The role of emotional intelligence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Multi coloured tiles are layed out in a foundation mosaic.

I have never heard of an organization or group that got started with the intention of failing.

Funny to think of it, right? Investing time and energy with the explicit intent of going out of commission does not make much sense. I also fail to believe that they intended to achieve subpar or mediocre outcomes.

So I sit here, quite pensively, grappling with the reality that so many organizations and groups haven’t embraced meaningful diversity and inclusion practices.

October is Global Diversity Month

I define diversity as creating an environment that incorporates the varied characteristics of others, including physical, educational, abilities, and more. Diversity moves beyond physical representation and accounts for belief systems, lived experiences, educational levels, varying exceptionalities, and every other sub-group of the population being served.

Diversity causes us to ask, whose voice is missing from the table when decisions are being made? Whose perspectives are not being considered? Whose norms are being used to govern the whole? 

We all have biases. That means you can be a great and kind person while walking around with biases draped around your neck like beautiful pearls. I do. I have biases. I am pretty sure we may share some similar biases, and I know for a fact that I am an amazing person. Our biases aren’t the problem. But, again, we all have them. The lack of awareness of those biases leads to us projecting them in favorable or unfavorable ways that are the reason for reflection and action.

Cultural bias is the belief that other cultures are abnormal or even exotic compared to your culture, resulting in nepotism or discrimination. One way that this impacts women, especially women of color, is the perception of professionalism. As a woman with locs, I have lost count of how many times I have had to educate colleagues about my hairstyling preference.

If I still resided in Jamaica, that would not be the case, but here in the United States, laws have to be passed for people of color to safely traverse the ladders of their companies without fear of reprisal for their hair. And it doesn’t stop with hair.

Those charged with being gatekeepers of corporate advancement have implemented, often unconsciously, many invisible barriers that prevent meaningful diversity. Growth can occur in an echo chamber, but it will not be growth that will positively impact the population as a whole. To have true impact, representation from every part of the population is needed.

Multicoloured hands surround a cutout globe.

Bringing people to the table is great, but unless they have a microphone that is on and the respect of their peers to listen with the intention of understanding and partnering, their presence is nothing but a glorified figurehead.

A PwC article from 2020 shared that 17% of global organizations have a diversity leader in a C-Suite position. In addition, the EEOC’s  2020 data showed 30.5% of management positions were held by white women, while Black women had 6.5%, Hispanic women, 9.1%, and Asian women 3.0%.1

Being intentional about leading with diversity, and inclusion, benefits groups by strengthening their approaches to serve as new perspectives help leaders account for eventualities that would not be considered due to differing lived experiences. Groups then benefit from innovative ideas that will attract others to join the team and increase their marketplace reach by attracting new customers and increased profit margins.

Diversity and inclusion increases the overall well being and satisfaction from team members. There is an emotional tax levied on people of color daily that shows up in them, constantly swatting away macro aggressions, stereotypes, and marginalization.

When leaders decide to amplify the voices of their diverse staff, incorporating both their praise and criticisms to inform problem-solving strategies, they communicate an appreciation of their value. Women of color benefit from this the most as they navigate more adverse experiences that reside at the intersection of woman and person of color

Honoring Global Awareness Month

So how can we make the needed advancements that genuinely honor the intention of Global Awareness Month? We assuage resistance through resistance training.

That looks like building our emotional intelligence to illuminate the inconsistencies between what we say we believe in and support and what we practice and support.

With EQ, we can unearth internal motivators for emotional and behavioral expression and how that impacts our interpersonal relationships, decision-making processes, and ability to manage personal and organizational stressors.

Equity and inclusion are natural by-products of developing healthy EQ.

Think of it this way: when building a house, you invest in a firm foundation. There is a reason.

You know that the foundation bears the entire weight of the home. You know it is the anchor and that it has to be strong to ensure the overall structure can stand when times get rough and stormy. You lay the foundation first for a reason. It is one of the least appreciated parts of the home. No one walks in and says, what a beautiful foundation you have, but the house does stand without it.

Think of emotional intelligence the same way. It is the foundation of building any good DEI plan.

Your EQ bears the weight of your core values and helps them to function as intended. When healthy, your EQ allows you to brace the winds of conflict and meet the needs of everyone, proving that they belong.

Is cultivating EQ the only thing that needs to be done to secure desired outcomes? Absolutely not, but it is the foundation of transforming systems of power that ultimately benefit everyone – not just a select few.


  1. Find out more from the EEOC.

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