Thank you, Word Press, for reminding me that I was late in posting a blog entry for last week. I’d been in three time zones in two days, got a bit distracted and felt very jetlagged.
Last week, I travelled from 70 degree weather in Los Angeles to 30 degree weather (with snow on the ground) to Pittsburgh, PA. If there was ever a doubt about how much I love the work that I do, making this trip in a 23 hour timeframe must be proof.
I was invited to speak at an event, the Inclusion Best Practices Series, hosted by a wonderful organization called, Vibrant Pittsburgh. Vibrant Pittsburgh’s mission is “to embrace inclusion, ensure the Pittsburgh region’s growth by attracting, retaining and elevating a diversity of talent and promote the region nationally and internationally as a diverse, welcoming region of opportunities.”
It is also worth sharing the Vibrant Pittsburgh Statement of Values with all of you, (pulled directly from their website.) “Vibrant Pittsburgh believes that a diverse workforce is essential to the ongoing economic vitality of the Greater Pittsburgh region. We must attract, retain, elevate and educate people of all backgrounds, including New Americans, and create an environment that is inclusive and welcoming.
It is critical that the regional workforce be prepared for the job requirements of today and tomorrow, and that we attract qualified and diverse talent from across the country and around the globe.
Through the Inclusion Best Practices Series, Vibrant Pittsburgh features high-profile Chief Diversity Officers who will share their stories and best practices on a range of diversity and inclusion topics. Employers of all sizes will have the opportunity to learn from and interact with industry leaders on diversity and inclusion practices key to their business success.”
The topic of my session was – Mentoring as a Diversity and Inclusion and Elevation Strategy.
My friend and colleague, Melanie Harrington, is the CEO of “Vibrant Pittsburgh.” This woman is sharp and I respect her drive and intelligence very much. She served as General Counsel for D.J. Miller & Associates, Inc., a national management consulting firm. When I first met Melanie, she was President of the American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc. (AIMD), a national nonprofit diversity think tank based in Atlanta, Georgia. AIMD conducts research, education and public outreach programs on the issue of diversity. I was invited to speak to the Diversity Collegium in Atlanta on the topic Generational Diversity and the event was hosted by AIMD. Based on that experience, Melanie and I remained connected through social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. For those of you who scoff at the value of LinkedIn, scoff no more. Professional networks can help you gain employment or allow you to communicate with potential employers. In addition, leveraging those connections may help you in more ways than one. Melanie had seen articles about my company’s mentoring initiatives and diversity and inclusion strategy. So she reached out to invite me to speak at “Vibrant Pittsburgh.”
In preparation for this session, I looked up some facts about Pittsburgh, to supplement the input I received from my colleagues. From 2000 to 2010, there was an overall population decrease in Pittsburgh of almost 9%, according to the 2010 Census. In looking at the demographic mix: 64.8% of the population was White, 25.8% Black or African American, 0.2% American Indian and Alaska Native, 4.4% Asian, 0.3% Other and 2.3% mixed. 2.3% of Pittsburgh’s population was of Hispanic or Latino origin of any race. This city looks very different from any place I have ever lived. With a complexion as such, my instincts told me that the word “diversity” probably carried a lot of baggage associated with affirmative action and racial issues. I elected to NOT focus on this aspect of diversity but rather, to talk about all the dimensions of diversity that I bring to the work, as an individual change agent. I introduced the diversity in my household:
• Gen X
• Single Mom
• Youngest child of immigrants
• Straight LGBT Ally
• UCLA Bruin
• Gen C
• Bi-racial (Filipina & African American)
• Multiple Learning Disabilities
• High school freshman
• Steelers fan
(By the way, regardless of who in Pittsburgh heard that my daughter was a Steelers fan, each person immediately responded with, “Steelers Nation!!!” The shuttle driver told me that there is a Steelers bar in Sochi, Russia. My cab driver and I chatted about the Steelers upcoming NFL draft prospects. It was great way for me to connect with the locals. I respect what this city has done with their professional sports teams’ branding. Football, hockey and baseball all share the same colors – black and gold. This creates a sense of unity and pride that I found tangible but somewhat indescribable, it just “is”. I have mad respect for the loyalty that the people of Pittsburgh show for their professional sports teams. The black-and-gold color scheme has since become completely associated with the city and I liked it.)
And after the resounding applause that my daughter is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I lef
t all that talk about defining “diversity.” I didn’t come back to race at all during my presentation. Regardless of that, I heard a lot of questions in the large session and afterwards that danced around the issue of “diversity” and the baggage associated with the word. I had joked that 25 years ago, some companies took correction fluid to the business cards of people who worked in Affirmative Action and typed “Diversity Department.” However, I know that people all over the world, especially in the US, think that Diversity only means race and gender.
The bulk of my presentation was on creating a culture of mentoring and that any culture change takes time. An organization needs to make systemic adjustments in rewards and recognition programs, and have on-going education for employees to develop and practice new skills. A “mentoring program” won’t change a culture, it isn’t like flipping on a light switch. Culture change takes leaders at every level of the organization working on the same strategy. There is no magic bullet.
From what I gathered, the city has a long legacy of families staying within Pittsburgh. People are born, educated, employed and die within a few miles of their families. This culture of cradle to the grave existence must play out in the workplace. And not in an intentional exclusionary way but I imagine that it is hard for new people to break into the inner circle in Pittsburgh. Consider a time when you were “the new kid”, perhaps at a new middle school or transferring to a new department at work. Remember how hard it is to make friends and build a network of people to support your development? Imagine being new to Pittsburgh and trying to find a mentor. It must be harder for people who are different from the mainstream population, any outsider probably struggles to connect to the culture of Pittsburgh. I imagine that plays out in specific workplaces, as well.
I hope that the work that “Vibrant Pittsburgh” continues to grow and feels support from leadership within the region. If Pittsburgh wants its population to grow, attracting and retaining more generational diversity, people of color and immigrants must happen. Other large metro areas are experiencing booms in population growth via ethnic minorities and immigrants. From the 2010 Census numbers, Pittsburgh has fewer minorities than most other major regions in the country. Hopefully, my presentation added value to impact the mindset of the participants in the room and to Vibrant Pittsburgh overall. The notion of ensuring growth and development in any region of the US is critical to the on-going success in our country. Being “Team USA” also means being “Team Pittsburgh”, even if I am an Island Girl living in California, who writes a blog called “DiversityNerd”.