Editor’s note: In the summer and fall of 2022, FAC Net hosted a four-part series on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) with the facilitation guidance of Maria Estrada, Equity Coach for the Collective 180 and Advisor for the Metropolitan Group. In this blog, Maria and Tiernan (FAC Net’s Member Services Coordinator) reflect on the importance of DEIJ in fire adaptation, and reflect on learnings from the workshop series that can apply to both our work and personal lives.
Building communities that are resilient to wildfire requires an intentional reawakening of our relationship to fire. The landscape is often wiser than we are here. Studies have shown the memory of fire lives in the landscape; forests that have recently experienced prescribed fire or lived with the complex and deeply rich impacts of cultural fire burn less severely in future fire events. Our places remember the need for and the ways of fire. But our own reactions are less predictable. When it comes to building a fire adapted community, we have to not only reconnect to fire, but also reexamine the structures, the governance, the funding, the power dynamics, the relationships, and the conversations that can help us connect to fire in a healthy and resilient way. Our questions turn from how do we relate to fire, to how do we relate to each other?
To honor, respect, and support the diversity of community boundaries and formations, FAC Net offers a variety of professional development and learning opportunities focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion and justice (DEIJ) in order to support members in exploring their community relationships and identifying new ways to strengthen fire efforts through human connection.
Why does DEIJ work matter for fire adaptation?
DEIJ work means different things to different people across our network. Practitioners tackle a huge variety of projects that empower and encourage all members of their communities to participate in fire adaptation. This looks like everything from developing evacuation plans tailored to aging populations, advocating for cultural fire, and translating preparedness materials into multiple languages to running cost share programs and supporting technology access for disabled agricultural workers to continue burning on their land. As we continue to strive for whole community participation in fire adaptation, FAC Net is committed to creating a safe space for practitioners to explore different conceptions of DEIJ in their work. This is driven by a recognition that being resilient to wildfire requires all of us. It is critical to expand and foster the efforts of the whole spectrum of human communities to safely and productively engage with fire as a partner.
From the ground up: Building safe and productive teams to work on fire
Our most recent DEIJ workshops focused on community at a small scale to ask: how do we create safer spaces for each other and for our teams? The workshops followed the recommendation for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to DEIJ workshops: we held a series (4 sessions in our case) since one workshop seems more like a check-the-box-and-move-on kind of approach. These workshops were also not mandatory. People came of their own volition, because they wanted to understand what DEIJ means in their day-to-day work. Finally, the workshops were action oriented, and framed with a clear goal to grow DEIJ literacy in a functional, practical way. Our desired outcomes were to provide participants with vocabulary, frameworks, tools and practices that they could implement right away.
From the very beginning the facilitator shared that DEIJ work is not “something else” you add to an already-full plate of responsibilities. Centering DEIJ in your work is about taking what you are learning – ideas, insights, tools, frameworks, and practices – and bridging that learning with doing. It is about doing your work in new ways because you have a different way to look at it.
What follows is a description of the four workshops that we offered, and some reflections on how they might help support better relationships around fire and new approaches to building teams and community.
Psychological safety is team safety
Workshop 1 focused on the critical question of how to develop Psychological Safety, with an emphasis on how this feeling of safety impacts a team environment. Participants left with a set of tools for creating conditions within their teams that make people feel seen, respected and valued. The main takeaway of this session was how critical psychological safety is to successful work: when a team member feels a sense of psychological safety, they are able to bring their own unique ways of thinking and knowing, their questions, and their dissent into their work. When team members feel safe participating in work with their whole selves, their individual perspective and expertise can be folded into the team process in ways that are inclusive, productive and effective. As people build trust in each other and in their team’s processes, they are more willing to bring their best foot forward, be candid, take risks, and navigate difficult conversations, which can lead to creativity, innovation and breakthroughs.
Are you looking for more ways to practice creating psychological safety for your team? Here are six practices for leaders to build psychological safety, and an interview with Amy Edmonson who first identified the concept and impact of psychological safety in work teams.
How to practice naming and reducing bias
Digging deeper into how to create safe spaces for each other, the second workshop examined Unconscious Bias and explored how the constant bombardment of data in our daily lives contributes to the creation of stereotypes. To reduce the impact of this information overload, our brains seek out shortcuts and start eliminating nuance. This, in turn, can lead to the emergence of unequal assumptions, expectations and valuation of people and groups.
To counteract these effects, participants in the training practiced different responses for situations that involved bias. Using a scenario-based approach, the group talked through how to name bias, how to respond when you are the one that expressed bias, and how a team can move forward with understanding that reducing bias opens new spaces for learning. One critical takeaway was that we have to be very deliberate around decision making at the intersection of bias and power. If you have power and you are about to make a decision about an individual or group of people, it is critical to be aware of how bias might enter that decision making process.
How we discuss the people in our communities matters quite a lot, and influences how we think about and interact with them. Consider this article on asset-framing in workforce development. How might you reframe a program description or goals with asset-framing rather than deficit-framing?
How we show up for our teammates and partners matters
The third workshop was focused around building Allyship using real life situations submitted by the participants. The scenarios included discussions of how to safely and effectively address team conflict created by bias in leadership positions, as well as how to be a good ally to community partners in a variety of settings. Participants left the session with a clear definition of allyship and an immediately implementable list of ways to show up as an ally. Other key takeaways from the discussion were how, as allies, we need to do the work to understand who we are in the world vis-à-vis others, and ask some deep questions of ourselves:
How do others experience the world in ways different from mine given our different identities? Where do I have privilege and power over a situation that I can use in service of transformation? Then, how do I get comfortable stepping up into both my power and my courage and speak up or act when I see unfairness or injustice in systems, processes and practices?
By engaging with these questions, we began to unpack how Allyship, like leadership, is an intentional, active practice that leverages the pursuit of equity and justice to make those around us – our teammates, partners, and community members – feel safer and more empowered in their own work. And this requires sustained action until we begin to see the change. Allyship requires building resilience because getting to equity and justice is not easy.
Looking for more basic allyship principles and resources? Here’s an overview of allyship in practice from The Diversity Movement.
Power and practice
Because acting for change is in many ways leveraging Power, the last workshop helped participants recognize where their identities hold power, where they might not, and how those nuances can change depending on the situation. We also discussed the benefits and pitfalls of the power dynamics that we have in our teams, our larger communities, and in our systems and decision making structures. All of this was to help participants take action in a transformational way by recognizing how to use the power that they have, and how power can be activated to bring about change that supports psychological safety, the reduction of bias, and effective team collaboration and productivity.
Practice recognizing your positions of power and disempowerment by reframing your own identity through a tool such as Sylvia Duckworth’s Wheel of Power/Privilege, or this activity guide to help identify power and privilege. Think about how multi-faceted your identity is, and how society has awarded power and disempowerment to different aspects of that identity. How might you leverage the power you have for your team and community?
Asking big questions and keeping an open mind
In the post-workshop evaluations, participants reflected that one of their most valuable insights was understanding that DEIJ is not a state or mind, or a journey, but a practice – a practice that requires both reflection and sustained action. Through these workshops, participants were able to create a safe space for each other, and make room for exploring some very deep questions: Where do I see inequity or unfairness in the systems within which I operate? Does my organization, my team have the trust and conditions of psychological safety within which to do this work? Can we agree on processes where we naming how bias is entering our processes and responding in transformative ways when we are being called in? Are there colleagues, partners, communities we could be in allyship and solidarity with? Where do we have the power to bring about more equitable outcomes?
All of these big questions can feel overwhelming. But by learning to ask them, and keeping our approach to finding answers open and inclusive, we can increase our resilience and adaptive capacity for whatever the future brings. These four sessions focused on DEIJ were a small part of a larger effort to support all wildfire adaptation practitioners in creating their own practice of safety and inclusion; finding co-learners and practitioners in intentional community building; and striving for and supporting good relationships to each other and to fire.