Turn on or tune in to any media source, and your emphatic reply would be “No way.” The extreme polarization in our country is more and more frightening every day. The new cultural norm is to not merely express strong points of view but to thoroughly demonize others.
At least one practitioner says it’s time to address this crisis with a new, 21st century approach to diversity, inclusion and equity.
At the University of St. Thomas Diversity Insights program last Thursday, Howard Ross, founder of Cook Ross Inc. and a leading national expert on diversity, leadership, and organizational change, challenged his audience to look within themselves for solutions.
Ross homed in on the source of our animosity toward each other — essentially, primal fears that lead us toward unconscious, visceral negative reactions to cultural, group, individual and institutional differences.
He coached audience members to overcome the “us vs. them” mentality by developing our capacity to observe ourselves. Instead of pointing the finger at others, he said, we should shine a light on our own biases. Recognizing our own foibles and faults will increase our compassion toward others.
Ross’s points reminded me of conversations we’ve had at MCF about diversity in philanthropy. When we developed our Diversity & Inclusion Action Kit to accompany MCF’s Working Towards Diversity IV research, we deliberately titled the worksheets ”My Actions.” We wanted to reinforce that grantmakers must take the first step by focusing on what they can do – not what others should do.
Ross concluded his remarks with some concrete steps we can each take to close the widening gulfs in our organizations and in society at large:
- Shift your consumption of media to really listen to the other side.
- Open a constructive dialogue in your organization, focusing not on the issues themselves, but on the way in which you’re talking about the issues.
- Talk to young people about other points of view.
- Take “the other” to lunch not to persuade, but to listen.
I haven’t cracked open Ross’s new book “ReInventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance.” But based on his presentation, I expect I’ll find more than a few concepts that are applicable to the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.
Join the Conversation: When “us vs. them” differences arise in your own organization, what are your actions and reactions? Is there a chasm between grantmakers and nonprofits that could be narrowed by self-awareness?
- Wendy Wehr, MCF v.p. of communications and information services