Tag Archives: race

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

 

In Light of Recent Events

In Light of Recent Events

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.

Conflict Resolution

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.

Experience Matters

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.

Opportunity

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?

Onward!

~ Wendy

Please let me know what you think!

 

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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