An exercise to better understand the diversity of your workplace

What you don’t know about the people with whom you work may be preventing you from recognizing them in Appropriate ways and providing them with an inclusive work environment. 

All of us are shaped by our experiences—our families, where we grew up, our cultural background. The more you understand about the history of staff members, the better your understanding of who they are today.

Knowing them as individuals enables you to express appreciation in meaningful ways that are culturally sensitive. 

An initiative recently introduced to the Rotary club of which I am a member offers a model that workplaces could use, too. Our “Meet a Rotarian” program helps us get to know other members better, including those who have been members for years.

It’s common in Rotary clubs to ask new members to present a “Classification Talk” shortly after they join. These brief presentations focus on their professional lives, with a bit of their personal history mixed in. Meet a Rotarian is a way for longtime members to provide an update on their lives since their own Classification Talk, years earlier, and to share more of their personal stories.

It also is an opportunity for members who have joined subsequently to learn more about the older members.

The Meet a Rotarian presentations have evolved into a sharing of key moments from the past that shaped who they are and of achievements about which the rest of us were unaware.

One woman talked about her successes at the national level in racquetball and squash and her coaching career at a private club. Another talked about how he and his wife once piloted hot air balloons. A third member shared that he had surprised his co-workers by winning a beer drinking contest and a fourth, known as an accomplished golfer, talked about being introduced to the sport while he was still in diapers, by his grandfather. 

These are but four examples of the “secret lives” I was surprised to discover about individuals I had known for more than a decade.

This idea could be adapted for your workplace and help create a more inclusive workplace, where staff members are recognized in Appropriate ways.

Schedule time at staff meetings for people to share stories from their past and to describe how they spend their non-work hours. 

In Birds of All Feathers, diversity and inclusion expert Michael Bach suggests beginning team meetings with “a diversity moment, when someone shares something about themselves to help educate their co-workers on the diversity that exists around them.”

What you learn will add to your understanding of the people with whom you work and may even surprise you.

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