“Is diversity important to you?”
“Of course it is! Diversity AND inclusion and equity are important to our organization. In fact, it’s in our mission. It’s part of our work here.”
“Great. But where is it in your priorities?”
“Oh, it’s definitely a priority!”
“Right. But WHERE is it in your priorities? Top priority? Above all else? Second? Third?… somewhere in there?”
“Well, Liza, we have a lot of competing priorities. It’s a priority, though.”
Friends, this conversation is so common in my work. Schools and organizations often contact me for strategic guidance about how to move diversity and inclusion forward. They believe it is important to them and to their work. However, the question about priority is something different. If we are going to make meaningful change - in any part of our life or our organizations - we have to begin thinking about prioritizing.
For the past few years (okay, decades), my health has been important. Some months (okay, weeks), it’s been a priority. I do things like track my food and calories. I commit to exercise programs. I join Facebook support groups. I post sweaty-selfies. You know the routine - and maybe you’ve even done the same.
This summer, I decided to make my health a priority. I decided that I needed to change structures — make real change in structures — to demonstrate this was a priority. If I was going to talk with schools and organizations about what priorities looked like, I needed to do this myself, too.
When we make something — my health, in this case — a top priority, it means that other things must shift and change in their priority order. Committing to making something a priority requires this change. I decided that, because my health is a priority, that I was going to put this into my schedule. And, that prioritization has impacted other areas. For example, because I made my health a priority, I created this workout/health time from 8:30am-11:00am. That meant I was not scheduling any clients during those hours. That meant I was not answering work emails or doing work related activities. That meant I was not grocery shopping or running errands or cleaning the house. That meant I was not doing laundry or tidying the rooms or …yes .. even going back to bed (sorry not sorry - the benefits of working from home). Those all have impacts.
I used to open up my schedule to clients from 8:30-11am. Now, that’s not available. That’s 10+ hours a week I have removed from my public booking calendar. This was a very difficult decision for me because I pride myself on being very accessible to my clients. Removing those time blocks meant that people had to wait longer to meet with me. As of today, October 4th, clients can’t even get on the public calendar for FOUR WEEKS (but they all know they can reach me in other ways, so I’m not totally cut off from the world!). I feel lots of guilt related to that. I feel guilty for not being accessible. From the business/client services aspect, that’s not a good look to have people wait FOUR WEEKS to speak to you. In some cases, I’ve lost business because new inquiries want me right away/immediately.
But, prioritizing my health meant that I had to take risks in other areas. Losing potential clients means losing money. Losing money means not providing for my family in particular ways. Not providing for my family in particular ways triggers feelings of guilt for me. Prioritizing my health came with consequences. And, if it mattered, I needed to do this.
Prioritizing my health means that I use that 8:30am-11:00am to go for a walk; to meditate; to go to physical therapy; to stretch; to prepare meals; to work with my coach; or to read more about how to improve my health. That time block is reserved for things to help my body get stronger; to help my mind heal from past trauma; and to focus on the ways in which I show up in this world. In order to prioritize my health, I needed to be holistic about my health — my health is physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological.
I actually needed to shift and change structures around me. Some things — time on my public calendar — needed to be de-prioritized. It needed to move down the list of priorities.
I think what schools and organizations struggle with is the belief that prioritizing means adding on all the time. I hear this from teachers and employees all the time: “What MORE are they going to add to my plate? When are they going to take something OFF of my plate? This place just keeps adding and adding and adding and adding.” We’ve heard from teachers that this additive factor (without removing or de-prioritizing something else) leads to frustration, burnout, agitation, and feeling devalued. In my research on workplace sense of belonging and satisfaction, these are all negatives and lead to a disruptive work culture.
Prioritizing does not mean adding on; it requires you to reconfigure what you do.
What does it mean to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority? It means having to change structures of how we do things. It means having to privilege the purpose and outcomes of diversity, equity and inclusion over other goals that exist. It means taking risks and addressing challenges that come with diversity, equity, and inclusion and not have them compete with other goals. Prioritizing means that it is your focus, and you figure out how other goals work around it. If your organization is prioritizing hiring for a more racially diverse employee base, then you need to change real structures that have prioritized other things. For example, if you have prioritized a “short and speedy hiring process because everyone is so busy and hiring is just a small part of our jobs”, then you need to re-prioritize the acts of building relationships with racially diverse organizations, recruitment firms, and areas where racially diverse people go to find jobs. You need to re-prioritize the work of folks so that they can spend more time being thoughtful, intentional, and actionable about their recruitment. You need to create structures to spend more time with racially diverse people and build relationships so that your school or organization is responding to their needs. If you are prioritizing developing the skills needed to reduce bias in your organization, then you cannot just have a 60-minute professional development day and be done. If it is a priority, then you create real structural space, schedules, and timing for this to occur. Yes, that means not doing things the way you typically do them. If it is a priority, then you must re-prioritize.
Too often, schools and organizations believe they can — and must — do it all. And, when organizations make DE&I work important but not a priority, then that work typically falls away. As a working mom, wife, educator, speaker, and business owner, I know all too well that when lots of items come onto my plate, my health is the first thing to fall away. I have spent years prioritizing the needs of others above my own health. And, slowly, over decades, I have seen what that has done. I began to feel frustrated emotionally and physically; I began to feel resentful; I began to doubt my own worth; I began to question whether I was happy or whether I was just used to coming in last.
I got used to the feelings of not being a priority.
For the past few months, I have prioritized my health and myself and, yes, I still do feel some guilt. The mean-girl voice in my head asks me “Am I worth this?” or “What makes me so special that I get go for walks in the morning?” or “Aren’t there more productive things you could be doing right now?” or “How selfish of you to go to karate four times a week — doesn’t your family need you at home?” That recording plays on a loop in my head.
I’m still getting used to making myself a priority. It’s not easy, and I fight lots of internal demons around it. But, each week that passes, I feel a little bit stronger. I cry a little bit less. I feel a little less guilty.
What risks and challenges do you face when you choose to prioritize whatever it is you need?
How true are those risks?
What limiting beliefs have you told yourself that keep you from prioritizing?
What is 1 thing you can do today to address that limiting belief?
I’m not doing this perfectly at all. But, each day, I decide that this is more than just important.
Peace and love,