Diversity and inclusion (D&I) was very important to me even before the phrase became a mainstream phenomenon. Growing up in Piscataway, NJ, from a racial diversity standpoint, I was very comfortable with differences. Piscataway’s population was roughly 38 percent white, 33 percent Asian, 20 percent African-American and 11 percent Hispanic. For this very reason, when my family and I relocated to Maryland, we chose to live in Silver Spring – rated one of the 10 most culturally diverse towns in America by Wallet Hub. Diversity and inclusion encompasses race, culture and a whole lot more. Below are a few key things that stand out to me when it comes to D&I.
Diversity of Thought
One of the greatest things about D&I is that it aids individuals in gathering diverse viewpoints. We don’t always agree with other viewpoints, but it is important to hear, take into account and include different views in our discussions and decisions. Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, decided to kneel during the national anthem as a silent protest to police brutality during the 2016 NFL season. Some agreed with his method and message; some did not. But the conversation started because of the brave stance he took. Trying to understand his perspective is more important than whether you agree with his method and message.
Comfort and Commonality Does Not Equal Exclusion
With all the talk around D&I, people can feel tremendous pressure to act and speak perfectly. No one wants to be looked at as excluding someone from a group. The truth is, we can’t be so hard on ourselves. We can’t look at each and every interaction as a chance to prove how much of a diversity and inclusive advocate we are. There are times, as an African-American, I may hang out with a group of African-American friends. Or maybe a group of women from work to go out for drinks at a happy hour and no men are in attendance. We are all human and naturally gravitate towards those like us. With that said, the key factor is not making a group so exclusive that others are not welcomed to join.
Don’t Wait for Diversity and Inclusion to Come to You
We all have a responsibility to challenge ourselves. It is imperative to learn about new things and step outside of our comfort zones. I remember reading the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg which focused on gender differences and offering practical advice to help women achieve their goals. There were so many other books that interested me but this was the one that I knew would challenge me and force me to look at things from a different perspective. Maybe you hang out in different part of town or go to a bar where your culture or race is not in the majority. Learning about diversity and inclusion is not going to always come wrapped in a nice little bow. We have to be intentional and search for our own understanding through experience.