My daughter came home from second grade in tears. When I probed to find out what had her so upset, she finally told me, “My hair is big and puffy. I want it to look like everybody else’s hair.”
My daughter was the only African American in her private school. Her hair was gorgeous, yet she didn’t feel good about her hair or herself because she was different from the other girls there. After I comforted my daughter, I called a good friend who happens to be a diversity consultant. “What do I do? How do I help her love who she is when no one in her school looks like her?” I listened as my friend gave me great advice.
Her first recommendation was a list of books for me to get and read to my daughter, books that inspired pride and love for who she is. Then she suggested that I phone the school and offer to bring more diversity to the classroom. Three weeks later I had a new job in my daughter’s classroom. I was the “Friday Reader.” Every Friday, I would read for 20 minutes to her class, and I always chose books that highlighted diversity. Not only did my book selection celebrate African American diversity, but it also celebrated Native American culture, highlighted gender diversity, introduced Kwanzaa, explored Hispanic culture, and more.
My friend’s advice worked. My daughter’s hair is still big and puffy, and she’s completely confident “in her skin.” I worked with my children’s’ private school on diversity efforts through my daughter’s middle school years, and I am happy to say that the school is far more diverse today as it relates to students, celebrations, food and culture.
Are you frustrated with the lack of diversity in your organization? Would you like to learn more about the people you work with? Would you like to share some of your culture, celebrations and uniqueness with your co-workers?
If so, here are five ideas to help you inspire diversity in your workplace, much like the spirit of diversity I ushered in at my daughter’s school.
1. Encourage the Celebration of Cultural Holidays
I live in Tulsa, and the beautiful Cherokee Tribe is a big presence in my area. A creative way to celebrate cultural holidays in my area, for instance, might be to celebrate Cherokee National Holiday. It’s a national holiday celebrating Cherokee heritage. Look at the unique diversity within your company and encourage the celebration of holidays that both honor your co-workers and can teach others something new.
2. Bring Diversity to Your Everyday Work
One of my clients is in Albuquerque, a city rich with culture. I was working on a slide presentation with a trainer in my client’s organization when I noticed the lack of diversity in her slide images. I suggested that the images in the presentation be more reflective of the people who would attend her training. We then added images of Native Americans, Latinos and African Americans. This is a little thing that speaks loudly about diversity awareness.
Look for ways to bring more diversity into your everyday work, whether it is an ad campaign or a slide presentation, or by ensuring that a team or committee is fully representative of your company’s diverse demographic.
3. Start a Book Club That Inspires Diversity Discussions
Reading books to my daughter’s class was powerful. The books inspired conversations, taught new things and left the children curious. As an employee, you can do a similar thing in the workplace.
Organize a book club that focuses on diversity. Consider books that inspire and educate your co-workers. A book club can be fun and it can be a great way to bring people of diverse backgrounds together in a new way.
4. Share What Makes You Unique
As I helped to make my daughter feel more comfortable in a school that lacked diversity, I began to share with the school some of the things that made our family unique. For instance, I would host a 1-hour Kwanzaa celebration with my daughter’s class each year. The goal was twofold: to introduce my daughter’s classmates to a tradition that most knew little about, and to increase openness to our unique differences.
Is there a celebration or tradition that you’d love to share with your co-workers? If so, talk to co-workers, share what’s important to you, and even invite co-workers to celebrate with you outside of the office.
5. Get to Know People Who Are Different From You
Last night I watched an episode of my favorite travel show on cable. The episode featured students at an English as a Second Language school in Houston. Over lunch with the show’s host in the school cafeteria, the students discussed what brought them to the school. One student said his family came over in a boat and literally sat in water the entire ride over to the United States. They arrived here with no money, no home, no job and no English speaking skills. They came to the United States for a better life. Listening to their stories inspired a tremendous sense of empathy and sensitivity in me.
Learning about a co-worker’s unique background, journey and challenges helps you get to know, understand, and better support them. Take time, perhaps over coffee or lunch, to learn about people’s history, challenges, and even ambitions.
Diversity, real diversity, is everyone’s job. Don’t sit back and wait for your company to implement a diversity strategy. Be proactive in helping your company become more diverse by getting to know your co-workers, bringing your own uniqueness to work, and encouraging cultural conversations and celebrations. One person can make all the difference.