By Abby Haas, Spring/Summer 2020 Intern, RPG Raleigh
I had the opportunity to participate in NC TECH’s Diversity and Inclusion Summit and walked away with a greater hope for the future of the American workplace. In light of recent events, this topic could not be more relevant. As a recent graduate entering the workforce, I was eager to see what the world of technology valued in regards to diversity and inclusion.
These past few weeks have challenged my viewpoints, my comforts and my view of the world. However, I am not okay to stand on the side of injustice, and neither were the leaders and participants at this Summit. They raised questions and shared viewpoints I had, sadly, never considered.
The Presence of Difference
To start, the Summit highlighted a broad definition of diversity. Keynote speaker Raven Solomon defined diversity as “the presence of difference.” This can mean any sort of difference, including race, physical ability or generation. She explained that inclusion took diversity a step further by making sure that the difference counts. To make them count, we must recognize that these differences exist, have conversations about these differences, and working together to create an equitable society. While these definitions are simple, they are powerful and make it easy to understand why diversity and inclusion are important across industries.
In order to have successful conversations across cultures or with people that think differently than us, it’s important to have open and honest communication. During the Summit, one of the panelists shared her experience at a memorable D&I training with an improv comedian. The comedian had the participants do an exercise with the phrase “Yes, and...” – a popular technique that allows for affirmation and collaboration as a way to keep the conversation going. The key to keeping the conversation from being confrontational is to actively listen to that person and affirm his or her feelings (the “yes”); while, the "and" opens the conversation instead of shutting it down. It was a memorable and unique way to get a group to talk about D&I, but more importantly it represents the continual action needed to create a true culture of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Another important theme that emerged from the Summit was that committing to D&I initiatives means recognizing that division exists. Many panelists and speakers noted that industry leaders need to set the example and be people who listen. This is especially important because leaders can be the driving force of change for D&I initiatives. One panelist illustrated the importance of listening, explaining an instance where leadership released communication about a new initiative and, without realizing, perpetuated division and missed an opportunity to highlight diversity. However, because the leaders had created avenues for all levels of employees to share feedback, and they were ready and prepared to actively listen, the messaging was changed to present a new narrative and pursue D&I within the company.
The panelists at the Summit did not shy away from emphasizing that creating a true culture of diversity and inclusion will take hard work and hard conversations. In fact, it will require changing the way things have “always been done.” It may be small steps, like creating employee resource groups, or big steps like recognizing current biases or making structural and cultural changes in existing systems to make positive change.
What gives me hope is that current tech leaders from this Summit are learning to listen and take significant action toward implementing D&I in the workplace. By doing this, they are paving the way for future leaders of all races, genders, generations and backgrounds.
Actions like this can be a turning point in the American workplace. As someone entering the workforce, this event gave me hope that it is possible to create a workplace that is characterized by a true culture of diversity and inclusion, not just workshops and seminars.
We can lead the charge in creating inclusive websites, initiatives, business practices and leadership. We have the opportunity to encourage leaders to listen and take action. We also have the capability to uplift leaders who represent different experiences, backgrounds and abilities.
But first, we must listen to the voices crying out today. We must say YES to new perspectives AND ask “What can we do next?"
About the Author
Abby Haas is as an intern based out of RPG’s Raleigh office. She is a North Carolina native, and is a senior at North Carolina State University studying public relations and nonprofit studies.