The personal dimension of diversity

As a leader, I know that it’s important to promote an educational environment where equity and diversity are recognized as core values and integrated into our daily work.  In order to be successful, this work has to begin with me.

The graphic Anita introduced on Monday Diversity graphicillustrates three dimensions of diversity: personal, academic, and institutional.  I think that the personal dimension is the foundation on which the other dimensions can be built.  We as leaders need to model positive behaviors of self-reflection, learning, and engagement with individuals and communities that are different from ourselves.

My ongoing challenge is to understand what it means to come from a place of privilege and how that impacts my leadership behaviors. Over the past few years, I have stretched outside of my comfort zone to challenge my assumptions and learn about other ways of being in the world.  These suggestions from our MnSCU division of diversity and equity have helped me meet the challenge:

  • Commit to ongoing study and learning around issues of diversity such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, etc.
  • Learn the history of the nation(s) that inhabited the land on which my institution and community sits
  • Engage with communities that are not my own by participating in programs, events, volunteer activities, and intentional conversations
  • Have coffee with diversity leaders on my campus – and spend most of the time listening
  • Make a commitment to talk substantively about equity and diversity in my public addresses and private conversations, even though I will make mistakes and feel uncomfortable at times

I also found some useful tips in this blog from Harvard Business Review.  The author provided helpful guidelines about recognizing and managing our blind spots which work well when engaging in conversations about diversity.

Recognizing Your Blind Spots

•assuming that others see what you see, feel what you feel, and think what you think, since that’s rarely the case
•failing to recognize that emotions, such as fear and distrust, change how you and others interpret and talk about reality
•thinking you understand and remember what others say, when you really only remember what you think about what they’ve said.
•underestimating your own propensity to have conversational blind spots!

•paying attention to and minimizing the time you “own” the conversational space
•sharing that space by asking open-ended discovery questions, to which you don’t know the answers, so you stay curious (i.e. What influenced your thinking?)
•listening non-judgmentally to the answers
•asking follow-up questions

Source:  Judith E. Glaser,  Why You’re Talking Past Each Other, and How to Stop.  HBR Blog Network, 20 December 2012.

I encourage you to challenge yourself to try one of these techniques over the next few weeks.

Dee Anne Bonebright


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