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Young, curious, kind
Very wise beyond her years
Carolyn is my daughter, and while she has given me some grief during her teenage years, she has also given me little windows in which I feel quite proud. The Haiku above and this post is a reflection on a conversation we had years ago that resurfaced and continued this week.
A few years ago, the dinner discussion between me, Andrew (my son) and Carolyn was about a class I had taught on diversity. Carolyn, who was 14 at the time, appeared to be more than “politely interested.” She asked all kinds of questions, offered lots of thoughts and insights about it, and then offered her own story about a movie she had seen at school. The movie had been about bigotry and bias.
As I listened to her years ago, I had felt a huge sense of pride.
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At the time, Carolyn’s questions, thoughts and stories told me that somewhere in that young woman was a heart willing to learn from others, willing to accept others, and willing to include others, regardless of what they looked like, where they came from, or how they talked. At the time, the figurative “protected classes” were the affluent, poor, bookworms, jocks, nerds, geeks, or otherwise.
As we picked up the discussion and continued just a few days ago, I got a sense that my daughter truly gets it.
This week, Carolyn, 18 years old now, was reflecting upon the same movie and, while the movie had been about drama and lack of inclusion in a school setting, she offered her insights about those things in the workplace. But this time, the “protected classes” were much different. She told us stories about coworkers who were rude and spiteful to others because of their nationality, culture or religion. She offered stories about rumors and hatefulness regarding a young single mom. She disclosed a sad story of a new employee who used to attend the special needs class in which she has been an aide for her entire high school career.
Carolyn’s stories were, for the most part, directed at Andrew, now 9 years old, who bombarded her with questions. She was patient with her answers but it was obvious she was losing patience with her coworkers and her supervisor. I was both proud and depressed by the whole situation.
Bias, prejudice and hatefulness are far too common; no workplace is immune!
It is going to take a strong willed individual, or a group of them, to eliminate discrimination.
Carolyn offered the following advice and insights to Andrew, and I have added my thoughts regarding how we (leaders, HR professionals, and decent humans) should behave and hold ourselves accountable accordingly.
1. Be inquisitive, not judgmental.
I don’t think organizations or people can truly manage or encourage diversity without first having an awareness and understanding of everyone’s differences. Therefore, we need to ask questions and we need to learn the “why” behind the traditions or the beliefs. Only then do I think we can understand and appreciate them.
2. Be open minded and accepting.
I don’t think we can promote diversity without first believing and accepting that everyone has value. We need to take it upon ourselves to objectively look for it and talk about it. Once we recognize the benefit of individuality and differing perspectives on our team, we may start to seek and solicit people who are different to join us.
3. Be humble and forgiving.
We all make mistakes, we all have habits we need to break, and we all have bias’ that perhaps show through in our words and actions. This doesn’t necessarily make us bad people, it just makes us human. However, we need to recognize when we have made a blunder and, if others are the ones who put their foot in their mouth, we need to forgive them accordingly. Moving beyond those moments will go a long way in encouraging and capitalizing on diversity.
4. Be pro-active.
Diversity isn’t an initiative or an activity that simply comes and goes, nor will it happen on its own. We must be pro-active and encourage our coworkers, our subordinates and even our leaders to learn about and seek to understand people’s differences. We must actively communicate the value these differences bring to our work. We must reach out and include others who may have previously been avoided or overlooked.
5. Be steadfast.
I’d like to think that a healthy “diversity” culture can be created with smiles and hugs but unfortunately, I think that’s a bit unrealistic. Bias and prejudice are rampant in our communities, and bigots and separatists have been allowed to bully, isolate, intimidate and harshly offend people without repercussions. Therefore, we must put an end to that reign and commit to actively stopping people who, under the false umbrella of “free speech,” are inflicting harm upon others.
I am proud of Carolyn; she is a strong person and I have faith that she’ll not succumb to the “popularity” of prejudice in her current job. However, I worry about her once she steps out of her comfort zone. I worry about college, I worry about her future jobs, I worry about her future communities.
While it may start with one kind hearted person, true acceptance will take us all.
Sadly, so will prejudice.