Examining comprehensive inclusivity, equity, and wellness in an organization is not new to Dr. Tiffany Johnson, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. She wrote her dissertation on equity and diversity, specifically on invisible disabilities in the workplace and the theory of stigmatization, and she has researched and taught organizational behavior for almost 10 years. She has a palatable passion for creating inclusivity and equity in organizations with a focus on wellness within the individual and the collective organization.
“We can’t talk about racial equity and not talk about wellness,” Johnson said. “Organizations play a huge role in either facilitating a functional relationship between racial equity and wellness or a dysfunctional relationship between racial equity and wellness through their practices, policies, and interactions that people engage with daily.”
Johnson will undertake a project exploring this very idea as a newly appointed Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fellow. Her project will support a course she will be teaching in Summer 2021 titled “Work, Equity, and Wellness,” which will be offered to Scheller MBA students. “Throughout the Fellows program, I would like to present two to three mock segments of class to my D&I Fellows cohort and previous cohorts and receive feedback on those classes. I hope that presenting on this topic and receiving constructive feedback will be helpful for me as I create the syllabus,” said Johnson in describing how she’ll use her yearlong tenure as a Fellow.
Her desire to teach a class on diversity has been growing since her days as a PhD candidate. “Since the beginning, I just really wanted to teach a diversity class because that’s where my expertise lies. Even as a graduate student, I wanted to study visible identities like race and gender, partially because of my own life experiences in the workplace as a Black woman, and also because I believe there are really rich practical and research opportunities to learn,” she said.
Dr. Johnson sees the organization as a representation of society as a whole, a rich environment to explore and influence how diversity and inclusivity are addressed. “Organizations are like a portal for everything that happens in a society and if we want to have any real change in society, we have to do it within our organization, because we spend so much time at work in American society. If we can’t do it there, then where is it going to change?” she asked.
She also sees a direct correlation between addressing equity and diversity in an organization with the mind-body connection of the individual. “When I started as a faculty member, I went back to my initial desire to research Black women in workplaces, and in the literature, I started to notice these synergies between it and literature on psychological well-being, wellness, and mind-body practices. At the same time, I have had a contemplative practice of my own off and on for over 16 years,” she reflects. For her, the essence of resolving disparity issues lies within one’s ability to first start within.
While one may see symbolic outward changes within an organization in how they deal with inequality, Johnson believes that it has to start with that inner awareness of potential conflicts within the individual which may show up in the form of microaggressive behaviors, and other behaviors related to stigma and unconscious bias.
“Something I learned from a workshop I attended that was facilitated by Dr. Chelsea Jackson-Roberts and Shane Roberts of Red Clay Yoga was that if I can be able to grant equity to the different needs in my own body in all the different ways it shows up, then maybe I can be a little bit more compassionate and willing to grant access for equity outside of me. It all has to come back to the person. What we see is a reflection of what is happening internally within each person. My goal in the class is to have an opportunity for self-reflection to anchor all of the lessons,” she explains.
She sees Scheller and Tech as fertile ground for this type of endeavor. “I want it to be a class that Georgia Tech is proud of and that can help Tech transform from the inside out. The D&I Fellows program is a great opportunity to do the work in the community and to also support other projects and maybe pull that into the class as well,” she said.
Her class will be uniquely challenging and students should be prepared to examine their core beliefs and values, particularly within the current environment of Covid-19 and the racial disparities and traumas inflicted upon Black and Brown bodies in American society.
“It will be very real for the students in the class. Given what we are experiencing as a society today, the stressors won't be hypothetical. I think that the normalcy of this discomfort is one of the parallels between contemplative practices and racial equity. It’s inevitable that when you do race equity work that it’s going to be uncomfortable at times. The same goes for contemplative practices,” she stated.
Dr. Johnson wants her students to leave the class as better humans and change agents. She anticipates an environment of acceptance and growth in the areas of equity and inclusion as well as an environment for personal development. “I want them to have tools to become institutional changemakers inside their organizations,” she said.