Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is the founder of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consulting firm, and an expert on happiness and human performance. Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for WRAL TechWire.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The DEI consultancy, The Diversity Movement, recently asked me to be a part of their “Ask the Expert” series. They posed several thought provoking questions and in drafting my responses, I synthesized my experiences over the years into a belief statement:
Beyond the traditional and important diversity measurements of gender and race, generating a sense of belonging and having the chance to earn your success is important for the wellbeing for ALL.
I begin to share my “why” behind my belief statement in today’s column.
Being Seen, Heard…Finding Your Second Day
Several years ago, at the Triangle’s Harvard Alumni Association’s annual luncheon, I had the chance to sit next to the former President of Morehouse, John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. and learn from him.
Wilson started his higher educational leadership career at MIT, while I was still a student there, and later served as the 11th President of Morehouse College. He stated that his 4 years at Morehouse were the most psychologically wholesome years of his life. There, he was not “othered,” rather he felt like the college was built for him. He was “in focus.” What drew him there was that Martin Luther King, the picture of character, was a graduate. Morehouse set a man up not only for making a living but also for life; to become a force for good.
Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Wilson found his “second day” at Morehouse.
He rattled off the men of fame in his Morehouse Class of ’79 including Spike Lee, Jeh Johnson and Martin Luther King III. Spike Lee stood out to me. When I took film classes in New York City, Spike came to speak to us about a racially charged movie that he had just produced. In ensuing years, I would include his movie poster Do the Right Thing in my talks as his title just made sense to me as a broad life mantra to seek to live by.
Spike also found his “second day” at Morehouse. He floundered the first two years until he found a camera and realized his calling.
Character and Perspective
The Diversity Movement asked me to share a story on “character,” given its importance in our personal and professional lives. I shared that many years ago, when I was asked to create a handle for my Match.com profile, I chose “Ms. Character.” I figured the type of individuals attracted to that aspirational moniker would be those who I would like.
Wilson was quick to point out that character is more important than color and perspective is worth 100 points of IQ. He believed that Harvard can become the premiere “second day” institution in the world – helping students discover why they were born. To position them to do their best work while becoming their best selves. He wanted to take Harvard’s character preeminence to the same level as its capital preeminence. By getting the right things going in inclusion and belonging, he believes that Harvard will arrive there.
Harvard believes that diversity is an instrument toward creating academic excellence. Harvard’s Task Force went on to discuss diversity dimensions along many lines: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion and spiritual experience, political viewpoint, socioeconomic and immigration status, geographic origins and language, disability, veteran status, and discipline and scholarly methodology.
I believe that diversity goes even beyond these lines. In Do you have a Best Friend at Work?, I discuss companies embracing accommodations for neurodiverse candidates in the interview process.
For the last six years, I served as a coach and consultant for the leadership team of Easterseals UCP North Carolina & Virginia, a healthcare organization delivering services to help individuals with disabilities and mental health challenges and their loved ones who care for them. In that work, I reached out to Donald Thompson, CEO of The Diversity Movement, to see if he would consider joining their board. He embraced this role given his belief that mental health challenges and intellectual and developmental disabilities are differences that must be embraced along with the more traditional measures.
Belonging, the “B” in DIB is the key: being seen and heard
We must keep in mind that diversity does not imply inclusion. Diversity is quantitative. Are there a diverse mix of people in the environment? And inclusion does not imply belonging. Inclusion and belonging are qualitative. How well do these different people interact and learn from one another? Diversity is a precursor to inclusion and belonging. Inclusion, incorporation and participating, in and of itself does not necessarily achieve academic and social integration. Women may be included in a decision making committee, but find that they are not given opportunities to speak. In these cases, people are included but do not yet experience full integration, or belonging.
Belonging is the experience that flows from participating fully in many of the chances a school or company offers to learn, to create, to discover, to achieve and to have the opportunity to earn your success. The journey from diversity to inclusion and then to belonging is critical. Ensuring everyone feels at home in their roles is much harder than just getting them into that position, and belonging is the place where the most progress can be made out in the world. Achieving belonging isn’t an easy or quick task due to the differences in each person and their definition of “belonging” to a group, but nothing worth doing is easy or quick.
D + I +B are all important.
And by ensuring diversity leads to inclusion which then incorporates belonging, the culture created will cause more individuals to discover their “second day.” In this environment that inspires the highest levels of excellence, students and employees will do their best work and become their best selves.
Businesses can learn from higher education’s DIB efforts as capitalism is often cited as the greatest force for good.
About Grace Ueng
Grace is a strategy consultant, leadership coach and human performance expert with Savvy Growth. Her company offers workshops to move teams forward: Savvy’s Seven: What You Will Learn. Transformative companies hire Grace to deliver her HappinessWorks™ program to boost performance. Join her Happiness & Leadership community and learn to be a happier and better leader: click here