Category Archives: equity

“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard


Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard

Fueling innovation through diversity

In his 2016 book, Driven by Difference, David Livermore makes the case that high-functioning, diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. However, he says diversity by itself doesn’t contribute to organizational success unless it supports your organization’s mission. And, he adds that unless leaders leverage diversity’s potential, it can actually erode performance and productivity.

So how can a leader leverage the potential of diverse teams? The secret is to minimize conflict while maximizing the informational diversity found in varied values and experiences. To overcome inherent frictions among diverse team members, Livermore says a leader needs to develop their workforce’s cultural intelligence or CQ.

Drawing on success stories from Google, Alibaba, Novartis, and other groundbreaking companies, Livermore identifies key leadership practices and elements of cultural intelligence that fuel innovation:

CQ drive: Build a desire to learn about other cultures and a willingness to adapt.

CQ knowledge: Cultivate appreciation and understanding of cultural differences.

CQ strategy: Be aware of the perspectives and ideas of different people and how their viewpoints affect the work of teams.

CQ action: Adjust to cultural differences and leverage diversity into results.

Leaders can increase their teams CQ by encouraging curiosity,  listening, respect and “perspective-taking” among diverse team members. Drawn from real-life examples, Livermore demonstrates that innovation is fueled by cultural intelligence and the ability to see things from others’ perspectives. Encouraging employees to consider their co-workers’ points of view and to mix their colleagues’ perspectives with their own can pave the way to developing innovative solutions that borrow from many ideas and work for everyone.

What advice do you have for increasing your team’s or your own cultural intelligence?

Anita Rios

Who’s making the coffee?

We know that leaders play an important role in ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to perform at their best and achieve their career goals. A recent blog post from Harvard Business Review highlighted one key aspect of this responsibility.

The authors described two types of work: “office housework” and “glamour work.”  As you’d expect, the first consists of the backstage tasks necessary to keep things flowing – everything from making coffee and taking notes to sitting on routine administrative committees. It needs to get done, but it rarely happens in the spotlight. Glamour work, on the other hand, consists of chairing key committees or task forces, serving on innovative teams, and high-profile or stretch assignments.

The research found that minorities and women spend significantly more time on office housework than their white male counterparts. In some cases, certain people are perceived to be better at organizational or care-taking roles. Others may feel pressured to volunteer for these tasks or face negative consequences for not being a “team player.”

What can managers do?  The first step is to identify the main office housework tasks for your team, and then assess whether anyone is doing more than their fair share. Create a system for rotating the tasks and hold everyone accountable for completing them.

When glamour work is assigned, be intentional and strategic to be sure everyone is considered. If some team members are more prepared than others, use strategies such as job shadowing and development plans to ensure that everyone is able to showcase their strengths.

Creating a team where everyone pulls their weight on the routine tasks and has opportunities to grow professionally not only demonstrates inclusivity. It also builds high-performing teams and creates an environment where everyone can succeed.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Transforming what we do

How do we transform what we do in light of both how today’s students learn, but also WHO they are?”  That was the provocative question asked by Interim  Chancellor Devinder Malhotra last month when he spoke at a Luoma Leadership event.  As we know, our classrooms are becoming more diverse, with new learners accessing higher education from communities that have traditionally had low participation rates in higher education.

To ensure student success, Chancellor Malhotra said we must align ourselves to new student demographics and the new workforce needed for our knowledge-based economy. He challenged all leaders to engage with underrepresented groups and embed themselves in their communities in order to accomplish our mission of serving all Minnesotans.

To do that, he advised that leaders not only learn about these communities, but that we learn with them and from them.  Doing so will ensure that Minnesota’s businesses and industries will have the talented workforce they need so communities across the state can thrive.

During the month of March, we will explore the leadership competency: valuing diversity. As you can see from Chancellor Malhotra’s remarks, valuing diversity is not just a good thing to do, but it is a strategic imperative. We must transform what we do in light how students learn and WHO students they are. In Minnesota State, here are the key behaviors that leaders are expected to demonstrate in valuing diversity:

  • Demonstrates inclusivity in work processes and work teams.
  • Encourages and promote the diversification of our faculty, staff and student body.
  • Actively seeks out and invites alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions, and decision making.

I invite you to join us in the conversation about our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion this month.

Anita Rios


Authentic conversations about difference

Having authentic conversations about difference can be hard. This is especially true in the workplace. Sometimes, leaders can feel like they might say something wrong, so they choose to say nothing. In these instances, they can miss valuable opportunities to increase awareness of racial, ethnic, and gender differences and to create greater inclusivity on their own campuses.

Having spent over a decade in my early career working primarily on diversity and gender equity issues, I know it can feel intimidating to wade into topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially as a white, middle-class woman with privilege. I also appreciate those who work hard to genuinely understand difference and create inclusive work and learning environments.

Understanding and creating a climate where difference is respected and honored is not just a nice thing to do, it has real benefits. Research from Catalyst shows that “employees reported feeling included when they feel both valued for their uniqueness and a sense of belonging. When employees feel more included, they reported being more team-oriented and innovative.”  Authentic conversations where different viewpoints are encouraged and shared and “outsider” perspectives are honored, can set the foundation for building good working relationships, fostering collaboration and resolving conflict.

So, are you wondering how to get an authentic conversation started? If so, Catalyst has created a wonderful tool to help, called: Engaging in Conversations about Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace. The 29-page booklet published in 2016 is full of excellent information to help you navigate talking about difference. To give you an idea, here are a few of the conversation starters and suggested actions included:

  • Ask people who are different from me how they experience their own gender, race, or ethnicity—and then really listen to the answer.
  • Talk to my colleagues about what the most salient issues are for different ethnic groups in our country, in our organization, and in our work team.
  • Ask my colleagues what fears or misconceptions prevent them from having discussions about differences.
  • Encourage one-on-one or group discussions about traditionally “unspoken” issues related to race or ethnicity in the culture in which I am working. For example, “I’d like to talk about how we can make our team meetings more inclusive and build trust among teammates. What are one or two issues we need to put on the table, but are usually overlooked or considered undiscussable? Why do we find these issues undiscussable? Why are they important?”
  • Ask my colleagues to think about times when discussing “difference” (in any sense) has led to a positive outcome.

As Catalyst authors say, “Openness and the ability to have difficult conversations are needed to effectively communicate across our differences and build inclusive workplaces.”

In recognition of Martin Luther King day, I want to challenge each of us as leaders to find opportunities to initiate more conversations about difference. Go ahead, try it out in a one-on-one conversation, or your next team meeting. Be bold! Why not think about facilitating a large group discussion about difference in your workplace? You’ll be modeling an inclusive workplace.

Anita Rios

Now what?

womens-marchMuch has happened since we wrote our last blog in December. I know my social media feeds are full of arguments, passionate points-of-view and a lot of ALL CAPS statements of righteousness or outrage.

All of this emotion, energy and disagreement also enters the workplace. The Minnesota Women’s March actually started at one of our schools, Saint. Paul College. Your people are navigating the current political landscape and you need to be prepared to lead during a very chaotic time. As nice as it may seem to just ignore all the divisiveness, true leadership demands that you step into the tumult and help your people work together.

To start the conversation we are going to share some ideas during February on how to lead for the common good. Specifically, we’ll be talking about:

  • discovering shared interests
  • managing conflict
  • truly listening
  • integrative leadership
  • servant leadership

Please share whatever ideas you have to help your people work together for a common good in the midst of raw emotions. Otherwise our teams may end up as divided as the couple cited in today’s Reuters poll – From disputes to a breakup

Before I sign off I want to share one hopeful picture from a blog I follow. A peaceful bike march in Paris with flags reading “Bikes not War.”

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Todd Thorsgaard