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A Starting Point for DEI: Seek Similarities Before Differences

K2VITAL®
 
Albion Minerals®
diverse team diverse team

Having a diverse team is not enough. You can hire people of different genders, races and ethnicities, ages and educational backgrounds and appear to have a diverse team, but your company will not truly be diverse until you begin to see the similarities before the differences. It is when we see what we have in common with others that the true benefits of diversity begin to soak into our corporate culture and deliver results beyond what we ever imagined.

It is the similarities, not the differences, that prompt us to ask for input, promote from within, invite to lunch or extend opportunities for growth or access up the corporate ladder. When we see ourselves in others, we relate better and we want to help that person succeed. Hiring diverse candidates is a start, but just like that exercise bike in your basement does not make you fit just because you have one, the reality is you need to actually use it. You need to actually use your diverse team members to achieve diversity, meaning you need to give them a voice and allow them to lead.

Build a Coalition You Cannot Control

New York Times best-selling author Bishop T.D. Jakes spoke at a business leadership conference I attended last year and challenged the audience on the topic of racism and racial inequalities. He said we have to build a coalition that we cannot control—meaning that we should purposely bring people around the table who will share freely and without fear of penalty—then, come into the room as a student ready to learn.

When this message landed on my ears, I was already in the middle of planning a virtual seminar series, called “Identifying the Elephant In The Room: Critical Communications Strategies In The Face of Racism,” with a team member at my company. It certainly felt like I had started to build a coalition that I was not in control of, and I was not exactly sure where it would go. I was prompted to do something on the topic of addressing racism in the workplace after experiencing Blackout Tuesday, a social media movement that arose in response to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. On that day, June 2, 2020, and the week following of elevating Black voices on social media, I personally learned a lot and realized I had much more to learn.

My company, Pitch Publicity, is a boutique firm, which is a fancy way of saying it is small. I have always had a rather young and diverse team, but in that week of Blackout Tuesday, I realized I was sitting on a goldmine of lived experience and had never really tapped into their knowledge. I had always seen myself as the teacher and my team members as the students. I tell them what to do, they do it, and get better at their job, and move on to bigger and better opportunities. But was I missing out on an opportunity from not learning from them?

Jakes challenged the audience of leaders and executives at the conference to have a conversation where you are not the teacher, and you are not in charge. Instead, sit down with someone who has a perspective that you cannot teach. Then he revealed this pearl of knowledge: Discover what connects you to this person, rather than focusing on what separates or divides you.

Often when someone is different than us, we get caught up on those differences and that is the only thing we see. It is hard to retrain your brain on first seeing the similarities instead of defaulting to the differences. For example, you might work with someone who is in the same profession, but the first thing you see is that the person is Black or white, male or female, gay or straight, young or old. All the differences are apparent instead of seeing that you are in the same profession, attended the same school, live in the same community, work at the same company or watch the same Netflix series.

Once you find the similarities and common ground, the differences begin to fade away. But acceptance is just step one. The next step is to invite those diverse voices to the table to speak in full honesty about your business, service or products. Remove the threat of penalty. Then listen, learn, digest, make changes and grow.

Find the Elephants in the Room

To make our virtual seminar series a success, I knew I could not be the boss on this production, so I chose to partner with a longtime team member who I knew could bring in a new perspective if I gave her a position of power to do so. I remember at the start of our planning I told her I was not her boss on this project; I was her partner. She was not even allowed to refer to me as her boss, but only as her partner. This leveled the playing field between us for the first time in the 12 years that I had known her. Ledora was now similar to me. She shared the same title, the same responsibilities and she was free to create at a similar level and push back on me as an equal. I got more from Ledora because she owned the project with me. We were on the same level and equally shared the responsibility for the outcome.

Together we went to work to find journalism and communications professionals and students from different backgrounds and career perspectives to have an open and raw dialog on what was not being communicated when it came to race relations in the workplace and what would make it better. We worked together to brainstorm topics with the professionals and students that were considered too taboo to discuss in the workplace, but that if discussed could make it a better place. We were even bold enough to use the word “racism” in the title of our virtual seminar series. We did not sugarcoat anything and because of our boldness and our willingness to elevate voices that were not normally heard in corporate America or even at the university level, the series ended up winning the 2021 Best Diversity & Inclusion Campaign award from PR News, beating out large corporations like Crayola and AARP’s DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) public relations campaigns.

We found the “elephants,” we talked about the “elephants,” and we kicked a lot of the “elephants” out of our virtual room during the series. The professionals learned from the students; the students learned from the professionals; and I learned that when you empower team members to take the lead and then step back to watch and learn, you, as the “boss,” benefit the most. To achieve true diversity in your company, you have an important role as the person in charge. Diversity cannot be outsourced to human resources; it must come from the top down. And as the one in charge, you have to lay down the fear of not being in control, not steering the conversation and not knowing the outcome. You have to trust the process and believe in all the similarities you have with others as the foundation to make a big difference.

See the Similarities First

The Elephant in The Room seminar series was a feat to pull off and a huge ask for many people involved. We organized it in three months and executed it completely in four months during a global pandemic, in the middle of an unpredictable lockdown when virtual conference platforms were still working out the kinks. We did it with no sponsors and we did not pay anyone speaker fees. We also did not charge anyone who wanted to attend. So how did I get my team member, Ledora, to venture out on this pro-bono project with me as my partner? How did we recruit 15 students from a HBCU (historically black college/university) and PWI (predominantly white institution) to work together and jump through hoops of approval at their own universities to help us host the series and make it available to hundreds of other students? How did we get 30 high-power alumni and journalism and communications professionals to share their experiences, advice and precious time with us on topics that most people are afraid to discuss at work, let alone in a public forum?

Even though the subject matter was racism, we did not focus on what made us different to produce the series. We focused on how we were all similar, and that is how we pitched it. We were all journalism and communications or aspiring journalism and communications professionals. We were all aware that journalism and communications professionals play a pivotal role in how race relations are addressed and communicated to the public and within organizations. We all agreed that racism could not be fixed by a seminar series, or in the classroom, but saw the value in mentorship and wanted to either be a mentor, mentee or both. We were all upset at the racial unrest happening in the summer of 2020 and wanted to bring a voice and an ear to the table to listen and learn from each other. We were all mad, sad and motivated to make a change.

Because we were focused on these similarities, we had the most diverse group of participants: People from ages ranging between 18-70; Black, white, Hispanic; male, female; gay and straight. Perspectives were heard. New connections and collaborations were made. New journeys began. We came from all sides of the elephant and together everyone was enlightened and elevated. Our similarities brought us together. Our differences made us stronger.

Exercise Your Magic Eye

You know those crazy magic eye pictures in which you look at it one way and see one scene but if you focus your brain on looking at it differently, you see an entirely new landscape? Sometimes it takes several tries to see the alternate picture, and some people never see it. But with a little patience and allowing your brain to release control of its own agenda, the second scene eventually comes into focus. The second scene is usually more beautiful than the first and once you see it, it is hard to see that original picture again.

We can make great strides for racial equality and diversity within our own organizations and communities if we practice the same exercise with people. Set your mind to see the similarities in others before defaulting immediately to the differences. Ask someone to partner with you, to sit at the table with you, to go on a new journey with you—and not because they are different than you, but because you see a piece of yourself in them. The starting point is getting to know your team and colleagues on a deeper level. What do you have in common? How are you similar? What passions do you share? Start there and begin to build a coalition you cannot control within your own organization and industry so you can continue to learn, grow and attract new and diverse audiences to participate. NIE

Amy Summers launched Pitch Publicity in the face of a rapidly changing climate for communication and media relations in 2003. She has more than 20 years of experience working with major clients in natural health to increase visibility through national publicity exposure. “The Pitch with Amy Summers,” flash briefing went live in 2018 and quickly became one of the most highly ranked communications flash briefings on Amazon’s Alexa. After 500 consecutive episodes, Summers launched her second company, INICIVOX®, in February 2020 to help individuals improve a wide range of soft skills centered on the complexity of communications. Explore publicity opportunities: www.pitchpublicitynyc.com. Take a communications deep dive: www.INICIVOX.com. Receive free daily pitch tips from “The Pitch with Amy Summers” flash briefing on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Play, iTunes, Spotify, Audible, Pandora and anywhere voice is heard: www.INICIVOX.com.

K2VITAL®
 
Albion Minerals®