Finding Empathy in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Businesswoman practicing empathy training with her colleague If you carefully examine the essential concepts and principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) you can synthesize cultural competence, unconscious bias, and microaggressions to their core you’ll arrive at empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel someone’s experience or point of view from their perspective without passing judgment, watering it down, or telling them they are overreacting. Empathy training can be a crucial component of workplace culture and developing stronger bonds between employees. Empathy is often regarded as “walking a mile in another’s shoes” and being intentional about listening, affirming their story, and resisting our knee jerk reacting to providing advice. 

Bearing witness to someone’s struggle and past experiences is powerful. It helps us become better allies, and it can have a healing effect on the person who is going through that pain, struggle, and suffering as it validates their experiences. Hearing how they were treated, what processes weren’t neutral, and learning about the systems that need calibration provides feedback so we can drive change.  

For example, we can do a better job at being more inclusive with the language within our company culture within the workplace. For instance, many employee handbooks still detail maternity leave, which refers to mothers. However, that language is not inclusive of our two fathers, two individuals that identify as non-binary or a couple that chooses to adopt rather than reproduce – and there are many other examples as well. Empathy would tell us that when we use non-inclusive language, we are disregarding our colleague’s experiences and conveying the lack of belonging, but ultimately, they are entering parenthood too and parental leave would be a more inclusive terminology.  Empathy training helps employees understand the difficulties others experience and helps them find common ground to improve their shared circumstances.

It is important to note that while empathy requires you to imagine yourself in their place, it is not asking you to take on their pain, journey, or lifestyle, merely seeing their intersectionality as that individual experienced that world. Said differently, no one is asking you to become an “X” or understand our idea of happiness (e.g., faith, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.); instead, we ask you to see us for who we are and support us. And while our idea of happiness may be foreign to you, it does not mean you can’t treat us with dignity and respect because we all deserve to be seen and treated as humans with a different life journey than yours.  Helping employees understand each others experiences and develop methods to support each other are key elements of empathy training.

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