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Discussing Diversity and Inclusion at the State Department

Yesterday, I was among a group of 100 diversity leaders, invited to the State Department to discuss diversity and inclusion as it relates to U.S. Foreign Policy. The energy and excitement among the leaders were palpable. The “ wisdom session” as the invitation indicated, featured keynote speakers, panels and workshops presented by individuals representing the private, public and NGO sectors. Kudos to the organizers -- the State Department in partnership with International Society of Diversity and Inclusion and SHRM, who brought together an amazing group to focus an entire day on the subject of increasing diversity and inclusion.

Not surprisingly, we quickly discovered that no matter the setting: corporation, military, media, academia, government and NGOs, we are all struggling with the same issues as it relates to diversity and inclusion --- how to: make a strong business case; attract, retain, and develop diverse talent; embed D &I into the core business or mission; measure, sustain and hold people accountable in our respective organizations.

One of my favorite takeaways was from Dr. Ernst J. Wilson, author and Dean, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism speaking about diverse talent. He cautioned us to carefully consider the balance between making diverse recruits more like the institution and making the institution more like the diverse recruits.

I walked away feeling very positive and encouraged for having had the exchange and for meeting comrades in the struggle. As I walked to the Metro it struck me that what I had experienced was like a group self-help meeting. “Hi, I’m Debbie and I am struggling to increase diversity and inclusion.” I am in no way minimizing the importance and effectiveness of self-help groups. The parallel I am trying to draw is that the real work begins when you leave the group. Good to share, talk about and claim your issue with others in a similar position, but when you leave the group, you have to do the work to change your attitude, behaviors and actually do something that shows people you are serious… There’s the rub, getting to the action part…why is it so hard? What has to happen? We have policies, research, advocacy, and movements and yet we still struggle. I am thinking that we should look to the self-help movement for guidance in making our institutions more diverse and inclusive. Nothing changes if nothing happens.