As we become more aware of various social injustices in the world with more advocates taking the lead, a growing number of individuals aspire to contribute to the cause of positive change in the workplace.
Our guest, Michelle MiJung Kim is one of the leading voices advocating for equitable workplaces and yet another inspiring guest in our DEI series of interviews.
From growing up in South Korea to moving to the United States at the age of 13, and the impact of their family’s undocumented status and low income on their worldview to coming out as LGBTQ+, Michelle has definitely lots to share with us when it comes to building equitable working places.
She is the award-winning author of The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change, a speaker, activist, and entrepreneur and has been a lifelong social justice activist and has served on a variety of organizations
In this episode, Michelle introduces fundamental principles that are frequently absent from contemporary mainstream discussions on “diversity and inclusion.” During this honest and open discussion, she invites us to delve deeply into the demanding and intricate process of striving for equity and justice at work. This exploration involves addressing the intricate complexities, contradictions, and conflicts that naturally exist in our imperfect world.
Marginalization: the notion of marginalized individuals feeling compelled to prove their worthiness of respect and dignity, often results from traumatic experiences. This can lead to a persistent avoidance of rest and a belief in scarcity. Furthermore, valuing marginalized perspectives and lived experiences are essential tools for comprehending systemic oppression. It also celebrates the power of collective organizing in addressing these issues.
Solidarity and allyship: There is a beauty in the way that people organize collectively to take care of one another in the absence of systemic care, and the possibility of change. This is why allies and support networks are so important as they fill in systemic gaps.
The Importance of uncovering hidden Stories: Hidden stories are the experiences that we may not remember, but that are still part of our story and they play a huge role in creating a more inclusive and empathetic society.
Why we need to wake up: Michelle’s book’s title, “The Wake Up,” was chosen to reflect the era when many were awakening to systemic injustice. It explores awakening to others’ struggles and our own complicity in them. One significant challenge discussed is the fear of sacrificing something tangible for the pursuit of seemingly abstract or idealistic goals.
DEI is a universal effort: It’s a collective effort involving everyone, promoting the idea that engaging in DEI work benefits both marginalized groups and those with privilege. This approach reframes it as a fight against oppressive systems to reclaim shared humanity, acknowledging the universal impact of these systems.
Navigating accountability and trade-offs in diversity and innovation: The absence of accountability hinders collective progress. Furthermore, grounding ourselves by understanding why this work is essential propels us forward and helps us delve into the challenges of managing diverse teams, where inherent conflicts can lead to increased innovation.
How to show up and move forward: Michelle’s framework for creating change and transformation, consists of four layers:
For Michelle, change must occur simultaneously at these four levels for meaningful progress in DEI work.
Power dynamics at the workplace: Individuals at various organizational levels possess different forms of power and influence. This is why everyone has a role to play in driving change, and the responsibility for systemic change is not solely on those with executive power.
Intentions and impact: There is a gap between what people intend to do versus the impact they’re having on the people they’re saying they want to be in solidarity with.
Binary thinking: We need to get rid of seeing ourselves as “good person”. This is an example of one of the characteristics of white supremacy culture is binary thinking. It’s always either or it has to be black or white. So, we need to start giving oneself permission to be multi-dimensional and open to feedback and growth.
The uncomfortable nature of change: The desire for shortcuts or hacks to make the process more comfortable is not the right way to go about it. We need to embrace discomfort and engage in honest, difficult conversations. If we commit to the “why”, we are then willing to push through discomfort for the sake of equity and inclusion.
Prioritizing safety: Discomfort is inherent in equity and inclusion work but we need to prioritize the safety of marginalized individuals over the comfort of the privileged. Also, sustaining individuals with multiple marginalized identities in this work without burnout is key.
The best place to start: Acknowledging the lived experiences of marginalized individuals.
Listen to the interview in the player below or on iTunes. If you like what you hear, please leave a review, and it may be featured on a future episode.