There’s a fine line between centering and tokenizing underrepresented groups. A perfect time to open up those difficult dialogues are heritage or awareness months. October wraps up Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts Sept. 15 and ends Oct. 15. This month is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which runs all October-long.
Before HR professionals cram Latinx-focused programming into the last week of Hispanic Heritage Month or bombard employees with disability-focused resources for NDEAM, consider the longevity of DEI initiatives. As Felicia Jadczak, co-founder of DEI firm She+ Geeks Out, pointed out, heritage months are just one tool in the diversity strategy box.
Jadczak, who is co-CEO of SGO, is also head of training for the company. SGO offers in-person and virtual learning focused on "difficult" questions and thinking about DEI "holistically." Jadczak spoke with HR Dive on how HR teams and employers can embrace heritage months and show up for marginalized people the other 11 months of the year.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CAROLINE COLVIN: Following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the spa shootings that targeted Asian women, some people are more comfortable talking about diversity and inclusion.
But I'm curious to see if you've seen a shift in the kinds of feedback you're receiving, both from employers and in response to trainings?
FELICIA JADCZAK: You know, we definitely were busy and we had a lot of clients that we've worked with before summer 2020. But like pretty much every other practitioner out there, we did see a huge increase in reactivity. And so a lot of clients started coming to us after June 2020, because they all of a sudden realized they have to do something.
If we had this conversation in fall or winter 2020 — what I was thinking at that point in time was, "How long will this reactivity and this focus on these topics last?" It was such a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, of course, and you also mentioned [anti-Asian hatred] like the murders in Atlanta. That really was such a heightened tension. The interesting trend I'm seeing, even today, is there hasn't really been a dip or a drop in focus on these topics.
But to counteract that positivity, I will say the other piece of feedback is increased resistance and pushback toward having these conversations. Not from a company level necessarily, but more from the individual level. It’s probably, in large part, due to the fact that folks who hold more privileged identities and dominant group identities are tired of this focus on these topics.
They are looking for things to go back to the way they were in 2019 and early 2020. They are getting to this point where they think, "I don't want to do this anymore." That resistance is natural. But it's manifesting more and more. In general, we have been seeing a bit more defensiveness and pushback pop up in the last couple months — more than we had even seen last year.
From what I understand, I know people have confirmation bias; you have bias you’re holding on to and people trying to challenge that makes you hold on to it more tightly, sometimes. I’ve understood that abstractly. But it's just interesting to hear you say it’s something you've witnessed — that people are being a little bit resistant.
Folks are seeing that companies are continuing to double down and do more work. They think, "Whoa, whoa, I thought this was a one-time training. We'll put a black square up on Instagram and check the box."
Let’s talk a little bit about heritage months. Obviously we are in Hispanic Heritage Month.
Heritage months are definitely nothing new, of course, but it seems like there may be this increased focus on heritage months [following last summer]. A lot of folks I know are saying things like, "Why are we talking about this? What's going on? Why is this important?"
From my viewpoint, there's a lot going on. First, employees are just looking for this to be celebrated more. Heritage months are great because they provide us a way — an excuse, really — to share stories, to highlight different identity groups, to highlight different cultures and backgrounds. Also, they give folks a chance to feel, hopefully, a heightened sense of belonging and acceptance.
The other side of it is a lot of folks are saying, "Well great, but I want more than a month. Why can't we talk about this year-round?" The next step when we're thinking about heritage months is [asking yourself] "What does it mean to build this kind of celebration, this comfort and belonging into the fabric of our organization? So we don't need a month to give us an excuse to talk about this."
Of course, right now we're in Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s interesting because there's also been this heightened discourse lately around "What does it mean to be Hispanic? What terminology are we using? Are we saying ‘Latinx’ or ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic’ or other terms?" This month is giving us the excuse to uncover some of that.
October is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month. That's something I have a personal connection to because I am disabled.
Again [the question is], "How do we carry this forward, so it's not just limited to a moment in time but incorporated into every aspect of the work?"
It’s interesting that you bring up the difference between "Hispanic," "Latino" and "Latinx," and then mention National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Since I worked on a story about inclusive language and disability, I’ve been thinking about ways to ensure people are being referred to in the way they want to be referred to.
I also have a disability and a lot of our best practices, especially as a journalist, recommend saying "people with disabilities." But often disabled people are OK with referring to themselves as "disabled." There’s also discourse about "able-bodied" people versus "non-disabled."
How do you suggest employers have that conversation with people who are from marginalized backgrounds, without making it feel like they're tokenizing them? In a way that centers marginalized people?
It's a great question and it's a complicated one. Looking at the example of Hispanic versus Latino or Latinx, the way I approach it is very similar to disability and in parallel with disabled folks. Ask people how they want to be referred to and then listen to them.
We can't just label people from South America, and Europe, and from all over the world with the same label because they don't have the same heritage. They don't have the same history. They don't have the same relationship to power and privilege. It also depends on colonization and histories that are so vastly different.
A lot of the time, when we start digging into the background of language, it ties back to power structures and power dynamics. I'll also name proximity to Whiteness [as a consideration], for some folks who have these different cultural backgrounds and heritage.
It does make things more complex. Organizations want to put things into nice neat boxes and have the neat marketing blurb — the swag and that kind of stuff. This is part of the work on an organizational level: to celebrate a group who doesn't want to use those same actions that [can also make people feel] oppressed, or not included, or not seen.
A lot of times, because it's complicated, organizations may decide, "we're not going to even touch it because we don't want to make a wrong move." I go back to the idea of transparency and just saying, "we might get it wrong, but we're gonna listen to what we did wrong. And then we'll try to correct it." Or, "it is complicated and there's no right answer. So, you know, here's what we're proposing and we're going to listen to you. We're going to acknowledge it's not easy to call a whole group of people by one term."
A lot of it comes down to communication, whether it's interpersonal or at an organizational level.