The virtual water cooler

November 19, 2014

I now look forward to Wednesdays.

Not because it is “hump” day or because I am a stickler for midweek punishment.

Wednesday is the day we get the Resource Media Diversity Dashboard in our inboxes.  The dashboard is a version of something we get every day; clippings of interest; mostly about communications and environmental stories. This stuff is like manna from heaven for a bunch of news junkies. Such daily compilations have been circulating among staff for years.

Then this year we embarked on a long journey to better understand diversity and inclusion, both internally in the way we relate to each other and externally in how we approach and shape our work. We brought in a consultant, Natasha Aruliah, to work with us through the year. Natasha helped us form study groups and provided readings that got us chewing on some basic principals; emotional intelligence, marginalized and dominant cultures, power and privilege. The discussions within the study groups were deep and, at times, difficult.

The Diversity Dashboard, however, was not part of any curriculum that Natasha designed. It was completely staff driven. It reflected a desire in some parts of our organization to make diversity and inclusion more than a study topic. We needed to make it fodder for regular conversations; stories and snippets that stayed with us through busy work days. The staff responded with an outpouring of weekly ideas. Here are just a few examples of the brief bullet points we shared with each other over the last few weeks.

How NOT to do diversity: “The general work force data released by Amazon seems intentionally deceptive, as the company did not include the race or gender breakout of their technical work force,” the statement said. “The broad assumption is that a high percentage of their black and Latino employees work in their warehouses.”

Seattle….as I have long contended….not so progressive after all:

When you’re called out on your privilege, how to respond?

Inside the NYT, when you’re Latina:

The content is so rich, and our staff is so good at digging it up, at one point I asked whether we should consider sharing the Dashboard more widely. The answer was “No, that would be presumptuous.” How is it that we as a predominantly white organization at the very beginning of our long pathway to diversity would ordain itself as such a gatekeeper?

An even bigger concern was that exporting our Dashboard outside of Resource Media missed the point of the whole exercise; that it is a unique expression of our own journey. As Natasha, our consultant put it. “I think it is fundamental that it is owned internally. This is the way individuals in the organization are embedding their commitment.”

For us that means poring over news stories, YouTube videos and the like. One of Natasha’s other clients, a counseling organization, embedded their commitment by sharing real case studies and discussing their implications.

So we won’t be launching a diversity news aggregation service. We will, however share what a potent and necessary experience it has been bringing diversity and inclusion to our version of the water cooler.

I can’t wait until next Wednesday.

Scott Miller