Career & Finance

I’m a Black Woman Working in DEI—Here’s How I Protect My Peace

Black woman working in DEI"
Black woman working in DEI

I’m a neurodivergent, biracial Black woman working in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—or DEI. When people ask me what I do for work and I tell them, I’m often met with a confused “huh?” in response. Put simply, my job is to help companies make their workplaces more inclusive, more equitable, and more reflective of the broader population in all aspects. That includes race and gender identity but also other dimensions like age, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic class. Growing up, I had no idea working in DEI was even an option, but one day at work I was assigned to a DEI project and things snowballed from there, leading me down this path. It’s a career that I fell into by accident but have continued doing because I connect to it so deeply and find it incredibly meaningful.

That said, there are days when doing this work feels unbearable. In the U.S. in 2022, there were more than a dozen pieces of legislation trying to prevent critical race theory from being taught in schools. In Canada, protesters with Nazi flags camped out in the nation’s capital. You don’t have to look further than social media or your news app to find that people, politicians, media outlets, and other voices are trying to tear down the work of DEI and the people doing it. Some days, the problems of this world feel too large and I feel too small and insignificant to be making a difference. It takes a toll working in the center of a movement that impacts you personally. It’s constant emotional labor. Anyone who works or volunteers in activism understand what this is like. Some days, carrying it all gets to be too much.

So what’s an activist to do? You don’t want to stop doing the work, you don’t want to succumb to frustration, and you don’t want to burn out. But nobody can carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and remain unaffected. Here’s how I protect my peace as someone working in this space who is also personally invested in the outcome.

I’m intentional about what I choose to read

I read an op-ed in a national publication where the writer claimed that DEI is destroying the institutions of education and business and that its supporters are pushing “appalling nonsense.” That stung, but the comments section was far worse. On that day, I let myself get sucked in by clickbait and spiraled because of it (note to self: don’t read the comments). The antidote? Years ago, I started keeping a folder on my computer with encouraging emails and notes of gratitude that I’ve received, and when I’m feeling overwhelmed or ineffective, I pull up those messages so that I can remember who I’m doing this work for and that I am making a difference, even if it’s just for one person. Someone once messaged me and shared, “I usually hide my gender identity from others, but your support makes me feel safe to bring my whole self to work.” Reading that message brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, the comments are more lighthearted, and one in particular I’ll never forget said, “You seem to genuinely care about this work—I’d vote for you if you ran for mayor.” While I don’t have any plans to run for office, the vote of confidence meant the world to me.

I’m deliberate about how I define success

DEI work is slow, and getting tripped up by obstacles is an occupational hazard. I used to think that if I ran into a challenge, it was my fault for not properly accounting for every possible scenario. That’s not true of course, but I don’t know a single person working in DEI who isn’t incredibly hard on themselves. When the outcomes we’re working toward can take years (decades even) to achieve, it’s easy to feel like you’re failing. Instead of measuring myself against a 10-year outcome, I take a short-term view, and at the end of each week, I ask myself, “Is someone better off because I’m here?” I choose to define my success by my ability to help people feel seen, heard, and valued as opposed to the number of initiatives that I’m able to execute in a year.

I seek out community and lean on my support system

In many organizations, there are only a couple of people doing DEI work. I know several professionals in this space (myself included) who acknowledge that it can feel isolating, even when you’re surrounded by support because so few people truly understand the nuance of what it’s like to do this work while also being part of a group that has been historically underrepresented and marginalized. On the days when I feel alone, I like to connect with a friend or loved one who can take my mind off things. Still, I also find great comfort in calling up a peer who works in DEI too—a person who understands implicitly what I’m experiencing and can offer a listening ear, encouragement, and wisdom. And when they’re feeling low, I offer the same support back to them.

I know where my job ends and where my identity begins

My identity as a Black woman with a disability naturally informs my work in DEI and the lens through which I approach it. I’m extremely passionate about my work because it impacts the way that I walk through the world. And while these aspects of my identity are inextricable from me as a person, they are not the entirety of who I am. I’m also a daughter, a sister, and a partner. I am a friend who will laugh with you until we’re both in tears. I enjoy chai lattes, follow multiple corgi accounts on Instagram, and stay up way too late binge-watching TV. My work is something that I do, but it isn’t who I am. I have a strong identity outside of my job and beyond the constructs that society views me through. Having this boundary in place provides me with the ability to distinguish between something happening in society or at work and something I’m experiencing personally.

Peace is not the absence of any trouble, it’s a state of mind. For me, it comes from knowing what’s within my control, managing that to the best of my ability, and not letting things outside of my control define my worth or sense of self. Challenges are inevitable, and sometimes a challenge looks like a mountain because you’re so focused on it. Often, if you zoom out to see the big picture, you’ll realize it’s only a pebble in your shoe.

The opinions, ideas, and perspectives included here are my own and are not representative of any employer of mine, past or present.