Articles From Lenora Billings-Harris View Profile

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  • Inclusion…Respect…Engagement: Are they just buzz words?

    Lenora Billings-Harris, Inclusion…Respect…Engagement: Are they just buzz words?

    Now that the holiday season is upon us, this is a natural time to practice our cultural competencies. Will you be around family members or coworkers that you would rather avoid? If your answer is yes, I invite you to use this time to be introspective instead of judgmental— judgmental is so much easier. Ask yourself why this person annoys you so. Remember that you only have to be in their presence for a short time. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from them. Becoming aware of our own biases is the first step toward respecting differences of others. How can we expect our organizations to change regarding diversity and inclusion, if we as individuals are not prepared to lean into our own fears and discomforts in order to understand others?

    It seems that every organization expending any energy in the diversity and inclusion space today is espousing its support of inclusion, respect for the individual and the need for engaged employees. During the last month, I worked with clients in North Carolina, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Singapore. They represent diverse locations with diverse work cultures. The industries were different as well. All of them were interested in learning how to enhance or develop their diversity and inclusion strategies and processes in order to improve their ability to attract and retain the best talent. Although each client was at a different position on their diversity and inclusion journey, they all had one thing in common. They wanted their diversity and inclusion imperatives to be more than just talk.

    As we celebrate this holiday season and transition into 2013, perhaps this is the time for each of us to find our own way to speak up when actions within our organizations are contrary to the promises on organization websites, company newsletters and within corporate values. Leaders need to know, and many truly want to know, how to make the workplace a desired place for all employees regardless of their packaging. I am not suggesting that you become the company complainer, rather find ways to raise issues along with suggested solutions to the unconscious exclusions, and multicultural mishaps that happen too frequently and go addressed. Silence in these circumstances concedes consent.

    Following are real multicultural mishaps. (Names are changed to protect the guilty and the innocent.) What would you do?

    Three women were sitting together having a relaxed conversation. Mary (a Southerner) is trying to help to Joanne (a Southerner) solve a problem.Frances (a New Yorker) is a part of the threesome, but not contributing to the conversation at the moment. Mary says (with a smirk on her face), “One of my three Yankee friends gave me this idea and it actually worked!”… Mary proceeded to provide the solution to the problem at hand. No one responded to her Yankee comment.

    • Frances was offended but did not want to make it an issue with her friends.
    • Mary appeared as though she meant no offence. Perhaps she says this often and was not aware of its judgmental and biased impact.
    • Joanne winced when Mary made the comment and briefly looked at Frances.

    A non-profit board of directors was discussing who they should encourage to run for the board. The board is currently all White. All are volunteers. Several potential candidates were discussed. When the only African American potential candidate’s name was mentioned, a board member said, “Oh no! She left her job at a bank. We don’t know if she embezzled funds or something!” Some laughed, others did not respond at all. The Board Chair said, “Okay, next?” Discussion continued regarding other candidates. No one responded to the biased comment about the African American.

    These are true examples of negative micro-messages. I call themmulticultural mishaps. They occur regularly in our daily lives. These are the types of behaviors that cause our top talent to become disengaged and or move on to our competition with the hopes that the new organization will have a more inclusive, respectful and welcoming environment.

    The Newt Gingrich quote sited earlier shows insight, but the real question is, who will speak up when people of difference are not at the meeting as equal and respected members of the group? Join me in making 2013 the year of SPEAKING UP for inclusion and understanding.

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