. Whether it resonates with your organization's needs or sparks new ideas, the goal is to contribute to a collective understanding and advancement of DEIB practices. Ultimately, it's not just about the clothes we wear (or do not) but about the honesty, transparency, and commitment we bring to the table in creating truly inclusive and equitable spaces. Like the child in Andersen's timeless tale, let us be the voices that dare to speak up.

So, back to our friend, the emperor, in his unique outfit. This dive into The Emperor's New Clothes and its connection to DEIB work at Textio is more than just an analogy. It is real talk about what it takes to make a true impact in this DEIB world, with many people selling fancy, yet invisible, clothes.

In this story, the emperor walks around like he is all that. Still, actually, he's got nothing on – literally. That is kind of like us tackling the DEIB report. We had to get real, strip away the fluff, and look at what is there. It is about saying, "Hey, we might not be perfect, but we're working on it."

We are not just echoing what every other DEIB report says. At Textio, we're creating our own style. The goal was to create something that fits us and where we are going. And yes, it has been nerve-wracking to see what clothes the emperor is missing, but it is also necessary. We are building something genuine that resonates with our team, core values, and principles.

The 2023 DEIB report is more than just words and pretty graphs. It is an artifact showing where we have been and are going. It offers a framework for being the fairest, most equitable, and most inclusive Textio we can be. It is also a conversation starter, a learning tool, and a wake-up call. Whether it sparks new ideas for your organization or gets you nodding along, thinking, "Yes, I feel that too", that is what we are aiming for.

Ultimately, it's all about being that kid in the crowd who says what everyone is thinking but nobody's saying. It is about having the guts to pinpoint the naked truths (pun totally intended) and make real change. So here is to be honest, bold, and maybe a little loud – just like our friend in the story. I hope in your own report, you will keep it real and keep the conversation going.

Learn more in our 2023 DEIB report.

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