Tag Archives: leadership

Why Should You Ask?

What’s your story?
People love to tell their stories. However, they usually need to be asked to do so. Asking someone to share how they have acquired the knowledge and skills that help them to thrive in their work – outside of the professional and academic arenas – gives them an opportunity to tell you their story. It also gives you valuable information about a person’s transferable skills and competencies – information that may not be included on their resume. They may have learned how to manage teams successfully by helping a parent to raise their younger siblings; or they may have learned how to crunch numbers by helping at a grandparents shop. You can help people to provide this information by asking them to share their ‘distance traveled.’ It might be easier for you to ask these questions of others if you begin by recalling the distance that you have traveled. What have your experiences outside of the workplace or school taught you that helps you to thrive at work?
If only I had asked sooner!
A director of sales for a Fortune 50 company approached me and shared concerns that she had regarding an employee who had been in her department for seven years and was terrific in his capacity as an administrator. She said that his coworkers respected and trusted him and that he was highly competent, knew the business and had an incredibly positive attitude. The employee told the director that he wanted to be promoted into a sales title. He felt that he was ready for this move and had shown that he deserved it. The director confided in me that she did not think that he would be successful in sales as he had a very heavy Spanish accent. I asked her if she was aware of accent reduction classes which have become common. She had not, but explained that she was afraid that the employee might be insulted if she suggested that he take one of those classes. I asked her what kind of training the sales people were required to take and she cataloged several topics, including “Effective Communication.” I asked her if any of the other employees were insulted when she told them that they would have to take these classes in order to be promoted and she said, “Absolutely not!” They were excited about the opportunity and grateful. I explained to her that my father had a heavy Spanish accent and that I believe he would have taken an accent reduction class if one had been available to him. I recommended that she speak with the employee as they had a long term relationship. We ran through several practice conversations. Six months later she called me to tell me that the employee had taken the classes, was promoted, and in addition to being very successful with existing customers, he was expanding their client base by reaching out to Spanish speaking business owners in the territory. She said, “If only I had asked you about this sooner!” She was not thinking about numbers. She was not thinking about quotas. She was thinking about her mission – which was to sell.
Asking for and sharing ‘distance traveled’ stories contributes to the creation of an inclusive environment. Learning how an employee’s background can be an asset also encourages inclusion. An inclusive environment can be sustained if these approaches are integral elements of an organization’s culture.
Please let us know what you think about this by sharing your comments below!
~ Wendy


Independence is highly valued in American culture. Our independence from England, the independence of thought expressed by our right and responsibility to vote, the independence of a capitalist system where consumers choose which products to buy, and the independence to live and work where we choose. Interdependence takes our ability to act and think independently to the next level.
In the workplace interdependence is an essential element of success. Success is indicated by productivity, employee engagement, (how happy people are at work), and market share. For many years management and leadership theory articulated interdependence in industrial environments, picture Lucy and Ethel on the assembly line, for example. Employees in white collar positions, those higher up in the organizational ranks, were encouraged to be loyal to the company, but practice ‘healthy competition’ with their co-workers. This is illustrated in a somewhat extreme way in the play, “Glengarry, Glen Ross,” where the employees are made to compete for sales in order to keep their jobs.” This method of managing people to be competitive is often used when there is a commission, but not uniquely. At one of my prior employers, for example our bonuses were based on both our performance and the company’s quarterly profits. The employee evaluation system forced department heads to give only one employee the highest possible rating, thus a higher bonus. This inevitably resulted in a competitive attitude toward co-workers, even though in our department our success was not measured by the number of clients or dollars earned by the organization. This method of managing people discouraged collaboration and interdependence. When I was in graduate school there were several people in my program who were highly competitive. They would not share ideas until they did so with a professor, to assure that they would get credit for thinking brilliant thoughts. I was competing with myself to achieve more intellectually than I had ever done before in my life not my fellow students. The lack of trust by many students and some professors’ inability to encourage a free exchange of ideas among the students resulted in an unhealthy type of competition!
People like to be interdependent. I have long been a person who loves helping others. I enjoy being needed and am the ‘go to’ person when out with friends and someone needs a bandage, or an aspirin, or etc. One of the greatest things that I have learned however was not how to help, but to let others help me. Interdependence eliminates feelings of guilt or of owing the other person when they help you as you know that you will be helping them sooner or later. What is even better about interdependence is that what two people come up with when they collaborate is not twice as good as what one person can come up with on their own, it is exponentially better! I know that working interdependently will help me to create something better than I can on my own and so do my colleagues!
Strategic planning sessions are interdependent group exercises. Oh, I can come up with a plan on my own, even a pretty good one, but that plan will be created from my perspective, based on my experiences and knowledge and competencies. When I participate in an interdependent strategic planning session, everyone’s perspectives, experiences, knowledge and competencies are included equally in the process and the results are alwaysmuch, much better.
I am an idea woman. I have all kinds of creative, fun ideas every day. I love having new ideas and imagining them being put into action. Again, if I operate on my own, what I have may be a good idea or a great idea, possibly even a revolutionary idea, but without the interdependent experience of sharing and examining that idea with others it cannot be as good, great or revolutionary.
People, strategies and ideas are alwaysbetter when we collaborate with others. We cannot successfully collaborate with others unless we understand that we are interdependent. That does not mean that we understand or agree with everything that everyone says, does or thinks. It means that we allow different thoughts, ideas and perspectives to influence us by being open to who is sharing them. This is why I chose the light bulb with the gears as an image for my website. The gears represent our interdependence, the bulb the resultant, amazing idea!


There is an international movement to make people aware of our global interdependence. The short film, “A Declaration of Interdependence” by The Moxie Institute does so beautifully!




~ Wendy



Introducing Inclusion Strategy

I am finally launching my first blog!  With all of the thought that I give to advancing innovation through increasing inclusion and creating real diversity in the workplace, it has taken me a while to catch up to this innovative means of communication!  😉  Perhaps because writing is an isolated, team-less activity – until I hear from you that is.  Once this becomes a dialogue and is no longer a monologue it will be an inclusive activity for me.


I have been in the diversity and inclusion business since 1988 when it was called EEO.  Well, I have actually been involved with diversity and inclusion much longer than that.  As a child of incredibly diverse parents: my father was from Puerto Rico, where he was born in 1902 and my mother was a New Yorker, although born in Canada in 1928 of Irish, English and German descent. There are nine of us, but we have five half-siblings who are much older than I am, being the second youngest of all.  I grew up primarily in a public housing project in Astoria, Queens, NY a neighborhood typical of many port cities in its regular, almost tidal ethnic shift from one dominating group to another.  When I was a young girl, the dominant ethnic group was Italian, but immigrants and migrants arrived daily changing the demographic formula of the community.


The riots of the late 1960s left an indelible impression on me of conflict, polarization, marginalization and segregation. Some friends became distant, safe places became dangerous, and school yard fights more frequent.  I moved through different worlds: White, Hispanic and others but never belonged fully to any of them.  I was intent on defending those poor new kids from other countries whose hand-me-downs of green socks, brown plaid skirts and red blouses screamed, “Bully me!”  I was not immune to the attacks of racists however, including the gang of girls who threw a bucket of water mixed with laundry detergent on my sister and me while screaming “You dirty spicks!” My experiences inspired me to help others to navigate the complexities of different cultures. 


I established Inclusion Strategy Solutions LLC to help organizations to overcome barriers to real innovation & diversity with real-world solutions. What that means is that I use my many years of practical experience, or distance traveled, professional experience and education to help employers hire, retain and grow the best and brightest employees into amazing leaders and innovators who love to come to work!  That can be accomplished through five basic steps:  The 1ststep is to assess your current organization culture; the 2nd step is to create a realistic, measurable and flexible strategic inclusion plan; the 3rd step is to develop clear, concise communication on your commitment to being inclusive; the 4th step is to provide interactive, effective education on diversity, inclusion and culture and measure results to determine your return on your investment; and the 5th step is to establish an Inclusion Support Network© to make your investment sustainable.


Future blog entries will include details on the five steps that I have developed to advance inclusion in the workplace; my observations on current events that relate to diversity and inclusion; and excerpts from my upcoming book, Let’s Not Be Polite: 5 Barriers to True Inclusion and How to Overcome Them.  


I also want to hear from you.  Remember, this needs to be an inclusive exercise! What concerns you about workplace diversity and inclusion?  What observations have you made regarding fairness in the workplace?  What has your experience been with discrimination or bullying?  What do you think of leaders of organizations that you have dealt with?


Back in 1988 when people asked me what my goal was regarding my EEO work I would reply, “To put myself out of business by ending discrimination.”  Twenty-five years later, the issues of diversity and inclusion are as deeply entrenched in controversy and debate as they were back then so I no longer harbor such a naïve goal. I remain as committed to diminishing the fear and ignorance that divides us and keeps us from being our best today as I was when I was a 10 year old girl mediating in the school yard.  I invite everyone to explore the benefits of real diversity in an inclusive society!


Wendy Amengual Wark

April 25, 2013