Which do I choose? How do I react when I encounter my own biases or the biases of others? What do I do when I am aware of prejudicial behaviors in the work setting? Like other members of the human race, I fight or I flee. Because of my strong feelings on racial humor I may fight and be confrontational when I encounter it. In situations related to cultural or religious differences, my own uncertainty and discomfort can lead me to avoid the issue and hope it goes away. In the long run I am not acting as a role model for inclusion by being confrontational and I am not making a true difference by avoiding! As leaders in higher education, I believe we need to expand our tool box of responses and add a third option, being a proactive “change agent.”
When I am a change agent I am proactively taking steps to promote inclusive behaviors, rather than reacting to situations. I am not on the lookout for unacceptable behaviors to confront or shying away from uncomfortable situations. I am purposely choosing to learn more, share more and take action in a supportive way. I have learned that when I confront a colleague or team member it usually leads to anger or retreat and a short term response. If I am able to give feedback in a more respectful manner we may be able to open up a dialogue and discover options for growth and change, in both of us!
I still find myself wanting to react and confront ideas or actions I disagree with or avoid those “certain sticky” issues related to diversity. It takes work but when I focus on being a role model as a change agent I know I am making difference. I try to:
- Listen more than talk
- Reach out and learn more about diverse cultures, backgrounds, perspectives
- Ask questions to challenge assumptions
- Include the input and ideas of everyone
- Remain open-minded
- Take action to address inappropriate behavior, in a supportive and respectful way
- Negotiate alternatives to address conflicts
- Demonstrate inclusive behaviors in my day-to-day actions and language
What causes you to be a fighter or an avoider? Where do you have an opportunity to become a change agent for diversity and inclusion?