Lessons Learned from Inclusiveness, Part Two

5 04 2010

Last week, I wrote about what I’ve learned as The Denver Foundation has worked to build inclusiveness in our own organization and promote the practice throughout the nonprofit sector. 

Here are a few more key lessons I’ve learned…to learn more visit the website for our Inclusiveness Project.

Failing to be culturally sensitive can be disastrous.  Inclusiveness entails cultural competency.  Chevrolet tried to market the Nova in Latin America without realizing that “no va” in Spanish means “it does not go.”  No wonder sales lagged! 

Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is an essential life skill.  Males will never know what it is like to be female and vice versa.  White people will never know what it is like to be a person of color and vice versa.  Nevertheless, there is great value in striving to appreciate the worldviews of others.  When seeking to understand discrimination experienced by others, it helps me to consider what it would be like if there were discrimination against people like me.

When I worked in state government, we could appreciate how local governments felt toward us, because that is how we felt toward the federal government.  Similarly, we could appreciate how the federal government felt toward us, because that is how we felt toward local governments.  This attitude made us better advocates, negotiators, and partners. 

Color blindness does not work. In theory, a color-blind approach to life is appealing.  In reality, color blindness is neither practical nor possible.  None of us can separate ourselves from our race, our gender, or certain other characteristics.  Those of us who come from the “dominant” white, male culture may find this hard to understand and accept, but most women and members of minority groups feel passionately that their gender, race, or ethnicity cannot be ignored.  Instead of dismissing our differences, we would benefit more by celebrating them and using them for the greater good. 

The more we learn about inclusiveness, the more we realize we have yet to learn.  Working on inclusiveness is like baking cookies for decades (see last week’s post for the cookie-baking analogy!).  It is a long, usually-enjoyable process that requires considerable patience, and it is well worth the effort.  Authentic, respectful relationships in personal, professional, and community life aren’t easy, but they are tremendously meaningful.

Our similarities as human beings far outweigh our differences.  All of us have the same basic needs and desires.  We all want food, clothing, shelter, a job, our health, and a better life for our children.  We are all in the same boat – planet earth.  We are all in this together. 

If you have similar lessons or thoughts about inclusiveness, I hope you’ll post a comment and continue the conversation.

 David Miller is President and CEO of The Denver Foundation.

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One response

12 04 2010
Linda Campbell

Good points David. I feel like one important reason for valuing diversity or being inclusive, that I rarely see mentioned, is that it will help us be more creative, more innovative and better at what we do. White people with similar backgrounds are going to think more alike, as are African Americans who grew up in the south. People who grow up in Denver are going to think more alike than those who live in rural Colorado. So by bringing people together, who have different life experiences, different values and different ideas, if we can find a way to be in true dialogue, we will be able to accomplish amazing things – far beyond what could be accomplished with any group of people who all think alike.

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