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The Importance of Stories in DEI Practice

As someone who majored in theater, the importance of stories is nothing new to Tara Turk-Haynes—she’s been immersed in them her whole life. What is new to her, however, is how she has been able to incorporate her love of stories into her work as the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Leaf Group. In this week’s episode of the “Untapped” podcast, where our Co-CEO Tariq Meyers has frank conversations with D&I leaders who are transforming their workplaces, Tara discusses what stories mean in DEI work and why they’re important to pay attention to.  

Why Stories are Crucial to DEI

1. Stories Help an Organization Understand Their “Why”

If organizations just begin indiscriminately implementing DEI activities in their workplace without thinking about what they’re trying to achieve, they may be missing the plot. Tara says it’s important for companies to take a step back and think about why they want to do these things—otherwise the practices may not yield good results. 

“I think what’s really important is to figure out what your why is—and I say that to the people in our organization,” she said. “It’s actually on our intranet where we have our whole DEI section: ‘What’s your why? Why is this important to you?’ If you don't know what that is, then it’s going to be treated as a separate training for you and you’re just going to do it like sexual harassment training.”

2. Stories Give Everyone a Shared Experience 

The work of DEI is not just the responsibility of the employees from underrepresented backgrounds in an organization—it is an all hands on deck affair that every employee should contribute to. In order to do this, people need to use their life stories to come together for a shared experience, rather than staying in their place of familiarity and comfort.

“All of us have been living in some form of a ‘Truman Show’ where we think our reality has been this one thing,” said Tara. “And right now, we're at this point in our lives and in the world where you can no longer operate living in your bubble, in your own reality, without having some level of connection to people who are not having that same experience. So it's your choice. Do you continue to try to not do anything and just kind of be silent? Because I think silence is deadly."

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3. Stories Help Workers Connect as Individuals

Underneath every employee is a story—a family history, a set of experiences, a ledger of values that make up who someone is as a person. Although we cannot control much of our story, we can understand how it has shaped us as individuals and how it influences the way we present ourselves at work and relate to our colleagues—particularly those who have a completely different story from our own. It’s important to understand how our stories may influence the way we treat each other at work in order to have harmonious relationships that promote inclusion. 

“When you come to work, people have biases, unconscious biases, and all of these different things that their experiences led them up to. I cannot control how your family feels about X, Y, and Z, but you need to know that it may manifest itself in how you deal with me,” Tara said. “And so in order to have a really successful community, you have to remove these challenges where we are not able to collaborate if what's holding us back is you refuse to see where your challenges are and see how other people are adding value and how they're having a different experience. We all have a responsibility and we all are necessary in this work. I think that's one of the things that's been very important to let people know. We're all important here.” 

In addition to understanding ourselves, telling our stories can help us understand our colleagues. This can go a long way toward showing empathy when someone else has an experience you can’t personally relate to. 

“When we talk about headlines in the news, people are attached to those headlines. You have no idea in your organization who is going to be affected by a shooting here, an immigration story there, a police interaction over here. All of these are different things people are connected to—and it affects how they show up at work too,” said Tara. “How many times have we all had an emotional response? I literally just had one with the Rittenhouse verdict. I needed a moment. That impacted my work. I had to tell people, ‘I'm so sorry. I know we have a meeting, but I need to collect myself right now.’ If I don't say that, then they just think. ‘Oh, she's slacking off. She called off this meeting. She's not prepared.’ Give texture and complexity to who you are because you deserve to be that at work and at home.”

For more of Tara’s thoughts on DEI practice and how it will shape the future of work, check out this week’s episode of “Untapped.”

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