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If I Want to be Inclusive, I Must be Willing to Change

If I Want to be Inclusive, I Must be Willing to Change

When my partner, Paula T. Edgar and I facilitate workshops on workplace inclusion, we discuss all of the incredible benefits of having an inclusive workplace: more successful collaboration, greater efficiency and productivity, improved employee engagement, retention, and more effective communication, to name a few.

We are transparent with participants about the fact that being inclusive requires work. The hardest part of that work is being able to change how we do things. Valuing diversity is easy, by comparison. I can appreciate that someone cooks differently than I do, especially, if I enjoy their style of cooking. But even if I do not want to eat their food, we can still coexist peacefully and in an engaged and supportive way. Inclusion, however, means that I must change my style of cooking if I am going to successfully collaborate with another human being. I love to cook. I especially love to plan an entire menu so that my guests can enjoy a thematic experience. If I am to be inclusive, I must be able to open myself up to a different approach to the menu and any number of stylistic variations; from how much salt one uses, to what type of oil is best to use.

Vive la Resistance!

People really do not like change, hence the great success of chain restaurants. People get to order food that they have eaten before and apparently enjoyed, and in doing so, avoid surprises. I have heard more times than I can (or care to) recount, “But we’ve always done it this way!” There is security in knowing how things are done. This approach makes great sense when it comes to mundane tasks such as opening doors, turning on lights, or mailing a letter. But even these simple-seeming functions have evolved tremendously in the past 100 years, and continue to do so. When I began working full-time, I used an IBM Selectric typewriter with carbon paper to make an original and two copies of everything that I typed for the law firm that employed me. (I am incredibly grateful that when I mistype something these days I can just hit backspace or delete to correct the error!) So, change is a very good thing – sometimes.

It is fairly easy to get people to embrace change that makes their lives easier or simpler, but when it comes to changing the way that we think about society, and ourselves, things get a bit more complicated. The recent launch of ‘The 1619 Project’ by The New York Times is an excellent example of this. The 1619 Project is intended “to correct the record, reframing the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the national narrative.” https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html  For people who have been excluded from chronicling the history of the United States, this project provides an opportunity to write a more inclusive record. There has been a backlash by some White individuals claiming that essays in the project are either inaccurate, or that the project is not “real history”. These negative reactions (I will not reference any of them here), to this sweeping endeavor to examine the impact of slavery on our systems and institutions, employs the method of questioning the qualifications and efficacy of the messenger to disqualify the content. I can say with confidence as one who studied graduate level history at an Ivy League institution, that change was not something that was embraced in our field, be it a change of perspective or the subject itself. I was challenged when I wrote about the history of Puerto Ricans in New York City for being too close to my subject. So, another way to resist change is to establish that only a small number of people – people who claim to be objective – are truly qualified to research and write about our past. I would posit that no human being is able to be fully objective about our history and so we are all disqualified, according to these criteria.

Not All Change Is Created Equal

We hate being wrong! We especially hate being wrong about racism. As a person who is optically White, I can tell you that racism exists everywhere. For years, I called myself ‘a spy in the house of racism,’ because racists would say racist things to me or in my presence based on two false assumptions: first, they assumed that I was White; second, they assumed that I was a fellow racist. When I would correct people and say that as one of Puerto Rican descent, I am a mixed-race person, they would respond in shock; “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” “When I say Puerto Rican, I don’t mean someone like you!” Ah, you mean that you believe I am a better person because I look White – like you. People become very defensive when they are corrected or ‘called-out’ on their racism. I am not a big advocate of calling people out, but sometimes, I just get tired of this ignorance and bias. As a diversity practitioner, I educate people, with love, and help them to change and open their minds and hearts and reexamine their history books. So, if I am facilitating, I focus on feeling empathy for the person who has been mis-educated about slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and immigrant-phobia. Through my empathy I can begin to try to educate them from a place of love. I explain that our goal to create a more inclusive world is not about making anyone feel bad about our past, but rather to help them to see a personal benefit in being able to have really wonderful relationships with people who are quite different from themselves. This means, that we need to understand the distance that the other person has traveled to get to this space that we are sharing at any specific moment in time. This means that we need to study history, anthropology, and sociology from multiple perspectives – even the parts that make us very uncomfortable. Once we receive this new information, we need to be able to have our minds changed by it. Empathy is an incredibly important and powerful experience. If I can feel empathy for another human being, especially a human being who I do not identify with or necessarily like or respect, then I can begin to bridge the chasm of being exclusive.

There are many anti-racism workshops being facilitated across the country as well as examinations on White fragility when it comes to discussions on race. We regularly facilitate these workshops, as well as sessions on how to be an effective ally. Several organizations have gotten a great deal of publicity by providing their staff with one hour of ‘diversity’ training following racist incidents between their employees and their customers. This is a complicated subject and as such, we need to stop trying to find simple, quick fixes for these problems. One hour? Most people binge-watch five hours of the latest series before coming up for air. The average movie is two hours long. The average seating for a dinner in a restaurant is 90 minutes. How can even the most qualified facilitators be expected to accomplish anything of value in one hour? We are requested to meet these unrealistic expectations on a regular basis. We are told that there is not time within the busy work schedule to pull people out for training. We are told that people will not tolerate a training session that is longer than 90 minutes. We are told that the budget ‘will not allow’ such an expenditure; we are told many things about why employees cannot spend a full day in a workshop to learn how to navigate the impact of racism on the workplace. What we need to hear is how much the time and money it costs to respond to litigation; how much time that organizations spend attempting to resolve conflict between employees; how much is invested by organizations on recruitment and hiring only to see those precious investments run screaming from the building because they have been subjected to micro-aggressions on a daily basis.

This work takes time. Time to gather information about the organization’s culture and history; time to develop workshop agendas that matter to the participants and genuinely help them to learn and grow and change; and time for organizations to shift from being reactive to proactive about being inclusive.

What’s Next?

Helping people to develop meaningful communication and relationships with one another is what this is all about. We are asked regularly to give people a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ or a checklist of things that they should read to help them to be inclusive. We resist providing such lists for multiple reasons, but if giving you a list will help to make change a reality, I will break our rule, just this once.

Studies show that people respond to lists including 5 things more than they do to lists containing any other number so, here goes!:

The 5 things that facilitate inclusion:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Vulnerability
  3. Empathy
  4. Accountability
  5. Willingness to change

These are of course, over-simplifications, especially as we are talking about messy, complicated people trying to cope with the daily onslaught of social media messaging and negative news that seeps through the porous walls of every workplace, but this is the outline of a master course in being inclusive. Let us know if you want to join us, the learning never ends.

Onward!

Wendy Amengual Wark

New York, NY
August 26, 2019

Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC
Helping Organizations to Intentionally Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion!

www.InclusionStrategy.com

Wendy@InclusionStrategy.com

 

My Women’s History – 1969

In the winter of 1969 I wore pants (sewn by my mother) to school for the 1st time. Mrs. Matossian, my 5th grade teacher sent me to Mrs. Sullivan’s (the Principal), office for coming to school dressed inappropriately. The next day, my mother sent me back to school in a new pair of ‘slacks’ with a note citing the School Dress Code for New York State allowing girls to wear pants.  This was the only time in my entire educational experience that I was sent to the Principal’s office for a disciplinary reason.

My 5th Grade class photo with Mrs. Matossian on the left.

Mrs. Matossian, who was usually very sweet to me, did not respond very well. After ‘the incident’, Mrs. Matossian became curt and did not call on me as much. I was hurt and confused. We girls would have to walk to school in the middle of winter with our snow pants on and then remove them in the coat closet before class began. This was embarrassing and a challenge in the cramped, dark closet! In February of 1969, New York City had one of its worst blizzards with 9” of snow, so walking to school only in tights and boots would not be prudent.

It was after all, 1969! Think of what was going on in fashion: mini-skirts, go-go boots, and fishnet stockings! How could a pair of slacks be more provocative than that? These were modest slacks, by the way, not elephant bell hip-huggers.

The Central Park Band Shell, 1969

This was also a public school in New York City in 1969 – the year that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon! (I shook Neil Armstrong’s hand in a parade celebrating this achievement!) 1969 was the year of Woodstock and President Richard Nixon and protests against the war in Vietnam.

From the perspective of 11 year old Wendy, I was conflicted. I really wanted Mrs. Matossian’s approval – really! I strove to be the teacher’s pet by erasing the black board, handing out materials, and raising my hand from the front row of the class as frequently as possible. I also really wanted to be be comfortable and not have to get in trouble for that. I lived in a world that was changing rapidly and under restrictions that did not affect my six brothers in the same way that they affected my two sisters and myself (our six half siblings were older and so, were not part of this transition in the same way). My father almost killed my older sister for cutting her hair in a short ‘pixie’ style. We girls were supposed to have long hair and wear clothing that was not provocative.  He was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1902 and had antiquated ideas about women’s rights, but his ideas were common in New York City in 1969 as well. My mother could not get a credit card in 1969 without her husband’s signature – even though she was the one with a job who supported our family.

A storefront in NYC, 1966

I also wanted to honor my mother’s efforts to gain whatever freedoms that we could including, the freedom to dress as we pleased. In time, Mrs. Matossian not only relented and ceased her retaliation, but her comment on my final report card indicates that she forgave my challenging her authority: “ Wendy is a wonderful person. It was a pleasure to have her in the class. She will certainly succeed in all her endeavors.” So, I was affirmed by getting the approval of a favorite teacher and, I like to believe, who was empowered by the progress that my generation fought for. One giant leap for woman kind!

I was inspired to share this piece of my history by the UN Women post “Five Innovations That Have Advanced Women’s Rights” I hope that you are inspired to share some of your own history! Let me know about your ‘firsts’. These achievements in our own lifetimes need to be recounted and recorded so that those who are struggling for access to full emancipation and empowerment are encouraged to persevere!

Onward!

Wendy Amengual Wark

March 2, 2019
New York City

Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC
Helping Organizations to Intentionally Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion!

 

#METOO and What I Do About it: Part 2 – The Problem

Continued from #METOO and What I do About it: Part 1

It was another 7 years before I began working in the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Office at the NYC Department of Transportation. In 1987 I became the Deputy Women’s Advisor for the agency (on top of my day job as Deputy Director of Administrative Services). I had been active in fighting for equity and justice in many different forms throughout my life and the Women’s Advisors’ Program was established to assure that women who worked for the City of New York were not discriminated against or harassed. As part of my Women’s Advisor’s role, I became a member of the NYC Commission on the Status of Women’s (CSW) Sexual Harassment Task Force which was led by Bella Abzug, the CSW’s Chairperson at that time. We read many reports, interviewed hundreds of victims and developed a comprehensive report on the subject. As a result of this, I was invited to join DOT’s EEO Office 1988. I should note that it took a few years of experience investigating claims of sexual harassment and discrimination along with extensive training before I was able to do this work without overly identifying with complainants or mentally condemning every respondent (alleged harasser) prior to completing an investigation. In 1991, shortly after Anita Hill testified in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearing, I was promoted to Director of the EEO Office. Sexual harassment against women was headline news for a few weeks at that time and employers began implemented mandatory training on sexual harassment and discrimination. The training that was being developed was not, in my humble opinion, effective, so I dedicated myself to preventing harassment in the first place.

In May of 1994, after 7 years at DOT managing EEO investigations, reports, and training, I became the Program Director the CSW. The CSW focused on issues relevant to women and girls in the workplace and beyond. One of my first responsibilities was to support the CSW’s domestic violence task force. In June of 1994, OJ Simpson made the headlines when he was arrested for murdering his wife and her friend. Domestic violence against women once again became headline news for a few weeks. Funds were allocated to protect women and girls from violence and educate professionals on how to effectively deal with and prevent domestic violence. The parallel between domestic violence abusers and sexual harassers is precise and cringe-worthy: control, intimidate, and discredit your victims.

In the 30 years that I have been doing this work, I have seen little improvement in the areas of preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Most employers do not have effective policies or protocols. Those that do have policies and protocols in place rarely implement or enforce them.

Most employers do not properly train their employees to prevent harassment.  In my observation, webinars and training segments as short as 90 minute focused on reviewing the laws and definitions relating to sexual harassment do not create self-awareness or modify behavior. Despite this, most employers pay thousands of dollars every year to repeat this mandatory, ineffective exercise. I often refer to this process as ‘death by power point’: the facilitator reads slide after slide after slide and then expects participants to actually retain some of the information.

Most employers do not respond to complaints appropriately and use training as punishment or a form of insurance against litigation. First (and I am not giving anyone legal advice here), training employees does not insure that employers will not be held liable for failing  to protect their employees from sexual harassment or discriminatory conduct. Second, having someone who has already had sexual harassment prevention training retake that training in response to their violating your policies or the law by harassing an employee illustrates insanity to me. It is, however, the most common method for responding to sexual harassment by employers. Training (and I prefer using the word educating when referencing educating people on their rights and responsibilities, and most importantly, on self-awareness and behavior) should never be used as punishment. I have facilitated hundreds of sexual harassment prevention sessions where employees drag themselves into the training room like someone being forced to eat their peas knowing that they still won’t get dessert. That is a direct result of organizations inadvertently giving training a bad reputation. It is all too common for employees to expect these sessions to be boring, irrelevant, and insulting. Sending a respondent (a person accused of sexual harassment), whose misconduct has been corroborated, to be retrained is an even greater of a waste of resources.

Most employers do not hold harassers responsible for their actions and will often allow perpetrators of harassment and discrimination to victimize multiple employees before taking any action whatsoever. When it is confirmed that an employee has violated the law by sexually harassing another employee, an organization’s response sends a clear, loud message to all of the other employees. Usually that message is, “We won’t take any strong action, because we don’t want to be sued by the respondent for wrongful termination.” So, some employees learn that they can harass with impunity, especially if they are high up on the organization chart. Most employers do not hold leaders responsible for their own conduct or for managing the conduct of those who report to them. Accountability by leadership is critical to sending a message that harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated in an organization.

Most employers do not support victims who come forward to complain about being harassed. This goes back to protocols and policies. People who are not trained to investigate allegations of harassment and discrimination should never be involved in an investigation. Even worse, complaints are often mishandled from the start because employees are told to go to their supervisors with their allegations. If I work in IT, my supervisor is trained to code computers, not handle difficult and complex sexual harassment complaints. Organizations often do not realize that they put supervisors at risk when they ask them to become involved in allegations of discrimination.

Sexual harassment and assault are in the headlines again: Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and other places occupied by humans are being exposed as unsafe places, especially for women. The claims of the hundreds of women who have come forward in recent months range from having been recipients of inappropriate comments to having been victims of sexual assault. Headline news grabs our attention, upsets us, results in many articles and conversations about how pervasive and insidious sexual harassment is, and devastates the organizations that they expose. But, headline news has not resulted in effective prevention of or response to sexual harassment in the workplace. Not before 1991 and not since. Isn’t today a great time to change that?

I will address the solutions to the problems outlined above in #METOO and What I Do About it: Part 3 – Solutions which will be posted later this week.

Please share your stories and any other feedback that you have so that together we can create lasting solutions to this ancient problem.

Onward!

~ Wendy

November 1, 2017

 

#METOO and What I Do About It: Part 1 – My Story

I cannot remember the first time that I was sexually harassed. Was it the man in Central Park who exposed his genitals to my sister and me on a sunny afternoon in 1968? Was it the gang of boys on the street telling then 12 year old Wendy what they would like to do to her? [I will not share my response here as it is NSFW.] I can say that I have experienced so many incidents of sexual harassment and discrimination that most of them have blurred in my memory. For the record, I have never been sexually harassed by a woman.

If I limit my experiences of being sexually harassed to the workplace, I have to go back to my waitressing experience while in high school when a customer slid his hand under my uniform to touch my behind. Unfortunately for him, I was holding a full pot of hot coffee and the shock of his invasion resulted in my ‘accidentally’ spilling that hot coffee in his lap. Alas.

Two incidents were too painful to become blurs in my memory. The first was while I was working at a proxy firm on Wall Street when I was 20 years old. Two important pieces of background information: First, the President of the company promised me that I would be reimbursed for the tuition that I paid to NYU for work related classes that I was taking. Second, after being on the job for 7 months, I happened to be in the Personnel office and glanced down to see a payroll record for an employee who I supervised. This man was an old Army buddy of my boss’s boss, ‘Hugh’. He was lazy, incompetent, and spent large segments of the day roaming around and smoking cigarettes in the staircase. I was appalled to learn that this person was being paid $10,000 more than I was. My immediate supervisor was away on vacation so I marched into Hugh’s office and confronted him. He explained to me that ‘Frank’ had a family to care for and needed the money. I replied that this information was irrelevant. I should not be supervising someone, especially someone who was not carrying his own weight, who made more money than me. Hugh said that we would discuss this when my supervisor returned. He added that they were very pleased with my performance and that I would be pleased with my bonus and salary increase, which would be shared with me at the end of December. During the holiday party a few weeks later, I went into the kitchen area to get a drink and the President of the company came up behind me, grabbed me by the shoulders, turned me around, pushed his body against mine, pinning me to the cabinet behind me, put his lips on mine and shoved his tongue into my mouth. I was stunned! I reflexively pushed this man away who was easily more than twice my age and a foot taller than I. I ran from the area into the restroom where I repeatedly rinsed my mouth in the sink. After some time, I skulked out of the bathroom and left the party.

The next week, the bonuses and raises were announced. I received a standard 20% raise and a $250.00 dollar bonus. The staff member with the ‘family to raise’ also received a 20% raise and based on his higher salary, a $500.00 dollar bonus. I lost my ability to control myself.  I had also repeatedly been told that my tuition reimbursement check would be included in this pay period, but it was not. I went into the President’s office and although I was trembling terribly, said that this situation was unacceptable and that I expected him to remedy the ‘error’ on my bonus and increase and to have a check issued for my tuition, as agreed upon. He began very slowly to tell me that he really should not have promised me tuition reimbursement as it was not ‘official’ policy and other employees might feel jealous if I were to get special treatment. He also said that there was nothing that he could do about the raise or bonus as that was ‘Hugh’s’ responsibility and he would not interfere in an executive’s decisions about his staff. He then stood up and walked out of his office. His tone and facial express clear to me that he was punishing me for rejecting his sexual overture. I stormed into ‘Hugh’s’ office and, after telling him what I thought about his favoritism, resigned and left the office. I felt disgusted, defeated, and afraid that since I had resigned with so much drama, I would neither get unemployment or a reference. I did get both. In retrospect, I am guessing that they decided that they got a break when I resigned and kept my silence. I did not have the vocabulary at the time to identify my situation as ‘Quid Pro Quo’ sexual harassment.

Two years later, I was working in NYC’s Garment District for a manufacturer of accessories. I was reporting to two vice presidents (marketing and sales). I went into the office of the vice president of operations to ask him about a shipment for an important customer. We were leaning over a work table in his office scanning several computer printouts. It was the early 80s’ and I had on a pencil skirt, man tailored blouse and a skinny 1950s era tie. He said, “Nice tie!” and ran his hand down my tie which was hanging down as I leaned over the table. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but before I could move, he grabbed me, spun me around and pushed me down on the table. My skinny high heels slipped out from under me and I was falling back onto the table and felt that I would fall onto the floor. In a panic with my right hand, I grabbed his tie which was now hanging down on me, to keep myself from falling. My left hand landed on the table in an attempt to keep myself from slipping onto the floor. I realized that my hand was on a pair of scissors. I remember thinking “What is a pair of scissors doing here?!” I grabbed the scissors and cut off his tie. He went flying back across the room. I fell down with the scissors in one hand and a section of his tie in the other. I scrambled up off the floor and without seeing or thinking ran down the hall to my office, which I shared with three other people. My co-workers, seeing my distress ran to me asking what had happened.

Once I calmed down, I went to the senior vice president’s office. My attacker as well as my two bosses reported to her. She was married to the President of the company. She came around from her desk and sat next to me, hugged me, handed me tissues and water, told me that it must have been shocking. She said that she would call the car service to take me home. That I should take off the next day (Friday), and have a relaxing weekend with my husband. She said that on Monday morning we would meet and figure out what to do. (Some relevant information about this vice president is that he was having an open affair with another woman in the office. He was married and every few weeks his wife would come to meet him prior to their going out to dinner or wherever. I always cringed when she came in because I could not believe that she did not know that her husband was cheating on her.) The President of the company also had a reputation as a ‘womanizer’ and I avoided being alone with him because he made me uncomfortable.

That Monday morning, I came into the office ready to be told that my attacker had been fired. My mother worked for the NYS Department of Labor and I had called her and discussed the matter. She explained that sexual harassment was against the law and that the employer had the responsibility to protect employees from this kind of treatment. When I arrived at the office, two of my co-workers told me that a few of the other women had had similar experiences with ‘Frank’. I was confident that the organization would do the right and legal thing. So, when the senior vice president told me how remorseful ‘Frank’ was, that this would certainly never happen again, how valued I was as an employee, how I had such a great career opportunity with the company, and blah, blah, blah. I told her that this was unacceptable. I shared what I had learned about the other employees who were being harassed by ‘Frank’. I told her what my mother had told me. Her tone and demeanor changed completely. She sat up straight and said, “Frank has a family to take care of! Do you expect us to throw him out into the street after all of the years he has worked here?!” I just stood up and said, “No.” I was nauseated as I walked to my desk and collected my things. My co-workers were extremely upset and tried to keep me from leaving, but there was no point. I filed for unemployment and my claim was denied. So, I filed a sexual harassment complaint with the State. My unemployment claim was approved as was 3 months of ‘front pay’ to allow me time to find a new job. My resignation was considered ‘constructive termination’ as the workplace was so hostile that effectively, I would not be able to do my job. At the time, I had no idea how important this and my other experiences as a victim of sexual harassment would be in preparing me to do the work that I was meant to do.

For the rest of the story, please read #METOO and What I Do About it: Part 2 – The Problem and #METOO and What I Do About it: Part 3 – Solutions which will be posted later this week.

Please share your stories and any other feedback that you have so that together we can create lasting solutions to this ancient problem.

Onward!

~ Wendy

October 30, 2107

 

 

Resistance!

Resistance! magnets

There is resistance in weight training, resistance in electricity, resistance in magnetic fields (thinking of Leonard Nimoy today!), and resistance when it comes to diversity and inclusion.  D&I practitioners have  been trying to figure out how to overcome this resistance for decades and now, in 2015, resistance to inclusion seems to be stronger than ever.  So, how do we deal with people, especially those in leadership and management positions, who resist including others who are different from themselves in whatever it is that they are leading or managing?

Accepting Resistance

The first thing that we need to do is accept the fact that there is resistance to diversity and inclusion.  This has nothing to do with how you might feel about that resistance. Neither does it have anything to do with you.  Those who resist diversity and inclusion may do so for a single reason or a complex variety of reasons.  Perhaps they are afraid of change.  Perhaps they are afraid of difference. There are many causes for such fears, but acknowledging the existence of fear in people is the first step toward ameliorating it. I do not recommend that diversity practitioners begin calling in psychoanalysts for every manager and leader in their organization who resists diversity and inclusion.  I do suggest that we need to understand the history of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and other fears and hatreds of groups of people if we hope to create inclusion in the workplace or anywhere else.

What’s In A Word?

If people cringe every time we use the word diversity or the word inclusion, might we find other words that help us to diminish resistance and achieve our goals of creating sustainable inclusion?  What words are acceptable or even embraced by leaders and managers?  Development, succession planning, return on investment (ROI), value-added, are all words and phrases used in the business world.  Use this vocabulary to create successful and sustainable D&I initiatives.  Diversity will be woven into the fabric of the initiative when you intentionally include your hidden high potentials and others who have not traditionally been invited to the table. ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) should sponsor community activities that expand your market share and fulfill your corporate responsibility, hence establishing an ROI for executives who want to see more than a woman’s history month luncheon result from their investment in the women’s ERG. 

Creating Curiosity

Launching a pilot initiative that uses an intriguing vocabulary will create curiosity in ambitious people.  Whether it is a mentoring pilot with a small group of mentors and protégés as part of your overall succession planning / employee development plan or a leadership think tank where brilliant ideas are exchanged in a safe environment, those who were not invited to participate will be curious about the endeavor.  Promote the initiative.  Let all of your employees know what you are ‘piloting’.  Keep them apprised of the progress of your pilot program.  Then, if you decide to make mentoring a part of your organizational culture, you will have created sufficient curiosity to have more applicants than spots for protégés.  That is a great formula for success!

What’s Their Mission?

Do you know your organization’s mission?  I have shared mine with you before:  To make manifest the value of all people.  If you do not know your organization’s mission – really know it – then stop reading my blog and go and read your mission statement!  Print it out and tape it on the wall.  Study it and understand that every word of a mission statement should be there for a reason.  Does your diversity and inclusion mission (you do have one, don’t you?) support the organizational mission?  If not, tear it up and go back to the drawing board!  Each time I help an organization to define and develop its D&I mission it reminds me that the lack of a viable, articulated mission is the primary reason that D&I initiatives fail.  Trying to plug-in a diversity event, a single training session, or a new ERG will not create a successful D&I program.

If you help your leaders and managers to achieve their missions over a sustained period of time, they will be able to move from resisting to embracing inclusion.  In other words, you can flip your organization’s magnetic field so that it can live long and prosper!

If you are not diminishing resistance to diversity and inclusion in your organization isn’t today a great day to begin?

Onward!

~ Wendy

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Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC, All rights reserved, 2015.

 

Comfortable Diversity

Comfortable Diversity

I was once asked (directed) by a boss of mine not to use the words “race” or “gender” while facilitating diversity and inclusion education for the organization’s employees. The main reasons I was given for this approach were:

1. There are all types of diversity: job title, geographic location, marital status, parental status, we don’t have to focus on the obvious differences.

2. According to Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas (the late diversity scholar and author of Beyond Race and Gender: Unleashing the Power of Your Total Work Force by Managing Diversity; AMACOM, NY, NY. 1991.), “Employees differ not just on the basis of race, gender, and ethnicity, but also on a variety of other dimensions such as age, functional and educational backgrounds, tenure with the organization, lifestyles, and geographic origins, just to name a few.” Dr. Thomas was absolutely right, but that does not mean that any dimension of diversity should be avoided when trying to create an inclusive environment.

3. If the training focuses on race and gender, it might make our people uncomfortable.

I was also told, in other terms, that we were living in a post-racial society and that there was no reason to dredge-up the past and make people feel guilty about things that they could not control.

Today, as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and contemplate his legacy and the history of race in our nation, it is impossible for me to understand the claim that we live in a post-racial society when there are so many racially based challenges that we face every single day.

No Pain No Gain

Many people have begun the New Year by trying to live healthier lives. They have started to exercise, possibly after a long period without doing so. If this is the case, underused muscles will be aching in response to the pressure to participate in this healthy activity. If one is out of shape and overdoes it, then it can become too painful to continue and make progress toward better health. (I will confess that as I write these words, more than a few of my neglected muscles are groaning in response to my recent attempts to include all of my interdependent parts in goal oriented exercising.)

To continue with the exercise metaphor, much of the diversity training of a few decades ago was also a bit painful because of neglect, particularly when trainers would overdo it. So, the tendency might be to cringe at the thought of working out when lingering pain from the last effort reminds us how uncomfortable exercise can be. This certainly makes sense. That is why it is wise to begin a regimen of exercising carefully, mindful of old injuries, weaknesses, and risks. While there is going to be some inevitable discomfort, it does not need to be debilitating.

Beyond Trends and Fads

Just as with zumba, and other forms of exercising, fads and trends come and go, but three basic methods remain at the core of a healthy physiological program: reaching a targeted heart rate for your age and condition (cardio or aerobics), stretching, and strength. Similarly, effective methods for reaching sustainable inclusion goals require energy, stretching one’s ability to communicate and connect, and improving an organization’s cultural strength, or interdependence. These may initially cause participants some discomfort, but with time they will grow and expand their capacity to be truly inclusive. Just as anyone beginning an exercise regimen is advised to see their doctor to make sure that they are not causing themselves any harm and if they can afford it, they should hire a professional trainer to guide them. Likewise, it is recommended that your organization reach out to an experienced guide before embarking on an inclusion campaign.

One Step at a Time

Just as we are advised to begin an exercise plan by walking – simply walking before we start running – I recommend that we begin by talking. Conversations that have the goal of creating empathy in spite of diversity can help us to acknowledge our common history and distinct positions. In other words, let’s not be polite; let’s have genuine conversations that result in real relationships. Conversations that are grounded in mutual respect and the understanding that every one of us has a unique perspective – a unique set of experiences – can result in sustainably inclusive relationships. Conversations that are facilitated in a safe environment where respect is the primary requirement can be the first steps that move our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our cities, and our nation in a direction of healing and sustainable or manageable health.

Setting Realistic Goals

Just as exercising and dieting goals need to be realistic and practical, inclusion goals, if they are to be sustainable, must also reflect our current state and condition regarding diversity and inclusion. That requires an honest assessment and a well thought out plan. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not just show up in Selma, Alabama and expect racism or the denial of civil rights to end. He worked with others and developed a well-thought out plan and still met with incredible resistance before he and all of those who fought for our civil rights advanced that goal. That success enables and encourages all of us to continue to walk, to continue to strive to achieve our goals of inclusion, of equity, of humanity.

If you have not begun to advance your goals of inclusion, isn’t today a great time to begin?

Onward!

~ Wendy

Please let me know what you think! wendy@inclusionstrategy.com

 

 

Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience – Elinor Cohen

Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience

I recently wrote about Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience which is a New York Public Library project.  This project excited me from the moment I learned about it and now I am even more inspired to continue as an interviewer and to invite others to participate in this unique initiative!

I interviewed Elinor Cohen, who has an amazing story and shared it openly and bravely during our two hour conversation (the time sped by!).  In preparing for our taping, Elinor and I learned that we live across the street from each other.  In fact, I am looking at her building while typing these words!  We are also both City College, CUNY graduates.  In addition to learning about one person’s experience and perspective on becoming disabled, I have made a new and dear friend.  I am grateful to the New York Public Library for many things, including being my baby-sitter when I was young, and now I add my gratitude for connecting me with Elinor! Please let me know what you think of her story. http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/elinor-cohen-pawejx

Elinor and Wendy 11 2014Elinor Cohen and Wendy Amengual Wark

We had a launch celebration on November 22 at the Andrew Heiskell  Braille and Talking Book Library http://www.nypl.org/locations/heiskell and were able to meet other storytellers and interviewers in addition to enjoying some wonderful music: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/12/01/launch-visible-lives-oral-history

Deena Greenberg, project interviewer, wrote a wonderful blog about her experience interviewing Daniel Aronoff for the project. You can read it by clicking here. http://www.nypl.org/blog/2014/12/01/interview-daniel-aronoff-visible-lives

More about the project:

Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience is an oral history project that works to both preserve and document a thematic history through personal recollections. This project will collect stories of people who have lived (or currently live) with a visual impairment or a disability. The Library will train community members to conduct these interviews. Interviews will be shared in a preservation archive at The Milstein Division and on the New York Public Library website.  Public programs will also connect neighborhood residents and project participants.

Visible Lives is a project of Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in Manhattan.  A public archive will be kept at this local branch for future generations to listen to and research. 

For more information about this project or to share YOUR story:

Please contact Alexandra Kelly at Outreach Services and Adult Programming, AlexandraKelly@nypl.org or (212) 621-0552.

I am interviewing other storytellers and will share those conversations with you as they are posted. 

If you haven’t been inspired lately, isn’t this a wonderful time to be?

Onward!

~ Wendy

 

Caring Capital

On December 3rd I was part of a wonderful celebration hosted by Jaime Klein, Founder of Inspire Human Resources. http://www.inspirehumanresources.com/

We participated in an (dare I say it), inspiring exercise! We were given blank journals and asked to decorate them and to write a message inside for participants in Dress for Success http://www.dressforsuccess.org/.  The journals will be used to keep career related notes on job interviews, training and other thoughts.  It was such a personal act: coming up with a design and a message that a stranger would have and read and carry with them as they embark on a new, hopeful chapter in their lives.

Susie SchubThe force behind this exercise was Susie Schub, Founder and President of Caring Capital. “Caring Capital™ ignites employee engagement by empowering corporate volunteers to make appealing gifts for neighbors in need.  Through our proven philanthropic team-building services, employees connect, create, and make an impact on the community.  We deliver no-fail projects to employees worldwide, so each company may serve the community no matter where employees reside.  Since its launch in 2009, Caring Capital has engaged 25,000 employees who have donated gifts, from furniture and clothing to bedding and toys, to nearly 110,000 children, families, seniors and service members.”

Wendy with Caring Capital Journal 12 03 14

Look what resulted (Beaming Wendy!)

I am grateful to Jaime and Susie for the reminder that something that is easy and fun to do can make a huge difference in another person’s life!  Please visit the Caring Capital website and check out some of their amazing projects! http://www.caringcap.com/

If your organization has not embarked on an opportunity to be inspired, isn’t this a great time to do so?

Onward!

~ Wendy

 

Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall

As we watched the protesters make their way up Columbus Avenue, past our building on 95th Street, we realized that they had walked all the way from 14th Street and Union Square and were going to join those already gathered at 125th Street in Harlem. My heart both leaped and sank. My heart sank because the decision by the Grand Jury of Ferguson, MO not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson of any wrong-doing in the matter of his shooting Michael Brown to death on August 9, 2014 had been announced earlier that evening. [For a timeline of events, see the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/11/09/us/10ferguson-michael-brown-shooting-grand-jury-darren-wilson.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=b-lede-package-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news] You will be also able to find a great deal of legal analysis of this matter through a quick internet search.

So, why did my heart leap? My heart leapt because we have the freedom to protest an act that many people have determined to be an example of injustice based upon the circumstances of Michael Brown’s race. Petitions were distributed within minutes of the announcement and many individuals and organizations have expressed their commitment to continue to work toward improving our systems of justice and law enforcement.  This nation has been founded on the principal that we have certain inalienable rights, and since the passage of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional Amendments, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_amendments_11-27.html  those rights have belonged to all U.S. Citizens. We have a legacy, in fact a responsibility to defend our rights and the rights of others, which is why we have a jury system, a jury of our peers, who hear arguments from both the prosecutor and defense attorney, is supposed  protect our rights under the law.

Barriers

When the decision was announced at approximately 9:30 EST on Monday, November 24, the internet lit up with millions of comments. People wrote of despair, heartbreak, rage, disappointment, disgust, and sadness. Others wrote hateful things, racists things, dividing things about those who grieved and mourned. Then, images began appearing of violence in Ferguson, MO. Images also appeared of peaceful protests in Ferguson and across the country; however, the predominant images posted by the media were of looting, burning, and violence. Let’s be very clear: violence solves nothing. Looting, burning of shops and destruction of property is worse than an exercise in futility – these actions result in raising barriers to inclusion and reinforcing the stereotypes held by many who do not understand the reasons for riots or even protests.

Individuals who believe that they are not represented by the justice system or their government may stop voting and if their frustration over their inability to effect change or achieve social justice reaches an extreme level, they will react not in a rational, ‘cool-headed’ way, but as a mob, pushed to mindless rage. There is not a specific cause and effect to riots. In other words, rioters or looters do not necessarily attack shops owned by people who treated them rudely or those with contents of the greatest value, there is just a need to vent. I experienced several riots in the 1960s first-hand and will never forget the enormity of the despair that consumed my community. The events of this past week have brought back those memories and feelings.

Haters ‘Gonna Hate

Since last Monday evening the twitter-sphere has been deluged by a steady stream of hate speech. I will not quote any of the comments here. I will state that although I have spent my life fighting hatred and have heard and read more racist comments than I care to count throughout my career and life, the sheer quantity and vitriolic intensity of many of the comments posted during the past eight days has shaken me. We do NOT live in a post-racial society. Racism is as prevalent today as it was in 1865. Yet, most people are fairly polite when they meet other people, in person, who are different from themselves. But if the numbers of comments on the internet in response to the events in Ferguson are any indication, we need to pay close attention to the reality that many people who are not discussing ‘the Ferguson matter’ at work, have very strong thoughts and feelings about this matter, which they are expressing elsewhere.

Some insight is offered by “The Whiteness Project,” being produced by PBS Video. This is “an interactive investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity.” http://video.pbs.org/video/2365320408/  The comments made by several of the participants indicate a profound lack of connection with or empathy for African Americans or their experiences. They also exemplify our nation’s deep polarity along racial lines which appears to be increasing rather than diminishing.  [This project certainly warrants an entire blog post, but as it is relevant to this topic it is included here.]

Can We Talk?

We need to address the responses to the reactions to the announcement in Ferguson, MO by creating a forum for productive dialogue. This dialogue needs to be based on the desire to experience empathy. It is only through empathy that we can begin to understand behavior or feelings that seem foreign or unacceptable to us.

It is with this in mind that I am making the following request:  How do you think you would feel if you were an 18 year old African American man living in the United States of America right now, observing all of the news, media and internet commentary regarding the events in Ferguson, MO?

Please, think this through very carefully before responding. As you try to walk in this person’s shoes, remember that the exercise is not based upon fashion or wardrobe choices, vocation, educational status, profession, religion, political affiliation, class, region, whether one was raised in a home with two loving, supporting parents or by a single parent, this has only to do with the circumstances of one’s birth – to be born as an African American male in the United States of America in 1996.  Can you imagine how you might feel during this past week reading all of the headlines on “the Ferguson matter”? [If you are, or ever have been, an 18 year old African American man, please share your comments as well!]

Please send me your comments and – for the love of our country – let’s not be polite! Let’s start to talk about race honestly, openly, respectfully, and with the intent to work on healing a nation that has been poisoned by racism since long before it was a nation.

If you have not asked yourself questions like this before, isn’t this the time to begin?

Onward!

~ Wendy

wendy@inclusionstrategy.com

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Can Plug and Play Diversity Work?

Today NPR posted an interview with Tristan Walker, Founder and CEO of Walker and Company Brands and the non-profit, CODE2040 and J.J. McCorvey, author and Associate Editor for Fast Company, on how Mr. Walker is working to increase diversity, specifically representation of Blacks and Latinos in Silicon Valley and high tech.   http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/11/11/363012130/tech-star-wants-to-make-diversity-plug-and-play-for-silicon-valley  Mr. Walker has earned kudos for investing in efforts aimed at resolving the demographic gap (based on race and ethnicity), in high tech through his non-profit organization.  CODE2040 addresses the issues of effective recruitment, access and networking, and the preparedness of graduates to successfully interview and get hired.  Through his substantial influence as a highly visible and powerful CEO in Silicon Valley, Mr. Walker has been able to encourage large high tech companies to both donate to his non-profit and participate in CODE2040’s fellowship program and other initiatives.  http://code2040.org/  These efforts should create a noticeable shift in both demographics and the success of people of color working in Silicon Valley if they are sustained.

Is Silicon Valley Ready for Diversity?

While Mr. Walker and others prepare potential employees to successfully enter and navigate the high tech world, I propose that we need an equally concerted effort to prepare the current leaders of the high tech world to successfully evolve into inclusive leaders.  I have seen well-intentioned and deeply resourced efforts to ‘diversify’ an organization’s workforce fail miserably because the focus was on numbers, not relationships.  I posit that most of the new job candidates who are fortunate enough to be participants in programs such as CODE2040’s will be quite adept at making the cultural observations that are a necessary element of a successful career.  Those of us who have occupied the role of ‘the other’ in society learn at an early age to observe and understand the nuances of the dominant (white, heterosexual, male, Christian), culture as a survival tool.  Those in dominant roles rarely pay serious attention to the subtle social cues of the ‘minority’ cultures around them.  I have conducted hundreds of interviews with individuals whose intent was never to discriminate, but whose actions (yes, words count as actions), had the impact of discriminating against others. In the incredibly speedy world of high tech, people want a quick fix for problems. My programming friends might be called upon to develop a ‘patch’ to keep things going while a long-term or permanent solution to a problem is developed.  The impact of thousands of years of discrimination, which is hardly limited to Silicon Valley or high tech fields, will not be resolved with a patch, however. Solutions need to be implemented that are strategic, practical, and sustainable.
[See my blog post from September 2013 “There is NOT an App for That!” http://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=15 ]

What to Do?

While the future leaders of Silicon Valley are still in their first and second year as undergraduates, the leaders of Silicon Valley need to prepare themselves for the cultural changes that they organizations will need to go through when those students graduate and enter the workforce. Highly developed cultural competency will become a survival tool for all leaders, regardless of industry, sector or mission.  (Think of butterflies.) The leaders of Silicon Valley may be brilliant in their respective fields, but how many of them have an expertise in diversity and inclusion?  Just as a company might outsource specific technical needs, I recommend that experts in this complex field of diversity and inclusion be brought in to help you to increase an organization’s collective cultural competency.

If you are not ready to have real, interdependent, productive relationships with a diverse range of people, isn’t this a great time to prepare?

Onward!

~ Wendy

Please let me know what you think in the comment section below or email me: wendy@inclusionstrategy.com

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