Each human being, however small or weak, has something to bring to humanity. As we start to really get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other’s stories, things begin to change. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgment and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart.” – Jean Vanier
Recently, a dramatic piece of art captured our attention. Titled Dual Citizenship, the piece was created and modeled by Adrianna Morgan, a recent graduate of Towson University. While Adrianna is US-born, her parents immigrated from Trinidad. Adrianna embraces both her heritage and her country of birth (see the two images). Becky Ripley, a board member with ManneqART, selected this powerful creation as Innolect’s 2017 Growing Leaders award winner for ManneqART. The piece made us ponder the influences of ethnic duality on who we become as leaders. (For more information on this organization that promotes creative problem solving and sculpture on the human form, visit www.manneqart.org.)
In life, we often have to deal with and explore dualities of life and how to recognize two independent, universal principles such as light and dark, life and death, good and evil. As leaders, we also address dualities between vulnerability and strength or exclusion and inclusion. Because we each have unique life and cultural experiences, we often see the world very differently, depending on where we sit. While ethnicity can be viewed as a strength, it can also be viewed as a liability. People who have similar ethnic characteristics often engender cohesion, similarity and inclusion within that culture. On the other hand, ethnicity can foster “in and out” groups, resulting in discrimination, segregation and exclusion.
Consider for a moment what you are doing in your organization to celebrate both the unique culture of your organization and the heritage of your employees. In one situation, for example, a leader had each of her team members share a 5-minute story about a favorite local holiday from their country of origin. This resulted in deeper appreciation and improved relationships and productivity. In another case, a coaching client who leads a very diverse technology team wants to celebrate the unique cultural heritage of her employees. She’s planned a potluck celebration where everyone will bring a dish representative of their country of origin. While the Indian, Chinese, Brazilian, Vietnamese, and Minnesotan recipes are sure to please, they will also trigger conversations about “home” and traditions.
While many organizations have formed Employee Resource Groups or Networks to help diverse groups better connect with those who are similar in their organizations, we also want to encourage leaders to explore ways to bridge across and among differing ethnic groups. As we look for ways to increase understanding of differences, awareness isn’t enough. We encourage you to consider ways to increase dialogue, deepen conversations, and provide cross-cultural experiences to help bridge ethnic and culture gaps.
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