Nurturing Networks of Relationship by Embracing Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Nurturing Networks of Relationship by Embracing Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Sep 26, 2023

By: Jennifer Lyn Simpson

This article is excerpted from the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, the newly released book by Integrated Work owner and CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson.

“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Getting good work done together boils down to a few key things: our ability to listen and act empathetically (Be Kind), trust people with information that impacts their lives and affects their work (Be Open), develop systems that are resilient and agile (Be Adaptive), and lean into the relationships and partnerships required to meet our mission, rather than building walls around our organizations (Be a Network).

Let’s explore the power of networks, which we nurture by creating genuine connection with the people around us. Over the last 30 or so years, leaders have begun to recognize that connecting people to the mission of their organization or community, and demonstrating care for employees or members, could be a competitive advantage. Groups and organizations that positioned themselves as purpose-driven began to attract better talent and set themselves apart.

This only works over the long term, though, if the systems are built to be resilient and actively solicit input, act on insights, and leverage networks of relationship both in and outside of the organization to make things better.

When we see ourselves as interdependent and interconnected, we can both tap the collective wisdom to come up with better, more resilient, common-good solutions from the outset AND make change easier as people feel supported, connected, and less alone as they step into the future.

While business schools and professional development programs have touted the benefits of more purpose- or mission-driven leadership for many years, we haven’t done nearly as good a job at evolving our systems to maximize that potential. When we revert to organizing systems that are isolated rather than connected and try to solve challenges that exist at the scale of societies inside of silos, we tend to get suboptimal results.

And, because historical power dynamics are deeply woven into many of our existing systems, we end up perpetuating inequity and deepening division instead of nurturing networks of connection.

The Way Forward: Including Different Perspectives to Discover More Effective Solutions

This is the true promise of embracing diversity in organizations — the radical innovation born from a group of people able to see all sides, together. Doing this well takes intentionality at many levels. I like using JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) as a mantra, or memory device, to remember to keep the pursuit of justice out front. Simply put, the inclusion of different perspectives helps us discover solutions that are better for more people.

Here’s an overview of each value in the JEDI mantra:

Justice is a pursuit that includes fostering a world that acknowledges its history and is working to build a flourishing future. A just world has equitable and sustainable distribution of resources, and all members are physically and psychologically safe, secure, recognized, and treated with respect. When we put justice out front, we examine how policies, procedures, practices, mores, and norms influence the distribution of resources and whether that distribution is balanced and fair.

Equity is the process that levels the playing field, bringing a balance of opportunity such that negative impact is not tied to identity. Equity is the scale that examines how things operate and affect groups. The quest for equity seeks assurance that policies, processes, and resources are applied fairly toward everyone within a setting in a way that acknowledges and adjusts for unique backgrounds and circumstances. Equity recognizes the power of being adaptive in the face of difference.

Diversity is about ensuring the representation of all stakeholders impacted by the matter at hand — both its process and outcome. It is not just about race, but the full spectrum of core identities that have social capital — age, ability, gender, race, religion, sex, sexuality, national or political identity — and other social identities represented in communities, institutions, cultures, and society. Diversity is what gives us access to fresh perspectives and grows our ability to see an issue from multiple angles.

Inclusion is what makes diversity powerful. It is the principles, practices, policies, procedures, and actions that foster voice — where we can actually begin to hear each other across our differences. Inclusion is the practice of providing access to opportunities and resources for groups of people that might otherwise be marginalized based on identities. It expands opportunities and resources so that more people can contribute effectively and feel valued and worthy of belonging.

Nurturing Networks: Building for the Future, Now 

Networks take nurturing to become strong, and we have to invest in cultivating them before they are needed. This is made easier if we already relate to ourselves as interdependent and interconnected. Some cultures have this spirit much more deeply woven into the fabric of their being than others.

Especially in countries or communities that value individualism more highly, it’s helpful to cultivate practices that allow us to develop an embodied sense of ourselves as a part of, rather than apart from, others with whom we share common cause. Nurturing networks is not about seeing ourselves as an independent node trying to rally others to our cause, but about being able to appreciate the ways in which we affect and are at the effect of those around us.

Doing this well means keeping JEDI front of mind so that we don’t inadvertently replicate old patterns by including the same voices and experiences. Breakthrough leaders have an opportunity to tip the scales by examining where bias and disparities have skewed today’s systems and proactively exploring alternatives.

When we allow ourselves to be moved by others, we signal the value of what is on offer. For leaders, this principle comes to bear on how we think about growing and nurturing our teams and setting our organizations up for long-lasting success.

Interested in a tool to keep the JEDI mantra at the forefront of your work? Integrated Work’s JEDI Journey cards offer questions, quotes, and prompts to help you reflect on your Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion journey.