DEI (Diversity, Inclusion & Equity) has been a trending topic in the professional sphere for years, yet the statistics on equality and equity remain dismally low, especially in the US. There are multiple intersecting factors contributing to this ongoing disparity. Let’s explore one which gets so little attention, we at Madame Curiosity had to coin a term for it: exclusionary gatekeeping.

Unfortunately for many well-intentioned decision makers, “contemporary policies prescribing what should be done to reduce inequality are often proposals for safe changes at the margins,” i.e., ineffective for creating genuine changes that lead to healthy diversity and inclusion. The difficult truth is that it isn’t enough to simply welcome minority groups, even when that welcome goes as far as creating diversity groups and minority-targeted recruitment. In order to create a truly safe and inclusive space for a diverse workforce, it’s necessary to eliminate the barriers preventing inclusion. Of these barriers, gatekeeping is one of the primary elements contributing to ongoing oppression in the workplace environment. 

Exclusionary gatekeeping in a workplace environment occurs when a policy or person creates a barrier to access which is arbitrary to another person’s performance in a given role

This is different from the typical meaning of a “gatekeeper” in a business setting, which refers to someone who blocks direct access to a key decision-maker. In the social services sector, a “gatekeeper” is someone who controls access to resources, and it is this concept of controlling access that really gets at the heart of what exclusionary gatekeeping is within the business and nonprofit context. “People often see gatekeepers as people with sanctioned power, but gatekeeping is a responsibility for each of us...We guard the gate — overtly or unconsciously influencing the workplace climate, using our networks to increase diversity or maintain the status quo, and persuading or discouraging leadership regarding equity and inclusion efforts.” 

How does exclusionary gatekeeping happen? It happens overtly, like with compulsory education requirements not directly germane to the actual performance of the position for which that education is being required. It also occurs covertly, such as when a manager or board member unconsciously chooses to mentor a junior colleague based on affinity bias (i.e., when we choose or align with someone who looks like us because they feel more comfortable).

So, how do we reduce exclusionary gatekeeping toward truly improving our organization’s diversity and inclusion policies? 

Be a Gateway, Not a Gatekeeper

Simply put, we must transform our activities in the workplace so that our day-to-day tasks and decisions actively promote and encourage diversity. This goes hand-in-hand with policies that promote and encourage diversity. Notably, if you start changing activities at the individual level and come up against policy barriers to diversity, you know where to direct your energy next! 

Questions to contemplate:

     - In what ways do you control (or influence other people's control) over access to interviews, resources, information, or people?

     - When planning events, organizing resources, or otherwise acting to engage colleagues, stakeholders, clients, and customers, how do you account for diverse needs and perspectives among people?

     - To which privileged groups do you belong? Which of the values of these groups affect or influence what you prioritize in your own work, and in other people's work?

     - When you look for information or resources, how often does that information/resource come from someone who belongs to the majority privileged groups?

In our upcoming report “Transformative Equality in the Workplace,” we offer multiple actionable solutions for building gateways for diversity and inclusion across all levels of the organization, including executive leadership, talent acquisition, management, and human resources. If your organization needs a roadmap for creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, we've got what you need!

Look for our report in early March 2021! 

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