Tag Archives: cultural competency

Where do I start?

growing_sales_spiral_250wI guess the simple answer is to start with ourselves and our team. As leaders our opportunity to make a difference starts with the culture of respect we create within our own team.

But how? I found a number of practical ideas on the Critical MultiCultural Pavillion created by EdChange.org. It is a website created by a team of educators dedicated to equity, diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice. They provide resources for workshops, staff meetings and projects that support progressive change in our educational systems. I want to share an activity that I recently experienced and encourage you to give it a try with your team! It is called the “Circles of My MultiCultural Self” and the full instructions can be found by clicking on the link.

Briefly, each of us created our own set of circles identifying cultural and personal elements of ourselves that we defined as important for making us who we are. Next we spent a few minutes with a partner, each sharing a story about a time we were most proud of one of our defining elements and a story when it was a painful moment. Finally we were asked to identify a stereotype about one of our unique elements, or circles, that was incomplete, incorrect or failed to fully capture who we are.

As we shared our stories and the stereotypes we have heard I was struck by how different my experiences have been as a member of the majority culture from my colleagues from a minority culture. What I defined as important, or had experienced as painful moments, were mostly internal or personal elements that I got to choose to share or not share. I was in control of sharing that I am a cancer survivor or a divorced co-parent of a teen-age girl. My colleagues from a diverse or minority culture mostly described painful moments and identifying characteristics that others attributed to them or imposed on them! They were labeled as “black” or “from another country” or “as having a confusing and hard to understand accent.” They were not allowed to define themselves.

This was a small but powerful growth experience for me and for the team as a whole and a step in creating an inclusive work environment.

Their website offers a number of resources for leaders looking for ways to support equitable opportunities for all people to be successful at work.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

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Sharing our diversity stories

CUPAOur MnSCU HR professionals belong to an organization called CUPA-HR (College and University Personnel Association). Over the years I’ve benefited from many of their workshops, which often include an emphasis on hiring and retaining a diverse faculty and staff.

Just in time for our blog topic this month, CUPA-HR has released a new website based on a project called Creating Inclusive Communities. It features a series of diversity stories to help us think about the higher ed workplace. The site provides resources including videos with discussion starters and facilitator guides to make it easy to bring these conversations to local staff meetings or leadership team events. Some of the topics include:

  • Microaggressions
  • Immigrant Employees
  • Raising Young Black Men
  • Women in Leadership Roles
  • Challenges of the Deaf

I’ve found that other people’s stories can have a profound impact on how I view the world. As I mentioned on Friday, I just returned from a volunteer project in the Philippines. The team included both Americans and Filipinos, many of whom have worked together in the past. On the last night we spent some time debriefing the trip and sharing memories. I reminded them of the first time we worked with Shirley, one of the local leaders. She told me that she was uncomfortable giving work direction to Americans. Over time, we talked honestly about our fears and expectations and developed shared stories. Now she is much more willing to tell us what she wants us to do!

The creators of the CUPA-HR website believe that sharing our stories of diversity and inclusion can enrich a campus community and move institutions along the path to greater cultural understanding and competence. How have you used stories about diversity and inclusion when leading in our higher education workplace?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

#OscarSoWhite

Chris Rock Racist#OscarSoWhite, Black Lives Matter, Native Lives Matter, Atticus Finch and Go Set a Watchman, the Syrian refugee crisis, the achievement and opportunity gap, white privilege, David Duke, the list goes on and on …

At a personal, organizational and societal level we are all facing the reality of living in a diverse world. A world that treats people differently and provides different opportunities based on observable and unobservable traits, characteristics, cultures and genetics. It can feel overwhelming at times. As a leader I find myself asking, “what can I do to make a difference?”

Over the next month, we will be exploring ways to make a difference. We will be blogging about the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities leadership competency – Valuing Diversity. It is defined as:

  • demonstrating inclusivity in work processes and work teams
  • encouraging and promoting the diversification of our faculty, staff and student body
  • actively seeking out and inviting alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions and decision making

This is a volatile topic that exposes a wide variety of strong opinions and realities. Acknowledging and tackling challenging issues is an important aspect of leadership so we encourage you to dive in with us!

To get started I want to share two quotes that I heard at the MnSCU Student Affairs/Diversity and Equity conference last week. They reminded me of the personal and organizational accountability we all have to make changes.

“Equity is a practice, not a number or an outcome.”

“What can I do to shrink my bubble of ignorance.”

 I look forward to our dialogue and sharing of ideas as we address our leadership roles in valuing diversity.

Todd Thorsgaard

Hearing each other’s stories

MLKOne of the keys to understanding others is to learn how to listen and learn from each other’s stories. As leaders, it is dangerous to make assumptions about where other people have been and what they might do next. Understanding their stories can help make a personal connection the helps build relationships and move the work forward.

This week we’ve been celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. That always reminds me of a lesson I learned about hearing other people’s stories. I had an acquaintance that I’d known for a long time. Some years ago we were traveling together and getting to know each other better. The person was a retired professor from a local seminary and I made some wrong assumptions about what his political experience might be.

We had an opportunity to go swimming and I saw his legs for the first time when he wasn’t wearing long pants. One of his legs was scarred with what looked like bite marks. As we talked, I learned that he had been with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the courthouse steps in Alabama. The bites occurred when police turned dogs loose to break up the event. He’d been part of history and I never knew it.

On another occasion I was looking at the reviews posted in the window of a local community theater. Someone came up to me and I thought, “here’s another homeless person asking for a handout.” As it turned out, the person told me about an opportunity when the theater sells tickets very inexpensively to local residents. We had a nice talk about plays we had both seen.

When I work with project teams, I’m teaching myself to ask questions before giving my opinions. Tell me more about why you want to do it that way? What happened that makes you so frustrated? How can it be improved to make your life easier? Providing an opportunity for colleagues to share their stories helps build trust and I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have known any other way.

Have you had experiences where hearing someone else’s story helped you to understand yourself and the other person in a new way?

Dee Anne Bonebright

When cultural fit goes too far

whisperingCan you believe what he did? What was she thinking? Where did he get the idea to do that?

How do you react when you hear people on your team making statements like these? How important is a “smooth operating” team to you?

While a team that embraces the culture of the organization and holds a set of shared values, beliefs and unstated assumptions can be a competitive advantage, there is also a dark side of culture that leaders need to recognize.

There has been a spate of stories and articles recently describing the downside of an over reliance on cultural fit in the workplace. Inadvertently, in the quest to hire and develop aligned work teams, organizations have created road blocks to diversity and have reinforced conformity and exclusion. Organizational cultural fit has morphed into “personal” fit which can lead to exclusion.

To leverage organizational culture and not personal similarity, Lauren A. Rivera, associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, encourages leaders to use data and focus on the traits, behaviors, values and past experience that are directly related to job performance and the overall success of the organization.

In the end leaders need to manage the tension between personal fit and diversity within the organization.

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Embracing the edge

Scariest momentI still can feel the butterflies I felt as I drove to compete in my first triathlon. I knew where the race was, I had ridden my bike before, ran in my shoes, knew how to swim but I had never actually done a tri. It was new to me and I didn’t feel comfortable – at all. I was on a learning edge! Yet if I wanted to grow as an athlete I needed to embrace the scary feeling of not knowing what was going to happen next.

Leaders who want to be successful in our diverse and changing workplace also need to embrace their cultural or diversity learning edges. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive,  calls it your place of “productive discomfort.” We all lead from our own experiences and backgrounds. This means that our learning edges are different but that we all have an opportunity, and an obligation, to step into a new situation or explore a new perspective and learn more about different cultures, different histories, different experiences and different ways of thinking.

When we are on a learning edge it is easy to feel defensive, awkward, uncertain or confused. Be prepared for that feeling and continue to push yourself. That is where the true growth happens. Not only will you be developing your cultural competence, you will also be role modeling inclusion.

Some examples of learning edges are:

  • participate in cultural or community events that are not your own
  • get together with colleagues or students who are different than you, and spend most of the time listening
  • involve people with different backgrounds and different experiences when you are solving problems or making decisions
  • actively include discussions of diversity and inclusion in your meetings and work events, even if they are not “diversity” events

Where have you embraced your learning edge of diversity and what did you learn?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Joi and pain: lessons in life and leadership

Dr. Joi Lewis is a leader in higher education and an example of a change agent for social justice. She graciously agreed to share some of her passion and energy on leadership, diversity and inclusion. I hope you find her words as powerful as I have found my conversations with her!

I am honored to write about what I believe leaders in higher education should know about diversity, inclusion, and social justice. These issues are foundational to my life’s work and my core values.  As a Student Affairs practitioner-scholar and a social justice activist one thing I know for sure is that as human beings we were created to be in community and be connected with each other, the earth and the universe. I also know for sure that systems of oppression hurt all of us, regardless of our privileged or marginalized identities.

Storytelling is a great way to share the complicated nature of these issues and help us to embrace their contradictions. Our stories connect us and remind us of our humanity; they prompt us to build the muscle in our heart that allows us to forgive, heal and experience the hurtful feelings that oppression produces.  Here are some of my life lessons in: Life, Love and Leadership.

Lesson 1:  I will share an often hidden secret: we all have both privileged and marginalized identities but we are most practiced at organizing around the places where we are marginalized. We are keenly aware of the places where we get targeted. For example as a Black Woman, I am very aware of how my intersected identities of race and gender often set me up to get targeted.

Lesson 2: Even though I possess some identities that have historically been marginalized, I still have much more work to do around interrupting the places that I have privilege and run my oppressor patterns. The term “oppressor patterns” sounds so harsh; it is not an identity that we are eager to take on.  The lesson is that we all have oppressor patterns.

Lesson 3: The good news is that even though we all possess oppressor patterns we can use our “special powers” for good and employ our cultural capital to influence institutional decision making that brings greater equity to everyone. That is better than “super powers” and we all have the ability to do it. Decisions we make about budget, who gets promoted, what programs get supported, or what policies are adapted can be used to positively support more people.

Many years ago I attended a diversity workshop at Metro State. The topic was spirituality and the facilitator was Dr. Jamie Washington. There were about thirty folks at the workshop. I was one of only three persons of color in the room. Jamie asked us to raise our hands if we were Christian. I raised my hand. He then said for the rest of the workshop, which was scheduled for three hours, he only wanted those of us who raised our hands to speak from our identities as Christians. I quickly raised my hand again and said “No that will not work for me. I am black.” Jamie, who is also African-American, said to me, “I see that you are black, but for the next three hours I am not interested in that identity.”

I was furious! What did he mean, how could he expect that of me?  He was asking me to sit in my privilege for those three hours as a Christian and to think about all the privileges associated with the being a Christian (days off for the holidays that I celebrate, Christmas music playing in the malls as early as November, generally no work day on my regularly scheduled worship day of the week, The Bible in hotel rooms, etc.).  This gave me pause for the many things I had not considered. We discussed much deeper issues and folks shared examples of how they and their loved ones had been persecuted for not being Christian and their religious beliefs. I heard about the small things that I just don’t notice, like the way auto-type automatically capitalizes Christian, but does not capitalize Muslim.  This experience changed the way I looked at my multiple and intersecting identities. Although I do not think playing a game of oppression Olympics is useful, it is important to note that all of our identities matter.  It is important for me to do my work around places where I have privilege, not only personally, but also in my role as a leader. This work allows me to have compassion for others who may have a privileged identity that I do not possess and who are sometimes unaware of how their privilege may be running negatively in my direction.

Further, it is helpful to have this lens as leaders when we are making critical decisions that affect our staff and students. We must be aware of how our privilege may make it difficult for us to see how we may run our oppressor patterns towards others.

What can you do to use yourself as instrument:

  1. Build authentic relationships across differences.
  2. Pursue opportunities to place yourself in situations where you are not in the privileged group or the majority.
  3. Read books and articles that will stretch you.
  4. Embrace discomfort, this will spread the discomfort and lighten the load for those who may feel marginalized.
  5. Do take this work seriously, but don’t take yourself so seriously.
  6. Never stop learning.
  7. Make it a point to connect with someone who has a different social identity than you (race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, national origin, etc.)
  8. Take risks.
  9. Be curious.
  10. Have Fun!

Finally, know that this work is a process not a destination. You will make mistakes, get disappointed, have hurt feelings, laugh, cry, get angry, laugh, get upset, laugh and smile, mess-up, laugh again. Just keep at it. Repairing our humanity is worth it. Our institutions, our students and our communities are depending on it.

I am enjoying this journey of Joi and Pain; please join me as we move forward.

Onward, Joi

Dr. Joi Lewis