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08 Jan. 2020 | Comments (0)

“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.” ? Margaret Wheatley

Dennis Gingrich, an expert in restorative justice (RJ) and restorative opportunities, has been an influential thought partner to me and a thought-provoking speaker to D&I executives.

As I’ve learned from Dennis and others working to improve the criminal justice system, RJ takes a relationship-centered approach to justice. While holding offenders responsible for their actions, the focus is on healing or repairing the harm caused. The process is defined by inclusive and respectful engagement between those who have caused harm, those who have been hurt through crime, and other stakeholders. 

In contrast to how Western systems commonly address crime, RJ places value on finding common ground across often painful differences and pursuing ways to build collective strength. In this, Gingrich has explained that RJ emphasizes the importance of Dorothy Vaandering’s conceptualization of power. Specifically, RJ is about “power with” or the ways we can collaborate across our differences. This orientation is distinguished from “power-over” where parties tend to be polarized and relationships are defined by dominance or coercion.

Restorative Justice has lessons for our work in Diversity and Inclusion.

Healthy relationships are at the center of D&I. Our work is about bringing a broad mix people into relationship with one another to advance individual, organizational, and even societal impact. To accomplish this, we need to recognize the polarities that are a stark feature of many societies and which can stagnate collective efforts within our organizations. We must wrestle with how to build respectful, inclusive, and trusting connections among people who come together amid legacies of harm and ongoing conflict. We must find ways to navigate inequities and exclusion as we create inclusive and just workplace environments where every person is valued.

At a micro-level, RJ can help us in this effort by providing techniques and tools for managing conflict, bullying or harassment, and inequality. As Gingrich has proposed, in responding to the challenges we face, we can start by “calling in” rather than “calling out.” This simple shift provides an opportunity for those who have harmed others to more fully understand the damage they have done to another person and engages them in their responsibility to help heal the relationship. RJ-infused techniques can be relevant in our work to manage specific events as well as broader cultural changes, allowing groups of individuals to share and hear different perspectives within a safe, respectful environment.

At a macro-level, RJ gives us a framework to examine the power dynamics at play in our organizations. Meaningful, productive inclusivity requires that we create environments wherein all people are able and encouraged to contribute fully. This is difficult in organizations defined by “power-over” relationships, or those where some make demands and others are expected to comply (e.g., If you do what I demand, I’ll accept you.). In contrast, organizations structured to enable shared power or “power-with” are more conducive to real inclusion as they focus on how we can meaningfully connect across our differences and, thereby, be stronger in relationship with another. For more on this idea, explore Alison Maitland’s Seven Ways to Change What Power Looks Like in organizations.

There is much we can learn from other fields and sectors to inform and advance our D&I work. Restorative Justice offers a compelling way of thinking about and managing differences in ways that resonate with D&I principles. By working together, with our differences, we can collectively build stronger organizations and communities.

  • About the Author:Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a Senior Fellow in Human Capital and Program Director, providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. Rebekah supports a broad spectrum of D&I …

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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