A sudden flush of sweat on your skin and a sinking, swirling feeling in your stomach; it leaves you off balance and questioning your words, but more importantly, it attacks your thoughts and undermines your confidence.
“Discomfort” is a paradoxical state, one that we’re raised to avoid from the day that we’re born and told implies that we’re wrong, misled, or that our values and needs fail to measure up to our personal identifications. In our discomfort, we tend to shut down conversation, nod our heads in supplication, and return to the safety of our status quo.
And yet, it was in this feeling of discomfort — in my first work trip out of the house since the COVID-19 pandemic began, surrounded by strangers from across the country representing a diverse range of inclusivity and experience — that I found myself asking a fellow attendee (whom I’d met less than 24 hours before), “In your opinion, what’s the line between ‘ally’ and the ‘woke white savior.’”
You should be … in fact, I would be shocked if you weren’t. Over the last 18 months, our society experienced more simultaneous crises than ever before. From the global pandemic to the continued attacks and provocations against minority communities from all walks of life, the years 2020 and 2021 have seen a cataclysmic upheaval of both our society and how our society engages with itself. Connection and collaboration were replaced by “sides” being chosen, and with each conversation held or connection made, we felt surges of anxiety and discomfort, leaving many of us feeling like ships tossed on the ocean.
But in the field of workforce development, we learn by confronting challenges and opportunities head on, tackling them with the same diligence and professionalism that the continuing education and training field demands in our day-to-day operations. Unfortunately, we oftentimes find ourselves comfortable in the status quo, seeking to innovate and expand without pushing beyond our unconscious biases. Instead, we find ourselves looking around the table in comfort and relative ease at faces and perspectives that match our own, reflecting our coziness within the status quo without pushing the boundaries of what’s possible through a chorus of diversity. But bias against diversity, equity, or inclusion stands fundamentally opposed to the value of workforce development, which promotes equitable solutions to all learners — no exceptions, no asterisks, and no holds barred.
I could quote research, scholars, and thought leaders on the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, or we could talk about the return on investment that diversity brings to your institution, let alone the return on member engagement that inclusivity provides to your volunteer leadership pools. But we know all of that, and it begs the question just how many organizations, institutions, or corporations list out “diversity” as a critical goal and yet never move the needle to bring about the change they claim to desire! Instead, I find myself reflecting on all the opportunities that discomfort provides, the opportunities ignored by the status quo, such as competing ideas, new connections, competitive growth, and divergent perspectives. While the historic and systemic injustices imposed upon minority individuals, businesses, and communities are not new nor surprising, these crises and the discomfort they prompt have given us — not just as training providers and professionals, but as individual members of a great global community — the perspective, the time, and the opportunity to embrace change and challenge.
It may be an unsolicited opinion, but we should be so lucky that the biggest challenge we have to be “uncomfortable” about is that our affiliates feel empowered to take a seat at the table and be heard with the same level of respect and admiration as everyone else in the room. After all, isn’t that the goal?
Bradley A. Davis is the current Manager for Education and Online Learning at the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine (SIIM). An intentional project manager and cross-functional collaborator, he has worked over the last decade in the non-profit association space, bringing innovation and intentional data and content strategy to shape organizations supporting Military History, Government Service, Education, and Cross-Enterprise Healthcare spaces. His leadership philosophy — emphasizing meeting SMEs, contractors, staff, clients, members, and prospective personas where they are, wherever they are — has ensured strong connections across his various work environments, promoting life-long value throughout constituent’s tenure with his various employers. In his down time, Bradley enjoys reading, cooking, and wine tasting in Northern Virginia alongside his partner, in addition to supporting a variety of non-profit organizations as a recurring volunteer.