DEI in Cohousing
To capture the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI) in cohousing and intentional communities, we first need to be on the same page about what DEI means. Only then can we understand why it’s important. Above all, community members everywhere want actionable steps that they and their neighbors can take to celebrate and promote DEI right away.
I’ve once heard a memorable saying that goes, “If diversity is about being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance.” We can take this analogy even further to say that equity is about giving every party-goer whatever it is they need to both get to the party and to get paired up with a dance partner–and sense of belonging can be measured by an after-party poll to determine whether [at least 80% of] party-goers say they felt like they belonged there throughout the event. The analogy is creative, but each component of DEI has a data-backed benchmark (Culture Amp & Paradigm, 2015) to guide all types of groups, teams, organizations, and communities in gauging where there’s a gap between each benchmark and how an organization measures up against it.
Metrics related to DEI can be key indicators of where a community can improve in aspects like psychological safety, or fostering a space for its members to offer creative ideas and solutions to nuanced and complex social challenges. These kinds of metrics can indicate key areas of opportunity–from community engagement and retention to growth mindset and integrity within named values. What metrics should be monitored? This is entirely up to the community, based on its values and what it wants to prioritize.
When a community has established its DEI vision, values [statement], and metrics, it needs to determine how to apply it to its recruiting, interviewing/vetting, and hiring/onboarding processes–for both its members and its organization’s partners (e.g. suppliers, lawyers, consultants, etc.)–on an ongoing basis. As a result, a community develops its own DEI best practices that stick (and make sense for its members). Not only do these best practices influence the community’s [first] impression on others, but they also prompt potential new members, whose values do not align with those of the community, to rule themselves out of the process.
Every action a community takes and every decision that it makes–as long as it comes from a place of alignment with its DEI values–will inherently further its mission with a DEI lens. Instant actions a community and its members can take right away include, but aren’t limited to: creating a [free] User Manual workshop, scheduling a series of professional-led unconscious bias workshops and/or timely workshops that coincide with heritage/awareness months, creating relationships with businesses that are supporting refugees with [a portion of] their proceeds, making their websites and virtual meetings accessible (i.e. WCAG-compliant, closed captions, etc.), and hosting [free] lunch-and-learn roundtables to discover more about and empathize with one another’s intersectional identities. The best part about the realm of DEI is that there’s always room to grow and learn. To end with another memorable quote, I’ll close out with my favorite, by Rainer Maria Rilke, which goes something like this:
“Be patient with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Do not look for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because then you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps gradually then, someday far into the future, you will, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”