Justin Dauphinais, Senior Consultant in Project Management at ERM, is a Co-Lead of ERM’s North America Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Chapter of the EmbRACE Employee Resource Group (ERG). Justin is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe/Anishinaabe) tribe in North Dakota. Here, he discusses his experiences of racial discrimination throughout his life, why observing days such as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is so important and how we can all encourage active allyship to create a truly inclusive community.
Throughout my life, from my school days and into my professional career, I have experienced an array of direct and indirect microaggressions, stereotypes and explicit racism. From teachers telling Indian jokes in class and sports coaches making derogatory comments, I know that these events are not uncommon and that many people will be able to identify with some, if not many, of my experiences. For the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ERM is exploring the idea of ‘active allyship’, which has been an impactful part of my own experience in this area.
For me, there are two key aspects to active allyship: creating a safe space and the ability to speak up. In my career, a couple of things have shown me the importance of these. The first is an experience I had early in my career over a decade ago where I overheard a colleague using exclusionary language, that I found deeply offensive. My father had always taught me to stand up for myself and our Ojibwe/Anishinaabe culture, however, in that moment I feared there could be consequences if I spoke out. This led to feelings of personal shame and discontent. Many people are unaware that using terminology appropriated from other cultures can be deeply hurtful. Using expressions like “Let’s have a quick Pow Wow”, “Let’s Circle the Wagons” and “Low Man on the Totem Pole” is derogatory and using them is unacceptable to many Indigenous people, as they are to me. Some of these terms have sacred and specific meaning, and this is not an appropriate way to use them.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, ERM had an all-employee virtual meeting to talk about this tragic and horrific injustice. There were several scheduled speakers but there was also an opportunity for any attendees to share their thoughts about the situation. That ERM had provided a platform for conversation on these issues, I then felt safe and supported to speak about what I had experienced to that point in a professional environment. I knew that I had to do this for me, but also for anyone else at ERM that had been, or was, suffering from similar experiences. After sharing these experiences with my colleagues, I felt a profound relief and as though a weight had been lifted. In that moment of vulnerability, I felt empowered and supported. And, looking back now, I recognize how differently these experiences could have played out if someone had stepped in and addressed the situation. Allies who are willing to do that can make a real difference in eliminating racial discrimination.
Following the meeting, I soon became a Co-Lead for the North America BIPOC ERG. Since then, I’ve helped lead and been a part of numerous ERG events that I truly believe have had a profound impact on me and ERM as a company. The ERGs have given me a safe space to be vulnerable, and really catalysed my confidence in addressing microaggressions when I witness them, and educating and empowering others to do the same. Personally, when stepping in to address such situations I have always tried to be thoughtful and let others know first how the words impacted me and how it could impact others. I stick to facts and share the actual meaning behind a word or phrase, and then provide some alternatives. With that said, it is not always the responsibility of the person who is impacted by the microaggressions to educate others, as it can be very exhausting. The ownership should also be on the individuals to educate themselves. Encouraging active allyship can be as simple as telling your story if you are comfortable, sharing what you’ve been through and how it made you feel. After that, from my experience, allyship can blossom and I’ve witnessed that from many of my colleagues first hand.
The ERGs have done so much for advancing ERM’s journey in creating an inclusive culture of belonging, where colleagues can listen, learn and be vulnerable. They have certainly supported me in my own healing and growth, and I cannot imagine ERM without them.
Justin Dauphinais is a Senior Consultant in Project Management, based in Portland, Oregon, US. He has over 20 years of experience of environmental remediation and investigation at a range of sites and facilities, involving working with impacted soil, groundwater, sediment, storm water, surface water, and air. Justin is also a Co-Lead of ERM’s North America Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Chapter of the EmbRACE Employee Resource Group and is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe/Anishinaabe) tribe in North Dakota. He is married with four children.