What does it mean to be “woke”? Merriam-Webster defines it as slang and means, “to be aware of and actively attentive to the important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”
As a person who has volunteered in one form or another in various social justice movements since the age of 15, I considered myself to be woke. After two days with my D.E.I. Certification cohort through the Maryland/DC Credit Union Assocation’s program (in partnership with Georgetown University), I had a reality check. I am more likely just “waking” than truly “woke.”
The gut punch realization bruised my ego a little, but gave me an opportunity to use the knowledge I have as a boxing fan: Now that I know, the most important thing I can do is get back up, learn from my mistake, and keep in the fight.
My awakening started with the opportunity to meet the rest of the cohort: An impressive group of credit union executives with various backgrounds and experience, all passionate about building a better credit union system. In small groups, we practiced resonant listening. This was the first time I had heard the term. The goal of resonant listening is similar to that of the more well-known active listening; however, a key differentiator is that resonant listening is not just a communication skill but also a relational skill. Resonance supports the connection between individuals. Sharing the moments where you feel most connected to what the other individual expresses helps strengthen bonds.
Personally, I am a talker. It was easy for me to describe the moments where I connected most with the personal stories shared by my group. Being a talker presented its own challenges, though, leading me to fall into one of the most typical pitfalls of this exercise. Instead of just leaving space for the other to share, I began to tell my own story. I recognized what I was doing: In an attempt to connect, I had inadvertently made someone else’s experience about me. In the moment—in that controlled environment—it was easy to see my error, to stop sharing, and even apologize to my group. It made me think about the times when this has happened in other environments, though, and how much I have potentially missed out on.
It reminds of a time where I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently completed the interview process for a new job. They were sharing a bit of their interview experience and to clarify I asked a question about how they prepared for the interview. Instead of asking the question, it became rhetorical because I started to share my interview experiences and my strategies for interview preparation. I completely missed out on an opportunity to empathize and connect with this person. They had just had a less than satisfactory interview experience and I made it about me.
At Humanidei, we facilitate Voice of the Employee research for credit unions. It is an opportunity for individuals to share their own personal experiences, and we govern these exchanges with ground rules of confidentiality, speaking individual’s truths, and respecting the truths of others. Inevitably, the hardest part is when employees want to extend empathy to their colleagues in focus groups by attempting to explain what might have been happening to cause the feelings. For example, “I’m sure you weren’t left out because you were female. Those guys have just already been friends for a long time. I don’t get invited, either.”
Instead of resonant listening where a person feels validated and seen for who they are and their unique experiences, this type of response—well intended as comfort—can instead leave people feeling even more misunderstood or overlooked.
Giving consideration to the times when our intent and our impact do not align, I learned about the polarity of intent. That is when the negative emotional impact of something (like a comment) is not equal to the intent of the comment. This is an opportunity to take ownership when it is not always easy. Much like accidentally bumping into someone, it is important to accept responsibility for the mistake (even if we didn’t mean to do it).
After decades of lived experience advocating for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for all, my first session with the MDDCCUA DEI Certification program woke me up to the learning that is still ahead. I have spent 20 years with credit unions, often as the only brown face in different branches, meetings, or leadership positions. As I start this newest chapter of my career, consulting with credit unions to build inclusive workplaces, it is heartwarming to know that I have so many passionate colleagues engaging in their own learning journeys, knowing that we make the greatest progress in our learning through connections with others.
I have never been more optimistic of the future of credit unions and our ability to remain relevant, truly being the place where underrepresented people are seen, welcomed, and uplifted.