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.
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.
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.
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!
As we embark upon a new year, we wish you and yours all things wonderful!
2018 was an incredible year! Most exciting was the formation of Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC – our partnership! (Learn more about Paula and Wendy) We recognize that our skills and competencies are enhanced through our collaboration. Merging our organizations has provided our clients with a greater depth and range of services. Most importantly, our personal missions and visions align and result in greater innovation and impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our world!
We are happy to share with you, some highlights of our 2018 accomplishments:
During 2018, we trained over 3,000 individuals in subjects including: Sexual Harassment Prevention (as New York State and other jurisdictions enacted stricter training requirements for employers), Inclusive Workplace and Leadership (Unconscious Bias), and Anti-Racism. The content for these sessions was developed in collaboration with our clients to meet the specific needs and challenges of their organizations. We also developed content to satisfy New York State Bar diversity, inclusion, and the elimination of bias CLE requirements.
We supported our clients with developing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and strategies and supporting their EEO and HR needs by conducting investigations, facilitating counsel and advise sessions, and advising leadership on best practices.
In our work as diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants, we had the opportunity to travel to Athens, Greece as well as more than 10 US States to facilitate workshops and consult on various subjects. The myriad perspectives across global and regional environments create exciting opportunities for exploring the complexities and nuances of this work.
We’re excited to continue to enhance our opportunities to learn while engaging with a diverse array of people during this new year.
We look forward to the opportunity to support your organization and collaborate with you on your inclusion strategies!
Please visit our new website: Inclusion Strategy.com and let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you.
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.
The first time that I saw a billboard with the message, “Diversity = White Genocide” I was honestly a bit confused. After all, what most people call diversity (the inclusion of diverse people), is the opposite of genocide. Groups subjected to genocide historically include: Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Rwandans, and Bosnians. Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. This matters because once we forget what happens when we exclude any group of people, we are destined to repeat the horrors of the holocaust and other shameful episodes of human history. “Genocide” is a combination of the Greek word génos (“race, people”) and the Latin suffix -cide (“act of killing”). The United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Genocide conjures up the most horrific images and acts that humans perpetrate against ‘others,’ members of groups other than their own idea of their specific sub-set, whether race, religion, or tribe.
I have since learned that there is an entire movement, a growing movement, of people who claim that Anti-Racists are ‘Anti-White’. Yes, that is an oxymoronic concept. In my blog post “What’s in a Word,” (December, 2013), http://www.inclusionstrategy.com/blog/?p=11 I wrote about the importance of vocabulary, the power of words to harm and to exclude. I will continue to posit that words and how they are used is a critical element of advancing equity and social justice. I must continue to use words to try to persuade those who are threatened by diversity and inclusion that we are really not so bad, those of us who work to bring humanity together, to find our common ‘touch points’ and share some love. Words are actions and our words can be loud and clear and true.
I must also continue to use words to state the truth. Racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and Islamophobia all rely on distortions of the truth. Racists have embraced the false premise that they, based on a concept of what race is, are superior to others, hence the term ‘White-Supremacists’. Obviously, there is no single group or sub-set of human beings that is superior to any other sub-set, yet all we need to do is look at a chronological list of genocidal epochs to know that the lie of superiority over, or the fear of, others has resulted in the murder, rape, mutilation, imprisonment, and ‘bans on’ or exclusion of people for millennia. How do you ban an entire group of people? This is not only a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Charter of the United Nations, it violates several U.S. treaties, most notably the Treaty of Tripoli ratified unanimously in 1797 by the US Senate:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (Art. 11.)
The truth can be distorted, ignored, and hidden. If it is raining, my saying that it is not raining is meaningless, as the apparent and obvious evidence of the falling rain dismisses my statement. So, if someone or some group states that ‘diversity equals white genocide’, the absurdity of that statement is blatantly obvious. However, the groups promoting this concept are growing and the current President of the United States has re-tweeted messages by these groups. A search on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) website for ‘white genocide’ brought up 179 results. There have been many billboards since the first one appeared in Harrison, Arkansas in 2014. These signs are not limited to the American south, but have also been put up in numerous locations from Washington State to Great Britain. People have come to Black Lives Matter rallies with ‘white genocide’ banners and they continue to appear at various events across the country.
The Hate Index created by City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism‘s NYCity News Service has documented 318 hate crimes in the United States since January 10, 2017. https://hateindex.com/ January 10 was only 18 days ago! In other words, we are averaging 17.6 hate crimes per day in the United States. That number includes only crimes that can be confirmed as hate crimes, not those where hatred based on the victims’ protected class status (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or national origin, etc.), is the suspected motive for the act. The SPLC identifies 892 hate groups on its Hate Map: https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map. These numbers are staggering in comparison to 10 years ago.
The Uniform Crime Reporting program (1930), the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (1990), and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009 require data be collected on all crimes motivated by hate based on race, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and physical and mental disabilities. The total crimes classified as Hate Crimes in 2009 was 688.3 (including murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, and vehicle theft) or 1.88 crimes per day.
Words are actions and words that are hateful incite actions that are dangerous and deadly. Words matter. It is also vitally important to remember that not only are those who are from certain countries, or members of certain religions being targeted by those who hate, those who appear to be foreign or gay or Muslim or Jewish or different are also being targeted.
Call to Action
So, why am I sharing this negative information? My intention is not to add to the already overwhelmingly negative news updates that seem to come at an amazingly rapid rate. Nor is it my intention to provide a political commentary. My arena is inclusion, the inclusion of diverse people in organizations, such as our entire civilization, the quintessential organization of people. When the daily news updates increasingly include decisions, actions, words, and thoughts that exclude, divide, defame, or discriminate against human beings, it is my business. Literally.
Many people have reached out to me in recent weeks and asked what I plan to do to help people and organizations to cope with so much divisiveness. Yesterday, someone reminded me that I need to be blogging every week and sharing a call to action. So, I will continue to do what it is that I do: to facilitate conversations intended to bring people together across their differences of opinion, to remind people that we all have a responsibility to advance inclusion, that we all have a great deal to lose if we isolate from others, that we all have SO much to gain when we are part of a diverse group of people – people from all parts of the globe, of all faiths, of all races, of all tribes. Diversity does not result in any type of –cide! Inclusive diversity results in creativity, intellectual growth, innovation, and better health. Lewis Mumford referred to cities as utopias because of their diversity which encourages curiosity! “Urban life in Greece began as an animated conversation and degenerated into a crude agon or physical struggle.” (1961)
So, let’s talk. Let’s talk about fears of the other. Let’s talk about anger resulting from conflicting views and opinions. Let’s talk about fear of change. Let’s have an animated conversation about our diversity. When we stop talking we resort to our primal or lizard-brained selves. When we stop talking, we lose our sense of connection and belonging to a tribe. We all belong to one tribe – the human tribe. There are hundreds of sub-sets; how can we decide which is better or worse? All that we can hope to do is learn and grow as a result of our connections. The concept of divide and rule (or conquer) goes back to the Roman invasion of Macedonia. We are not the masters of ourselves if we give in to hate. Hate does not participate or converse or receive or learn – hate blocks information about ‘the other’. Enemies are regularly de-humanized to enable their haters to kill, maim and attack them. Hatred cannot coexist with appreciation of another person’s beauty, brilliance, talent, or generosity. Hatred can only scream “NO”!
To me, you – my fellow human beings – are beautiful and complicated and brilliant and diverse, and that makes life, not death, possible and wonderful.
P.S. If you are in the greater NYC area, let’s meet for a conversation. If not, let’s Skype or talk on the telephone, or at least email.
P.P.S. Next week I will share some other positive steps that we can take to protect human rights and each other from hate.
In light of recent events, employers are asking if they should be discussing race and violence in the workplace. Discussions of this nature have been avoided historically as they can become emotionally charged and may result in more division than inclusion. Diversity ‘subject matter experts’, such as myself are often in the awkward position of being the first to observe and address what difference difference makes. What are we to advise employers to do? Does it sound like a sales-pitch if we recommend that we should be facilitating town hall conversations in the workplace about the state of racial and ethnic tensions in our nation?
What Are They Talking About?
Everyone is talking about the recent shootings of and by police officers in the United States – everyone. So, whether you employ people who design widgets, make widgets, sell widgets, count widgets, or monitor the impact of widgets, your organization is affected by these events. People are talking about this violence around the new water cooler which is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This new water cooler offers the cover of anonymity that eliminates the need for people to be ‘politically correct’ or even civil. The water cooler of choice might be Twitter or Facebook or some other internet vehicle. Then, employees will discuss what they just read on the internet in person – at the actual water cooler in the workplace. Of deeper concern, is what is not discussed – what is simmering just below the surface of polite workplace discourse that can erupt at any time in response to the latest headline.
Every controversial issue has sides or camps such as, “Blue Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter”. Members of various segments of society have strong feelings and opinions on these subjects. Helping people with entrenched philosophical differences to find common ground or to resolve their conflict often requires a facilitator or mediator. In the world of EEO (Equal Opportunity Employment), this is a regular part of resolving complaints of discrimination or harassment. Holding people accountable for their actions, having them take responsibility for those actions, and requiring them to treat each other with respect, is a critical element of conflict resolution. Getting people to move from anger and enmity to a place of empathy is the ultimate goal of the interaction.
Pop-up stores have been a trend for the past few years. They might sell seasonal items, such as beach chairs in the summer, or the latest fashion craze, such as stuffed animal purses, but they are meant to be temporary and to fill empty real estate between ‘real’ stores. Pop-up experts, on the other hand, especially in areas fraught with complexity and nuance such as race relations in the United States, can cause a great deal of damage. (I have discussed this in earlier blogs when examining the history of and strategies for the work of diversity and inclusion. Link) There is a great deal at stake when we ask people to trust each other enough to discuss subjects that are painful, and as we see every day in the news, possibly dangerous.
In working to resolve conflict between employees I have been screamed at, threatened, spit at, and assaulted. This work is not for the faint of heart. It takes many years and much training to learn appropriate techniques for diffusing conflict. People, unlike widgets, are unpredictable, messy and well, human. So, in considering strategies for dealing with employees’ emotional responses to traumatic events be sure that the facilitator has experience in conflict resolution.
Employers have an opportunity to address the state of diversity-based conflict that is affecting everyone, hence every organization. The high level of frustration resulting from too much talk and too little action provides an impetus for implementing strategies that can support employees suffering from an over-load of traumatic events in the news. The City of New York, for example is providing information and support for those overwhelmed by the frequency of violence in the news: LINK
In addition to emotional and psychological support, there is an opportunity to provide structured dialogues across cultural differences to create empathy, find community, and develop respect. This goes beyond examinations of unconscious bias, white privilege, and political correctness. This is about creating an organizational culture that is actively, intentionally inclusive. That means that when the Twitter-sphere lights up with chatter about disparate treatment of people of color, your organization is prepared to respond in a thoughtful way, ensuring that all voices are heard and that employees have an opportunity to discuss the issue among their peers.
Organizations, regardless of geographic location, sector or industry, have an opportunity to resolve conflict resulting from diversity. If you employ people and you are not creating a space where they feel safe, supported and respected, isn’t this a great time to begin?
On Monday evening I had the great pleasure to attend “I Am Latino in America” at El Museo del Barrio here in NYC hosted by Soledad O’Brien. The event is part of an ongoing national tour with performances and conversations about being Latino in America with celebrities, national and local advocates, business leaders, and academics.
Learn More: http://www.iamlatinoinamerica.com/
Monday evening’s panelists included: Rosie Perez, Actor and Activist, Jose Calderon, President of the Hispanic Federation, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President, National Education Association, Carmen Fariña, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education, Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of the Girls Scouts of America, and others.
Ms. O’Brien shared statistics on Latino-Americans ranging from voting trends to educational accomplishments. The presentations and conversations illustrated how diverse Latinos in America are and how rapidly we are changing as a constituency. Most of the speakers agreed that there is a general lack of representation of Latino interests even by Latino politicians. Immigration was #5 on the list of political priorities among Latinos polled, but is the #1 issue discussed regarding Latinos on news/media programs. There seemed to be a general consensus among the speakers that without increased participation in the political process by Latinos, there would not be a change in this trend.
The value of this event is that there is an open dialogue from multiple perspectives and those perspectives, whether agreed with or not, are respected. Ms. Perez made a powerful point when referencing Latinos who, although in a qualified way, agreed to some extent with negative statements made about Mexicans. She cautioned those ready to endorse negative stereotypes that they could be the next target of slurs and insults.
I hope that Ms. O’Brien and Starfish Media Group continue and expand these events as it is vital to have a forum for open, honest dialogue among those who share an identity as complex as Latino in America. I propose that future events include examinations of the impact of the intersectionality of most Latinos. Many of us are Afro-Latino (Blatino), Hispanic-Asian, and White-Hispanic. Then, of course, there are differences with sexual orientation, gender identification, national origin, regional location, generation, class, education, etc. In other words, our diversity is multi-dimensional, a concept that has been explored and discussed for decades, but can get lost among headlines and trends.
You Don’t Look Puerto Rican!
I certainly fit the title of intersectional as the daughter of a tri-racial Puerto Rican father and a mostly Irish-American mother. A native New Yorker who grew up in a public housing project, I am also a woman in my 50s with a graduate school education who has traveled the world, including spending a summer studying at Cambridge University in England. So, what peg to fit me in?
Most of my life people respond uniformly when they learn of my ethnic background with: “You don’t look Puerto Rican!” To which I usually respond, “What does a Puerto Rican look like?” As a descendant of a Caribbean Island populated by Tainos, (an Arawak tribal group) and the Caribs who invaded periodically for more than 800 years before the Spanish arrived; who were followed by other Europeans as well as the African slaves who those Europeans abducted to the Caribbean, I reflect my ancestral history. Based upon that history, what does a Puerto Rican look like?
I share my personal experience and a bit of Puerto Rican history with you because the conversation that is being facilitated by Soledad O’Brien, another half-Latina-Americana, and one who embodies intersectionality, is critical for all who have yet to understand that it is precisely the lack of communication that generates exclusion and reinforces discrimination and hate.
A Multi-Dimensional Conversation
I am in the people business. My job is to engage people who are resistant to change and difference in conversations about those very subjects. The most rewarding and affirming work that I do happens during training sessions when participants come up to me during breaks and tell me that they are pleasantly surprised that they are enjoying the experience – having fun, even! Being able to share that ‘aha’ moment with people of all races and backgrounds when they realize that we all are diverse and can all benefit from inclusion, it is amazing! This is what inspires me to keep doing what I am doing, even on the most challenging of days.
Often, when examining the impact of our perceptions on our relationships at work and elsewhere, we discover that someone may have a Hispanic name, but not be Hispanic, (such as my sister-in-law, Julia Garcia or several of my Filipina friends). Furthermore, someone might have a name like Wendy Willow Amengual Wark and be culturally more Puerto Rican than she is Irish.
So, what does it mean to be a Latino in America? For me, it means belonging to a group, like other immigrant groups who were treated with disdain, hatred and abuse in the past and have reached a tipping point where we cannot necessarily be identified by our names or appearance as native born or immigrant, as legal or illegal, as a member of any particular racial group – in other words as very American!
Is your organization looking beyond appearance and listening for more than surnames in your search for inclusion? If not, isn’t this a great time to begin a multi-dimensional conversation?
Please share your story and opinion on this subject as this blog post is part of that conversation.
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?
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.
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?
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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?
Please let me know what you think! firstname.lastname@example.org
Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience
I recently wrote about Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experiencewhich 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
Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experienceis 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 Livesis 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?
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.
The 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.”
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?