Dr. Kathy Obear

Part 1: Infusing Diversity and Inclusion into Everything We Do

– Posted in: Inclusion

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”- Goethe

As I begin this adventure into the world of blogging, my intent is to share what I know and believe about effective design and facilitation of sessions that address issues of diversity, inclusion, and social justice. As I consult with colleagues at colleges and universities across the country, more and more people are asking for the tools to not only facilitate foundational social justice 101 sessions, but also the skills to infuse inclusion throughout all of their training and development programs.

Most organizations seem to only address issues of diversity and inclusion in “stand alone” workshops or when there has been a critical, exclusionary incident. Infusing issues of diversity and inclusion into most every training session will help reinforce the organization’s commitment to creating inclusion and reinforce the messages, tools and concepts that are contained in more traditional diversity seminars.

So in this first blog I will begin to share some reflections on ways to think about the degree to which we can incorporate issues of diversity and inclusion into courses, workshops, etc. I am grateful to Bo Razak for our work together in developing the Stages of Diversity Integration, a document that has helped shape my thinking on this topic.

A helpful metaphor may be to think about infusing diversity like creating a layer cake. Everything depends upon a solid first layer ~ the foundation.

Foundational Layer

Whether it is a course exploring leadership or a training session on conflict skills, most sessions and courses can also infuse diversity into activities and facilitator comments, at least at this first layer. The intention of this foundational layer is four-fold:
1. Acknowledge the organization’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment for all members
2. “Do no harm”
3. Encourage participants to recognize the full breadth of differences in the organization and those they serve
4. Begin to explore their role and responsibility in creating an inclusive organization for all members
Below I explore these four areas in greater detail.

1. Acknowledge the organization’s commitment to inclusion:
It is important to ground educational sessions within the mission, vision, and values of the organization to help participants understand why they are being asked/required to care about issues of diversity and inclusion. Most organizations have statements that express their commitment to create an inclusive environment where all members feel respected, valued, and supported to contribute to their full potential. In addition, many organizations have statements about the quality of service they expect their members to provide to their “customers,” whether they are students, community members, clients, etc. It is important that participants understand the key benefits of an inclusive environment to the organization, their team, their “customers,” as well as to themselves in their career.

2. “Do no harm”:
This concept involves two aspects ~ the content /topic of discussion and the process of the conversation. Content: It is critical that facilitators ensure that what they present is free of stereotypical images. Whether their learning methods include videos/YouTube segments, case studies, personal stories, readings, PowerPoint images and graphics, etc., ~ all of these need to reflect people and ideas that in no way reinforce the pervasive, and often subtle, stereotypes and negative assumptions about marginalized groups. Process: It is vital that facilitators consistently observe and pay attention to group dynamics, and, when someone makes a disrespectful comment or acts in ways that are exclusionary, it is imperative that the facilitator respond in ways that, at a minimum, creates greater inclusion, if not also acknowledges the unproductive comment/behavior. Responses can be anywhere along this continuum: Redirect – Indirect – Direct ~ but it is most important that facilitators do not collude and stay silent in the moment. Occasionally I have decided to wait a few minutes to see if a participant will address the unproductive situation…and there are times I have not noticed the dynamic until after the fact ~ but we can always revisit a situation after it happens. One final thought about the process ~ when we as facilitators say and do things that reinforce stereotypes or are uninclusive, we have an obligation to reflect on our behavior and use the situation as a “teachable moment” for the group. It can be a powerful moment when facilitators model humility and openness to feedback after we have unintentionally done something that does not align with our values, group norms, and the learning outcomes.

3. Encourage participants to recognize the full breadth of differences in the organization and those they serve: It is important that participants recognize the full range of differences among people with whom they interact and serve. Facilitators can be intentional to ensure they use a wide variety of examples that depict people from varying races and ethnic groups (Asian American/Pacific Islander, Latino/a, White, Multiracial/Biracial, African American/Black, Native American/American Indian, Arab/Middle Eastern, etc.), as well as people who identify as women, men, or transgender. Similarly, we need to include examples of the full diversity in the organization with respect to many other categories of difference, including: class background, nationality, hierarchical level, job function, sexual orientation, age, ability/disability, educational background, relationship status, family status, religion/spirituality/ways of knowing, size/appearance, gender expression, etc. While it is improbable to include every type of difference in a 2-3 hour workshop on communication skills, effective teams, or customer service, facilitators can make sure they reference a wide variety of differences in each session, and that over several classes they have included a full range of social identity groups.

4. Begin to explore their role and responsibility in creating an inclusive organization for all members: This final element of the foundational layer of infusing diversity in educational sessions involves helping participants recognize their role and responsibility to help create and maintain an inclusive environment for everyone. Whether they are 1st year students, seniors or faculty/teachers, whether they are mid-level managers, entry-level staff or administrators ~ ALL members of the organization are responsible for actively doing their part to create greater inclusion and to interrupt disrespectful, exclusionary situations. In addition to emphasizing their critical role in proactively creating greater inclusion, it is also important to remind participants of any organizational behavioral expectations and related policies for which they will be held accountable if their actions undermine inclusion.

In future few blogs I will explore the next components of this layer cake for infusing diversity into everything we do.

11 Comments… add one
Dafina Lazarus Stewart June 27, 2011, 2:06 pm

Kathy! What a fabulous service you’ve created here by launching into the blogosphere! This first post is especially helpful and practical and I look forward to reading your future posts. 🙂

Kathy Obear, Ed.D. June 27, 2011, 2:35 pm

You are my 1st reader and commenter!! Thanks for all your support!!

Craig John Alimo June 27, 2011, 3:01 pm

very nice, Dr. Obear! Great stuff here… on a side note, the Goethe quote reminds me of Yoda. Although you won’t need it, good luck with this new endeavor! Peace, Craig

Rosario June 27, 2011, 5:59 pm

Wonderful Kathy, thank you! this is such a wonderful tool, love reading your emails and this is just superb! I am looking forward to more….Rosario

Nancy Evans June 27, 2011, 7:04 pm

Kathy: I have this blog bookmarked and look for more good stuff I can use with my students who are always asking for practical ways to infuse social justice in their work. Great job! Love ya, Nancy

Mamta :) June 28, 2011, 1:42 am

Love it… a vaccination of Dr. Obear consciousness for the socially just soul…

Emily Johnson June 28, 2011, 3:05 pm

Thank you, Kathy! I’m so glad you’ve created this blog!

Julie Larsen June 30, 2011, 1:22 pm

Kathy, Thank you for beginning this blog! I am very excited to continue reading and refer to this as a resource!

Maura Cullen July 21, 2011, 11:09 pm

Simply outstanding. Is this the beginning of a new book?

Megan Perry-Spears July 25, 2011, 8:12 pm

Thanks! Sorry to have missing the “gathering” last week, but I am back to work now and appreciating this reading!

Susana Pelayo-Woodward July 6, 2012, 7:31 pm

Kathy, Thank you for creating this blog and this helpful steps in infusing diversity and inclusion.

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