Across the United States, people are fighting for equity and justice within their workplaces. This year, Glassdoor even named diversity and inclusion a top workplace trend. As more companies publicly denounce racism, we are also witnessing an increasing number of organizational activists, some of whom are committed to keeping their employers accountable to commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ).
Their efforts to challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and other workplace injustices often come with a steep price. This labor can be emotionally taxing, time intensive, and sometimes even punished. Those taking on the responsibility often must weigh their career goals against their desire for positive organizational change, a difficult balancing act known as tempered radicalism.
As researchers and consultants affiliated with the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution who specialize in how conflict can be leveraged for constructive organizational change, we became interested in the tension inherent in organizational activists' work and how it is approached by DEIJ proponents. In part, we wanted to help other people who were wondering how to get started with this difficult but important labor.
Through conversations and surveys involving dozens of organizational activists at nonprofits, corporations, and other firms, we identified four strategic approaches to their DEIJ efforts in the workplace. By showcasing the methods, risks, and results of each strategy, we aim to help people begin or improve their work as organizational activists. The examples are based on real incidents, but elements have been changed for clarity and to protect anonymity.