Can You Remember?

diversity
magic open book of fantasy stories

Summary: The time has come to understand better diversity and inclusion in our work, schools, and communities. It begins with your personal story. Everyone has one where they were excluded or ignored. Here is how to use storytelling at work.

Can you remember the first time words were thrown your way that would bite and sting? 

Above all, was it the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes? Perhaps you had a “funny accent” that someone imitated, and you stopped talking. 

In addition, did you live on the “other” side of town or wear out-of-style, hand-me-down clothes? 

For instance, did you go to the “wrong” church? 

Moreover, were you too fat, thin, tall, or short? 

As a result, stress is high, and there is a loss of confidence.  

Diversity training at work is vital for long term success.

Can you remember?

For example, here is a story from my client when we did the “Can You Remember” exercise in our diversity program “Connections: Results Through Relationships” for her company. 

Anita, a well-respected corporate lawyer, squirmed in her chair as we began to look back at the slings and arrows that so many of us had to endure as children, and sadly, still do to this day. 

 She was turning four, playing with her next-door neighbor in the yard. She ran into the house to tell her mother she needed a bath. It was the middle of the afternoon, and her mother said, “Honey, you were just playing outside for ten minutes; you are clean and fine.” 

“No,” Anita insisted. “Mary told me to go home and wash my body cause I’m dirty. I need a bath right now!” 

 Most importantly, her mother took a deep breath and began the first part of “the talk.” She told her daughter she was not dirty and that her skin was naturally that beautiful cocoa color. 

As a result, the little girl marched out to announce to her little friend that this was her skin color, only to come back crying. 

“Mary said she would not play with me until my skin was clean and white.” 

Learning about your colleagues life stories aids diversity success at work.

After that, Anita looked around the room. Some of her colleagues expressed anger at the unfairness. Others were simply sad at the state of the world. And some were locked down, deep in their thoughts. 

Subsequently, Anita took a long breath bringing herself back into the present time. “You know that rhyme ‘Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you?’ Of course, it’s not true. One word, one snide smile, can bring back all those dreaded childhood memories. 

Meanwhile, she looked around at her colleagues, these co-workers with whom she shared so much of her days. 

“What do you do,” she asked, “when someone at work says something unfair or unkind to you, or even worse, behind your back just loud enough for you to hear? Do you shut down, walk away, retort and play the gotcha game, and complain to human resources? 

In the same vein, she commented, “I am so tired of all the legal work I have to do around this still unsettled area of diversity. I am yearning for change, and yet..” my client’s voice trailed off.

Psychological safety at work gives room for diversity programs to succeed.

To sum up, the workplace should be a significant force for long-term, positive change.  It begins by creating a place where teams have enough psychological safety to gather and hear each other’s stories about “Can you remember?”  

In short, we need programs that will go upriver to find the multiple sources of the toxins that cause so much division in our human family. 

We can do it, and this time in our world, diversity training is demanding change. 

In conclusion, the mandate of today’s workplace is about more than just the bottom line. It’s a place where you can foster real change and where people flourish. The paradox is that when people thrive and care about each other, the bottom line will also show the benefits. 

I would love to hear your story about “Can YOU Remember?” If you like, It could be included in my next book, “UNIQUE and CONNECTED.” 

To your success,

Sylvia

PS. Please read my book, “UNIQUE: How Story Sparks Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement.” It has won several book awards and is a great place to start the dialogue about making work a more creative, caring place.

Sylvia Lafair

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