In a recent presentation to the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, Karen Carter shared a story of standing in the upgrade line at the airport. An airline service agent approached her and told her she was in the wrong line. Karen was the only black person in the line. If you’ve been in a similar situation, how did you interpret what happened? What did you say or do next?
Karen also happens to be the Chief Inclusion officer at Dow Chemicals. In her presentation she shared this powerful insight.
Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice.
What that airline agent did, and what transpires next is where inclusion gets real. How does an airline, or any company or person, respond to these types of behaviors?
Learning about diversity is academic
We can take classes or research the internet for that.
Inclusion is interactional
We have to adapt our attitudes and learn skills for that. The action is in the interaction.
Diversity education can increase tolerance and empathy, which is a great first step.
Inclusion increases engagement and compassion. This is the next, most important step.
In addition to teaching people about individual differences, we should teach them how to interact with each other in a way that reinforces mutual value, capability, and responsibility – that’s compassion. Not that knowledge and awareness of diversity aren’t important. Because it’s a fact, the reality is around us and in front of us if we choose to engage it. Why not teach people instead to discover and leverage the diversity right in front of their noses through better interaction skills?
What people really need is training in how to talk to each other with compassion. What if we trained people how to value themselves enough to authentically express their anger in the moment and hold each other accountable for problem-solving better solutions? What if we trained people to get curious with each other and learn about diversity within their relationships – in the moment? What if we taught people how to focus on performance independent of race, ethnicity or gender?
Here are examples of interactions that follow our compassion methodology. Imagine if Karen had said this.
“I feel angry and defensive. I’m am the only black person in the seat upgrade line. When you suggested I was in the wrong line, I interpreted it to mean you thought a black person wouldn’t fly first class. I want to check to see if my interpretation is accurate because I am committed to giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and protecting my dignity. What’s your perspective?”
Imagine a different situation, a manager who is unaware of relevant cultural factors but wants to do the right thing.
“I feel ignorant about cultural factors that impact our working relationship. Will you share with me what you think is important for me to know? You can count on me to pay attention and respect what you share. How do you feel about this?”
These conversations follow our formula for compassion — ORPO — which stands for Open, Resourceful, Persistent, Open. ORPO is a foundational template for moving from diversity to inclusion by engaging with compassion. Read more in my ATD.com article.
Thank you Karen, for sharing your powerful story and helping advance the conversation around inclusion.
On the other side of diversity awareness is inclusion with compassion. If you are looking for a way to do that, visit The Compassion Mindset and contact us.