In June of this year, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leader approached me to moderate an employee session on personal identity, inclusion, and belonging. We listened to a TEDTalk by Rebecca Hwang and how she described the Power of Diversity on a personal level. I found the discussion to be very candid, enlightening, and encouraging on so many levels. It made me think about my own identity and what I can do to have people in my life view other people’s powers quicker.
Talking of Privilege
As a white, tall, college-educated, U.S. male citizen, I’m afforded opportunities and interactions that some of my colleagues and friends don’t have. This is a fact; it is also something that I don’t ignore. I have always felt an obligation to contribute and make the world a better place for future generations. I never overthought why I felt this way until our session.
I was born in the U.S. but raised overseas. I graduated from a school in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I attended Associacion Escuelas Lincoln, the country’s American school. There weren’t many students from the United States there, and it was truly a global population. My friends were from Asia, South America, Russia, and South Africa. Growing up around multiple cultures and diversity was normal, because my father is of German descent, first-generation, and my mother is from the Midwest. I remember going to a new country, not speaking the language at all, and playing sports by the end of the week with friends that I couldn’t understand.
When I moved back to the U.S. for college, I was 17. I had just graduated high school and was now going to live in a college dormitory where I didn’t know one person. I thought this was normal from my background. New country, new location, integrate and meet people. I relied on finding common ground with people and letting relationships happen organically. For me, sports were always a way to find friends and network. But sports, an easy way for me, do not work for everyone. Let’s take an example of my siblings. My sister and brother do not like sports, so they had to find a different way to socialize and acclimatize. They moved back to the U.S. around the same time, with me being a middle child. We would talk frequently, and our stories were very different. Both were extremely social in Argentina but now shy in the U.S. They had a challenging time finding friends. They didn’t feel they belonged. It illustrates how some people may feel like they belong in one place but could struggle in a different environment.
Being an ally
My career post-college has taken me to many places, and my experience has always been the same. Find common grounds, leverage your diversity, listen to what matters to people and let relationships grow organically. It wasn’t until I listened to Rebecca Hwang discuss the power of identity that I reflected on ‘why’ my experience is different from others.
Diversity to me equals strength. Differences in thought are how we come together to create a better world. I worked with an engineer that said they wouldn’t hire any more engineers from a local college, because he already knew how they taught them to problem solve. He wanted people to look at the problems from a different perspective to be solved better/quicker. His global engineering team outperformed everyone else. That is diversity.
I get energy from listening to others tell me about their backgrounds and what makes them unique. Everyone has a story. Everyone can contribute if we are willing to listen.
Where I struggle is what to do next? I now understand what it is that makes me unique and allows me to value diversity. I find the courses, initiatives, and events our DEI team provides extremely helpful to reinforce the value of each individual and reflect on your choices. But how do I impact the broader organization and bring people along on this journey? I don’t have an answer yet, and I’m still learning. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading, reflecting, and listening.
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