The world we live in is growing more and more diverse as every second of the clock ticks by. Individuals and organizations are having conversations about how diversity can be promoted and accepted. As diversity has increasingly become the norm, it is important to understand what diversity is, what diversity looks like, and in what ways one can help to both accept and contribute to diversity. This is the case because diverse settings are never truly far away from anyone as our schools, workplaces, youth clubs, sports teams, etc. are packed with different faces, many from different places of the planet. Regardless of where anyone comes from, a unique story unfamiliar to anyone else lies beneath each person’s exterior. Fortunately, all of these topics were touched and elaborated upon in the fourth instalment of the Leadership Academy’s 2018 Seminar Series, Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion.
Last Saturday, March 3, the MTCC ballroom was packed with many students excited to learn about the facets of diversity and inclusion. The speaker for this event was the President of IGC & Associates, Mr. Jeffrey Parsons. Parsons did a fantastic job of creating a good rapport with his audience right off the bat, as he shook hands with many of the people who were filing into the ballroom. He was able to fluidly extend this rapport by cultivating an interactive and collaborative environment during his presentation, in which student participation was encouraged.
The Seminar began with a quote that Parsons offered to the group, and it read, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” While the quote may seem like an oversimplification in the sense that it does not define strength or which types of similarities and differences we are specifically looking for, it is very fruitful as it successfully introduces the concept of diversity. It proposes the idea that, if all the people in a group were the exact same, they would be very good at what they do, but completely hopeless when it comes to doing tasks that lie out of their comfort zone. The benefit of having others in a group with different skills and perspectives is that it allows for specialization within a team, which can improve efficiency. Beyond work, these differences can promote education and understanding. For instance, when people from different cultures come together and educate each other about their experiences, both of those individuals have become more well-rounded due to enhanced perspective.
Although differences may bring about strength within a society or group, actually displaying those differences can lead to the generation of fear. This fear can pertain to having doubts about what others think of one’s opinion, fear of one’s own thoughts, and even fear of success. This last fear seems a bit counterintuitive, because who could possibly fear success? The answer may surprise some, but Parsons shared how individuals who are successful as a result of doing something distinct may feel increased expectations they did not initially intend to gain. This can turn a creative individual who loves their differences into a person who views their ingenuity as a grind more than a love.
Parsons added to his point on fear when he stated it is present in just about every human alive. On the surface, there are things about people that are evident to others such as gender, race, age, and ethnicity. However, while these four traits persist in different combinations in all humans, their thoughts and beliefs lie underneath the surface. Careful interactions with the person and exposure to a larger percentage of their character can lead to a better understanding of the individual, but acceptance requires more than just an acknowledgement of their diversity. Rather, we strive for inclusion, which requires diverse individuals to be treated with fairness and respect while also having equal access to opportunities and resources.
The second half of the Seminar was quite impactful. Parsons set the group up to do an activity he likes to call “The Wall of Fame”. In this activity, multiple sheets listing different groups of individuals (examples of these groups include men, women, gays, lesbians, people of color, millennials, and a number of other relevant groups) were hung around the ballroom. Students were tasked with going around to each sheet and writing down any things they may have heard or been told about that group of people. This went on for approximately 25 to 30 minutes, and a discussion regarding some of the written descriptions was held. The shocking outcome of this activity was the overwhelming amount of negative comments directed at almost every group listed. A moment of comedy occurred when those within the ballroom came to the realization that the Seminar attendees, composed nearly entirely of millennials, had even criticized millennials themselves! The cynicism on display intrigued everyone, and it caused Parsons to discuss what the root causes of this issue could be. Many answers, including the media and hearsay from those around us, were given as possible reasons. Mr. Parsons enjoyed the responses and built on them by discussing how things people hear from different generations of people have passed down to the modern day and had an effect on our opinions.
Parsons went into great detail about 4 specific generations, which included the traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation X, and millennials. He described the time period in which each generation grew up, the specific happenings within that generation, and the ways in which previous generations have had a big impact on the current generation. He concluded his informative Seminar by showing the group several videos about diversity and inclusion. The premise of these videos was to ask people of varying backgrounds their opinions on matters pertaining to diversity. For instance, one video asked people of color to describe their feelings towards the color black, and then again towards the color white. What was astounding here was the existence of a wide spectrum of attitudes, showing that we have quite a long way to go until acceptance of the vast diversity we possess as a human race is fully confirmed. Thankfully, Parsons elucidated concerns about issues standing in the way of getting to this understanding and gifted us with his fantastic presentation during the Leveraging Diversity and Inclusion Seminar.