Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) continue to be top of mind in many of our workplaces. Ideally, these values influence program design, allocation of resources, approaches to leadership and governance, and the ideas and experiences we share with one another. While the spirit of JEDI is vibrant and inspiring, operationalizing it (as it relates to our own behavior, interactions with others, environments, and structures) can feel overwhelming. JEDI-related guidance often comes in policies and legal documents, as well as in professional development events (sometimes mandatory) or in fleeting moments in our meetings. Our relationship with JEDI, in other words, can often lack warmth, consistency, or may be contrived just to “check a box.” While protections and legalities are always important frameworks, JEDI is best activated to the extent that we focus on the actual human experience, mainly of those who are oppressed and who have been excluded historically — a human-first mindset.
Integrated Work’s former CEO, Jessica Hartung, and now current CEO, Jennifer Simpson, have done a great deal of thinking about what it means to take a human-first approach in our work. From a collection of articles they authored over time, Jessica and Jennifer offer this framing:
Human-First work is a focus on the health and wellbeing of people, realizing that they are our most precious resource. Allowing each other to bring our full selves to our work is the true sharing of our gifts. Our will to nurture high-quality relationships is the foundation of our success.
Punctuated in this statement is the idea of our “full selves.” Our lives are an anthology of histories, rituals, locations, persons, fears, aspirations, missteps, and learnings – alongside our social identities like our race, gender, religion, and class. Bringing our full selves to our work means accounting for the innermost elements that shape our identities and the direction of work and lives… the ethos of Human-First!
At a webinar-workshop (“Human-First Hiring and Sustained Connection: Embedding Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Recruitment and Retention Practices”) we hosted recently, our team merged the momentum of JEDI and our human-first mentality to offer a new rendition of JEDI – using the same letters, but with heart-centered meaning:
▫ Jubilance – How are we celebrating people?
▫ Entrustment – How are we proving ourselves as good stewards of their needs and dreams?
▫ Dignity – How are we treating people as being worthy of honor and respect?
▫ Investment – How are we applying ourselves and our resources to demonstrate our commitment to them?
While this type of “JEDI remix” is cross-contextual and carries implications for all of our interactions with others, our recent workshop examined these terms in the specific context of human resources as follows:
Jubilance – Celebrating prospective, new, and seasoned employees necessitates recognizing their contributions, applauding their successes as well as their resilience, and showing gratitude for the qualities and traits that make them who they are. Jubilance asks us to appreciate staff for their unique impact and contribution to us and our environments. When an organization fosters a culture of celebration, employees are more likely to stay engaged, connected, innovative, collaborative, and productive. Demonstrating a commitment to employees through recognition (whether it’s celebrating their work anniversary or a project accomplishment) cultivates employee and employer loyalty to one another.
Entrustment – Organizations must embrace the reality that all employees trust their employers with their livelihoods, their path of growth, how their hours are spent each day, and their understanding of their life’s purpose — whether employees openly admit these things or not. Exercising good stewardship of what employees treasure include: (1) learning about their individual desires and viewing those desires as important, even if you don’t share them yourself or necessarily understand them; (2) nurturing their desires either financially or with time itself, which could be funding professional development or allowing time/location flexibility; and (3) transforming those individual desires into organization-wide programs or policies, which might entail out-of-office staff activities or more inclusive benefit packages.
Dignity – Take a moment to consider how we tend to treat our teachers, our coaches, military officers, and even royalty. If we treat all employees like we do those noted figures — as deserving of our attention, as experts in their craft, accomplished as part of the organization’s story, and altogether deserving of dignity because of their very existence — it will show up with our eyes, gestures, statements, and stillness. Our moves to dignify others truly become apparent in our interactions. Values like kindness, empathy, and respect are critical when treating others with dignity and tie into cultivating a strong culture.
Investment – The extent to which organizations are willing to endorse and “pour into” the dreams and destinies of their staff is investment. Organizational resources are too often viewed narrowly in financial terms. Although financial investment is necessary, we can also include everyday practices of investing in individual staff members – offering words to encourage the hearts of our colleagues; advocating on their behalf, even if it means challenging others and our systems; asking how we can best serve their pursuits; mustering the courage to offer tactful and productive feedback, while also being humble enough to accept theirs. To further steep your understanding of investment, we suggest James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s chapter on “Enable Others to Act” in their book The Leadership Challenge.
Our remixed adaptation of JEDI honors its standard framing, having been constructed over decades of thinking and the perseverant living by marginalized communities. In this article (and its accompanying workshop), we seek to further the application and importance of JEDI in our work and personal lives — infusing JEDI into a deeply held value for us here at Integrated Work: treating people as human, first. Our Human-First rendition of JEDI is both an audit of ourselves and our current organizational structures, as well as a checklist of features that ought to exist in the lives of all our employees and the communities we serve:
Are we Jubilant of people? Are we Entrusted by them? Do we Dignify them? Are we Invested in them?
Our practice in response to these questions reflects our will to have Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion remain vital and vigorous in our personal stories and organizations.
If you are interested in learning more about our “Human-First Hiring and Sustained Connection: Embedding Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Recruitment and Retention Practices” workshop or would like to make arrangements to bring our work to your organization, please reach out to us here so we can continue this conversation on Human-First JEDI practices together.