Wishing You a Year Filled with Diversity and Inclusion!

NYC July 4, 2012, C. Wark
In my last blog entry I asked, “What’s in a word?” I examined words used in hateful, specifically racist ways. Now, as we begin a new year, our thoughts tend to focus on how we want this year to be an improvement over last year. We wish each other good health, prosperity, happiness, and peace. Being in the diversity and inclusion business, I wish people greater diversity and inclusion. These two words do not come without their own baggage. The word diversity is rife with double entendres for those who resist inclusion and is sometimes misused as code for ‘workplace representation quotas’ or ‘political correctness.’
New York Botanical Garden
W. Wark, 2012
Diversity
Why am I wishing you a year filled with diversity? Well, first, I would think that without diversity your year might be pretty boring. In wishing you a diverse year, I am wishing you more diversity in terms of your experiences, thoughts, and relationships. This may seem incredibly simple and obvious; however, many people still cling to old, familiar ways out of habit and sometimes this means sustaining an ‘us and them’ culture. How many times, for example have you heard someone say something like, “If it were not for those people …?” People would likely find other things to cling to, in terms of their personal comfort and assigning blame if their engagement with diversity increased, but the more diverse people’s relationships are the more likely they are to accept different opinions, ideas and lifestyles. So I wish you an incredibly diverse year!
Inclusion
Why wish you inclusion? Well, being inclusive requires an action on your behalf. One cannot sit at home and expect inclusion to come to them. It may in very, very small ways, such as the person delivering the Thai food who is from Guatemala. But, we would not know where the person was from without asking them as they would not be likely to volunteer that information. So, we need to be proactive if we are to be inclusive. There is so much that we can learn, enjoy, and gain by extending invitations. I hope that you are reaching out and inviting inclusion into your life!
History
Throughout these blog entries I have carried a thread, or a theme. I am always wondering how to take this complicated and rather arduous subject of diversity and inclusion and break it down into digestible segments or bites, but more than sound bites, I am trying to nurture thoughts and discussion about sensitive and challenging subjects. I believe that we can only move forward if we explore and respond to our past. Reading history and checking a box or filing away the information without learning from it or applying what we have learned to the present is, in my humble opinion, worse than not learning at all. What if a doctor studied biology, but forgot most of what they learned? Would you want to be treated by that doctor? No! Similarly, we all live in a complex world with relationships made even more complicated by our history. This is why I take an educational approach to diversity and inclusion and have provided you with historic context through this blog.
School of Athens, Raphael
Fresco (1509-1510)
Rhetoric
I want to discuss one other word – rhetoric. Rhetoric or buzz words tend to dominate the sound bites about diversity and inclusion. When I think of the word rhetoric, I often think of the word bluster, which is really the opposite of the original meaning of rhetoric – which Aristotle taught us was the art of persuasion through the development of arguments based on logic. Bluster on the other hand, is loud, pushy, empty talk. Those who use bluster to distract us from the main argument and point of discourse or rhetoric are often successful, at least in the short term. Rhetoric has become commonly used to mean exaggeration, or hyperbole, using words that lack substantive meaning. I usually begin educational workshops by asking the participants to define diversity and inclusion. The results are often fascinating. These two simple words – diversity and inclusion – represent a wide range of things to people, sometimes emotionally charged things. So, as I have stated for years, words matter. Words are actions – actions that have meaning for us. We need to develop a common vocabulary where the meaning of words is understood by all parties; then we can begin to have constructive conversations about difference.
Organizations need to do more than recruit diverse candidates, such as create inclusion strategies if they are to experience organizational change that is reflective of our society as a whole. Our society as a whole, whether locally, regionally, nationally or globally, needs to take assertive action if diversity is to become recognized as the precious commodity that it is. The transition to an inclusive world begins with you and with me. This may sound like rhetoric, but having witnessed and benefited by the words of individuals such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sojourner Truth, I know that my argument is sound.
So, I wish you all things wonderful in this New Year, especially diversity and inclusion!
Onward!
~ Wendy
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