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Columbia Business Monthly

Clapping for DEI: There’s No Cookie-Cutter Approach to Diversity

May 10, 2022 03:27PM ● By Tracy R. Powell

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! This children’s song has been in families for years, although the original release date is undetermined. 

When speaking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), I often use this song as a part of my presentation, as it is a reminder of the pure innocence of children. In daycare and kindergarten, we did not choose our friends by race, class, political party, or status.

Instead, we chose them by acts of kindness, such as sharing and helping. Surprisingly, most of the time, parents do not know the race of their children’s friends, as children do not describe each other by race, because race is not a determining factor when selecting friends. 

Unfortunately, race, at times, is a factor or indicator for selecting friends as adults. As I reflect on this song, I must ask the question, “Have times changed?”

In the last few years, DEI has become a buzzword globally on the heels of untimely and senseless deaths of African Americans, Asians, Latinx people, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual communities.

There is a growing assumption that racism, exclusion, and discrimination are on the rise in the United States, I would say, not so! For those of us who have heard stories from our parents and grandparents, and who personally experienced racism, exclusion, and discrimination as children and adults, we know the rise is not a new phenomenon. But it has become a more visible phenomenon recently.

Globally, we must acknowledge that racism and discrimination continue to exist, and although the  terms, targeted populations, communities, and locations may change, it is here to stay in some form, unfortunately.

Now, where do we go from here? We must REFOCUS from an individual, community, organizational, political, and global perspective. REFOCUS is a concept, I developed recently and shared at Integrated Media Publishing’s Living Color DEI Conference and Expo in Greenville in March, as an opportunity to start an open dialogue and develop action plans from all perspectives.

In developing this concept, the intent is to ensure it can be applicable to all individuals, communities, organizations, and groups. As the discussion around DEI evolves, so will REFOCUS as the concept is not intended to be inflexible, yet it is designed to evolve as we evolve globally.

In focusing on DEI movement from a global and holistic approach, I want to apply the concept from a global perspective, to encourage everyone to consider applying this concept in their lives, communities, organizations, and groups in a way that is fluent and transparent.


Step 1. Reflect and Assess

This is an opportunity to reflect on our personal journey and experiences and assess how to change our views and perspectives at all levels.

Step 2. Educate Everyone

As we explore diversity, it has various meanings and implications that differ by race, culture, geographical location, and socioeconomic status. It is our responsibility to educate each other about our differences and not make assumptions about the views and beliefs of others.

Step 3. Facilitate an Open Discussion

Knowing that we are all different, this is a great opportunity to explore, facilitate discussions, and learn more about each other’s differences and similarities. With open, genuine, and candid conversations, we can break down barriers that existed for many centuries.

Step 4: Organize a Plan

Conversation, discussion, and meetings without plans have been known to be ineffective. In developing a plan, there is no need to make things complex. Instead, work collaboratively to ensure all plans are simple, attainable, and inclusive of all parties involved. For any plan to succeed, we all must hold each other accountable and make sure the right people are in place to maintain momentum and ensure proper and timely execution of the plan’s activities.

Step 5: Communicate

Clear, concise, and respectful communication is very important as we begin to have open dialogue. It is vital that we communicate at a level in which all people can understand and engage in the conversation. How can we determine that the level of communication or the way in which we are communicating is effective and appropriate? Simply by asking individuals who are receiving and delivering the communication. In assessing, we cannot forget the hearing and visually impaired, and individuals who are visual or auditory learners. Ultimately, the goal is to effectively understand and accurately interpret another’s meaning.  

Step 6: Utilize everyone to execute everything

As we move forward on our DEI journey at all levels, we must involve everyone at all levels of the process and discussion. In doing so, we maintain the highest level of inclusion and equity for all.

Step 7: Succeed at leading through diversity

Diversity is the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc. and the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, 1999). Regardless of where we are on this journey, we are all leaders. Leadership does not require a title, money, access, or position to make a difference. Leaders are willing to take a stand at the right time, for the right cause for all people; they are leading through diversity.

As we reflect on DEI, we must acknowledge, there is no cookie-cutter approach. DEI is different and means something different for individuals, organizations, communities, and groups. There is nothing wrong with being different, as our differences make this world a beautiful, colorful place.

Now that we’ve reviewed the REFOCUS Concept, I encourage you to do as I did and apply it to yourself first. Simply ask yourself if you are happy, do you know it, and if so, share that happiness in your family, communities, and organizations.

If you are not happy in this moment, I encourage you to look deep within yourself and reap those words of the song: If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands (two times).

After repeating the song, your happiness will appear. If it does not look or sound like someone else’s happiness, it is OK because it is not intended to. Happiness is like DEI; there is no cookie-cutter concept or approach. We globally must accept that. 

Dr. Tracy R. Powell is founder of the Executive Coaching Institute for Minority Women, as well as a speaker, author, executive coach, and DEI influencer. She can be reached at [email protected].