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Workplace Diversity Landmines and How to Manage and Heal from Them

A Q&A with Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth

Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Lauren Wadsworth
Stephanie Pinder-Amaker author photo: John Soares; Lauren Wadsworth author photo: Crista Wadsworth

It’s common for the phrase “Did that just happen?!” to cross the minds of employees from marginalized communities. Be it because of a microaggression (“you’re so . . . articulate!”); a misguided marketing campaign (Barnes & Noble’s 2020 Diverse Editions gaffe); or a short-sighted diversity statement (an online post in solidarity with Black lives with little or no follow-through internally), people from marginalized identities have witnessed and experienced incidents that leave them uncomfortable at best, and at worst feeling unsafe to be authentic in their jobs. With their book Did That Just Happen?!: Beyond “Diversity”—Creating Sustainable and Inclusive Organizations, clinical psychologists Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth invite professionals at every level, in companies, schools and nonprofits, to reconsider common “diversity landmines” and how to manage them. They also bring their expertise in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work at various companies and their own experiences to the book. Beacon Broadside editor Christian Coleman caught up with them to chat about it.

Christian Coleman: What was the inspiration for writing Did That Just Happen?!

Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker and Dr. Lauren Wadsworth: As people who hold marginalized identities, we often have been the “only” or the “pioneer” in our workplace. As a result, we frequently experienced not only identity related aggressions but consistent requests to train those around us on how to be more culturally aware and responsive. Neither of us started our careers aiming to be “diversity experts,” but like many with marginalized identities, we continued to be called upon, and eventually embraced the role. Over the years that we worked at the same institution, we found solace and support connecting over this experience. One day while walking the campus, both a bit burnt out and tired from recent identity-related events, Lauren turned to Stephanie and said, “Maybe we should just write a book about all of this!”

We found the book a powerful place to channel our pain, experience, and voices. We poured everything we could think of into it: examples, strategies, terms we’d coined in our trainings. Our hope was that we could write a book that could not only help leadership who want to do better but also to validate those who had been harmed, giving them a book packed full of skills to anonymously slip under their boss’s door in hopes of creating change while keeping them safe.

CC: Both of you are clinical psychologists. Tell us a bit about your backgrounds and how you bring your expertise to your work as co-founders of Twin Star – Intersectional Diversity Trainers.

Drs. SPA and LW: As psychologists, we know that trying to force people to change can often backfire. We also know the power of empathy in inspiring change. So instead of writing a book about why diversity and inclusion are important, we opened each chapter with a real-life story about something going wrong in the workplace. Our hope was that the reader could connect to and care about the characters, and from that place, get curious about how they could reduce and recover from harm in similar situations.

We also realize that self-efficacy is key if someone is going to keep trying something hard (for example, work against their racist socialization). We wrote the book to be accessible, with takeaways on every page, so that the reader can feel smarter and more skilled as they read along and try the simple and complex skills in their interactions across identities.

CC: That brings me to a question about the book’s structure. As you just mentioned, each chapter begins with an individual/s’ real-life story/ies and then moves onto a diagnostic of what went wrong and a section on what to do about it. How did you decide on this format?

Drs. SPA and LW: In our experience, books on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can be dense and textbook-like. One of our goals for the book was to keep it interesting, trying not to lose the readers who might be on the fence about the whole DEI thing. We thought that breaking each chapter into these repeated three sections would make each chapter appear more “bite size.” The reader knows what they’re getting into in each chapter and can see goal posts ahead of what’s coming. We thought this would feel more approachable. Also, we thought this would be a format that would lend itself to being shared in smaller chunks. For example, an employee might relate to a particular example and choose to just share that chapter with their team. With this format, each chapter can stand alone or flow from and to the chapters surrounding it.

CC: The terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are often used interchangeably in daily lingo. Why was it important to make a distinction between them in the book?

Drs. SPA and LW: The distinction is important because grabbing for diversity without inclusivity is counterproductive, costly, and painful. In the book, we refer to this as putting “the cart before the horse.” A company might quickly hire new BIPOC and queer staff, trying to “do the right thing.” This is the cart. The horse is the skill set people need to communicate and work well across identities. Try to visualize the cart going before the horse. Now, picture the cart going before the horse while climbing a steep incline. We all know it’s not going to end well, and yet this is what we do over and over again in the workplace. The goal is to create environments in which people feel welcomed, seen, heard. We want people to know that they can bring their full selves to work and relationships and be rewarded for doing so. Put the horse in front of the cart and it might actually take flight!

CC: Last year, you wrote for us an essay on Barnes & Noble’s Diverse Editions gaffe. Are there any examples, current or old, of organizations that have been successful at sustaining diversity and inclusion in the workplace that have caught your attention? Or better yet, any examples of organizations that have learned from their gaffes?

Drs. SPA and LW: We want to encourage individuals and organizations to shift their view of what success looks like in this realm. There is no such thing as a “D&I Seal of Approval.” Gaffes are inevitable because no one can be perfect in this work 100 percent of the time. What we can be is committed to ongoing growth and learning. Companies that are doing the best right now are those that have committed to investing (financially and emotionally) in ongoing DEI trainings and skill development. We can name bias and oppression when we see it. We can commit to change. The companies that are moving toward sustainable, inclusive organizations are learning how to do these things. As we discuss in the book, the growth is not linear. As organizations commit to doing better, people will feel empowered to share their truths. We need to be prepared to hear them, express gratitude for the feedback and recommit—even when it hurts. 

CC: Now that we’re in the full swing of the new admin though still in the throes of repeated injustices against marginalized communities, what would you like readers to take away from the book?

Drs. SPA and LW: We would like readers to walk away from each chapter, and the book as a whole, with increased hope. We would like them to feel like they have new words to label and describe injustices in their day-to-day lives and be able to pull from a large toolbox of new skills to address each injustice (if they so choose). We hope that readers will use the book as a road map to navigate complex issues and feel inspired to build new relationships across identities and feel the incredible benefits that follow.


About the Authors 

Dr. Stephanie Pinder-Amaker is a clinical psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor committed to achieving multicultural excellence in organizations. As founding director of McLean Hospital’s College Mental Health Program, she has consulted with numerous institutions on diversity and inclusion. She is also the cofounder of Twin Stars Diversity Trainers, a consultation company offering diversity and identity-related trainings for organizations. Dr. Pinder-Amaker currently serves as the McLean Hospital-Harvard Medical School’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.

Dr. Lauren Wadsworth is a clinical psychologist passionate about furthering diversity and inclusion efforts. She serves as a senior advisor on the Anti-Racist, Justice, and Health Equity team at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. She is the founder and director of the Genesee Valley Psychology (GVP), a clinic providing evidence-based treatment to the Rochester, NY, area and specializing in OCD, trauma, DBT, and a newly launched Racial Trauma and Healing center. She is also the cofounder of Twin Stars Diversity Trainers, a consultation company offering diversity and identity-related trainings for organizations and leadership. Finally, she is a clinical senior instructor in psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center.