Diversity: Getting Uncomfortable
If I were standing in front of you, and asked you to describe me. Most people would say something about my build, maybe my hair, or my height. Funny thing, is the most obvious descriptive of me will rarely be mentioned, especially in the workplace: the fact that I’m an African American, or black. When preparing for “Corporate America” as we know it, there are a couple of topics that senior personnel will advise you to avoid talking about: Race, Religion, and Politics. I must say, especially after the heat of this last Presidential election it began to truly bother me that the World’s “Best People” were avoiding the conversations that in many cases help defined who a person really is or was? Is it that very thing that keeps us from embracing true diversity? What’s the point of being different, if we’re all expected to “act the same”? When will we as groomed professionals be able to talk about the things that make us different, without fear of being judged, or looked down upon?
Race: By far the most obvious entity when it comes to Diversity. However, we try and convince ourselves that ‘we don’t see color’ or we’re color blind. Myself, personally I’d like you to recognize that I don’t look like you, or you like me rather. The simple fact that we are unique in appearance makes diversity great. NOT that we seemingly look alike, but that we appreciate, understand, and enjoy the fact that we build teams of people that look different. This should not be an uncomfortable discussion. I’d challenge you to even look past color, and even ask about a person’s background, or their ‘country of origin’; some of those questions who TRULY define who we are and how we got to where we are today. That’s how you enjoy the benefits of diversity…
Religion: Definitely another one of those ‘sensitive topics’ when it comes to the workplace. The practicing of religion, or the lack thereof gets very little of our attention in the workplace, in addition to our small talk and conversations. Though the subject of religion is probably one of those that should be discussed with a more long term colleague, I believe it’s never a bad thing to inquire to gain a full understand of why people do the things they do, and believe the things they believe. Remember the goal is not to judge them for it, but to better comprehend those things that define that person. When you truly understand the ‘why’ of a person, it makes everything else easy.
Politics: Honestly, after this presidential election I thought I was going to pull my hair out behind the ridiculously large amount of coverage. The constant fighting, each side calling the other one wrong, ignorant, and stupid. Highly successful and educated people, attacking one another to try and justify why the person they were voting for was better. To me I believe this is a huge shame. If we as voters can’t peacefully discuss issues amongst each other without going at each other’s throats, how do we get mad when congress can’t? Politics should be a discussion of priorities of the person. There’s no reason for you to be angry at who I’m voting for, if you knew why…. When we understand it’s more about that and not the name on the office door, we can put a damper on the emotions in it.
In all, I challenge each and every one to dive into these types of discussions with some of your colleagues and coworkers. Not to pry or gain unnecessary information, but to learn the ‘why’ of these individuals. When you are a team member or especially a leader, understand what makes people tick working with them becomes that much easier. Get uncomfortable, have the tough decisions. Only when we recognize that we are all different, will we be better able to performer at higher standards as a collective Unit. Let that be your challenge for the month, ask the tough questions. Develop the deeper relationships. Become a more impactful team member. Redefining Diversity.
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” – Unknown