Before we dive into today's topic, I want to tell you about my encounters with differences and what set me on this path of helping people communicate and connect across cultures.
I was born in Nigeria and I spent the first nine years of my life living in and out of two military dictatorships. General Ibrahim Babaginda and General Sani Abacha and a lot of what I witnessed while growing up was ruthless suppression of human rights, violence, curfews, arrests, killings and exiles.
We even had someone win an election legally and then get put in jail for that. That was one of my earliest memories. His name was Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola or M.K.O Abiola. I remember this vividly because my middle name is Abiola and that was his last name. I felt a weird connection with him even as a 4, 5 year old.
Add all this to the fact that Nigeria is a country of over 250 ethnic groups and many of the groups at the time were vying for ethnic domination.
To put it bluntly, there was chaos in the air.
This was my reality until we transitioned into a civilian government. At this point, my dad’s job as a diplomat was now super important because we as a country were now repairing our relationships all over the world.
As is the case with being a diplomat, you travel a lot. Our family was no exception. We moved to 5 countries and 4 continents by the time I was 17 so I had MANY experiences. Listed below are just a few of them:
- The Black Experience
- The African Experience
- The Black African Experience
- The International Student Experience
- The Hidden Immigrant in Your Own Country Experience AND
- The Immigration Experience Here in the United States
Needless to say, adaptability became my super power. How else was I going to navigate through these different levels of globalization, intersectionalism and identities? I needed to know how to communicate effectively across cultures and so as a walking contradiction, I resolved to become a bridge between cultures in such a way that it sparked connections.
I decided to that I would Use My Difference To Make A Difference. I developed that mission statement because I want people all over the world to recognize their self worth and to be seen, heard and understood.
That’s what I want to do with you all today. I want to show you all the value of diversity and inclusion. I know what it's like to not be seen, heard and/or understood so I have made it my personal mission to fix that problem.
Diversity and Inclusion is often a topic of debate for many but I hope by the time you're done reading this, you’ll be able to define both, make a case for both and outline a clear plan of action to achieving true inclusion in your workplace over a long term basis.
Sound like something you all want to hear?
First of all, let’s articulate the difference between diversity and inclusion.
What is diversity?
Diversity refers to demographic differences that distinguish one person from another. These differences may be observable or unobservable. Diversity goes beyond visible differences it’s also things we can’t see.
We have to be able to look beyond the surface level. Diversity takes into account many things like personality, communication, leadership style, learning styles, economic, cultural, work styles, language, social, privilege, education.
These are just some of the things behind your visible forms of diversity like age, race, gender and orientation.
When you just look at the visible, you miss opportunities to know who people really are.
True diversity links the visible to the invisible.
What about inclusion? What do you think it means?
Inclusion is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Inclusion is the state of being that supports diversity. It enables diverse individuals and groups to function in ways where differences are respected, gifts are valued and everyone is welcome regardless of their diversity. Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized.
Inclusion looks like increased participation in decision making:
- Access to information
- Greater empowerment of employees to solve organizational problems and collaborative teamwork
- Inclusion moves beyond acknowledging difference. It embraces it
The best analogy I’ve heard about these two is that Diversity is like a seed and inclusion is like the fruit. Most seeds don’t make it to the fruits stage because they haven’t been nourished properly. And if they aren’t nurtured properly, they won’t blossom.
So when leaders say they hired for diversity and it didn’t work out, it’s because the talent wasn’t nurtured the right way. They most likely didn’t feel included.
Add to that biases, assumptions, fear and lack of understanding and you have a very shaky foundation. Diversity isn’t about tokenizing people, filling quotas. It’s about leveraging differences and making all our differences work for us.
I want to talk about 5 ways you can make all your differences work for you. I call them the 5 A’s.
Let's start with the first A, Assess.