News & Events

Asking the Tough Questions About Diversity

A note from our EVP…

It seems like I just got back from the Chief Diversity Officers Forum at the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity and Inclusion Institute in Atlanta, where the conference theme was “courageous conversations.”  I was there for more than half of the conference and was struck by how different it was from other workplace diversity-related conferences – in a good way.

Instead of shying away from the hard questions, that’s all anybody talked about.  So  instead of being asked to focus on why religion is so important to tackle at work and how to do it,  these experts in the field asked me to facilitate a Learning Lab on the hardest questions Tanenbaum faces on religion at work.  We were challenged to have courageous conversations, and we did. The audience was really willing to engage, and we were able to start digging into some of the foundational questions that we don’t normally have time to address in training sessions. Christian privilege, whether you can have too much inclusion, what an ideal religiously diverse workplace would look like if we could build it from the ground up.  Answering these questions and thinking about what they mean for workplace transformation has the potential to cause a sea change in how we look at religious diversity and inclusion.

It was an interesting process, because most of the issues involve balancing competing beliefs and confronting sensitive questions. Precedents can be set unwittingly.  And creating new standards of best practices can require really tough choices about how to structure workplaces.  What was clear is that these questions are hard for everyone – even the leaders in diversity in the workplace.

What was also clear is something we learn again and again, but which always bears reminding:  It isn’t easy to be the outsider looking in.  And it isn’t easy to be part of the majority and to start thinking about everything you just take for granted.

I – and Tanenbaum – took a lot away from the session, at least as much as the participants.  Framing these questions and hashing them out with some of the top people in the diversity field reinforced for me the way we approach our work and gave me ideas for new resources as yet unavailable.  However that manifests, the experience was a reminder that we never stop learning.  And even when we think we’re doing everything we can to be inclusive, there’s always another step to take if we truly stop to think.