Have you ever walked into a room filled with new people and felt alone? Do you remember the insecurity and anxiety that instantly enveloped you? Perhaps you didn’t know anyone and had no clue what to do next, so you stood silently waiting for someone to initiate a conversation. Maybe it was your first day on the job or you were meeting a new customer or you were attending a conference for the first time. Whatever the situation, it was new to you and it was outside of your “norm.”
If you were like me, you scoped out the room hoping to find anyone who would make eye contact. You might have forced yourself to approach someone and say hello. In that moment, you feel completely vulnerable, don’t you? Thoughts go through your mind like: What if they just smile politely and only answer my question but don’t engage in a conversation? What if they leave me standing here and move on to talk with someone else? After much internal deliberation, you take a chance and hopefully the risk pays off. Have you experienced similar awkward situations at some point?
As a Hispanic woman, I am often asked about my thoughts on inclusion and diversity programs. It’s a tough question to answer because it is almost as if I am being asked to speak for all Hispanics. I can understand why some people feel threatened by these initiatives. However, I think what is often missing from the dialogue is the fact that we all – regardless of our race – have common human experiences like the story I just shared.
I believe if we can find a way to discuss what we have in common we can build bridges of inclusion where everyone feels valued and they can contribute to their organization’s goals in a peaceful environment.
One of the core values I have based my career around is a verse found in the Bible:
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
In other words, the people with whom you associate and surround yourself can directly impact your success. This is the reason LinkedIn is such a powerful resource. It helps connect us with people who know our colleagues or others within our sphere of influence.
An example I like to share is about one of my first advocates, Mr. Mike Schultz. Mike was the Director of the Chamber of Commerce in Defiance, OH for many years. I was a recent college graduate and had just started my first management role. In that job, I attended numerous chamber events many of which were held at the country club.
What I appreciated most about Mike is that even though he was well known in the community, he took time to welcome me into this new environment. I was young, very insecure, and I had grown up in poverty. I had never been to a golf course, country club, or formal dinner. Yet, Mike personally introduced me to other community leaders. He invited me to enroll in the first Leadership Development program our chamber launched. He became personally vested in my success and used his influence to help me connect with people I might not have met otherwise. This opened the door for me to serve on the Board of Directors for several non-profit organizations, launch a successful real estate business, and make many friendships that have lasted through the years.
What made Mike special was that he did not just do this for me because I was a Hispanic woman. Mike was willing to use his influence to help many different people because he truly loved our community and felt that bringing people together from various backgrounds and life experiences would make the city of Defiance a great place to Live.
I believe that successful inclusion and diversity programs create awareness of people’s differences so that the organizations’ goals are reached. When a company’s culture expects there to be collaboration within each group it creates an environment in which peak performance from all individuals can be obtained. Individuals are more willing to bring their best “self” to work daily when they know they are heard and respected.
The next time you go to work or attend a networking event, take a moment to notice the people around you. Ask yourself, who can I sharpen today? What do I really know about them? How can I help them develop their skills? Are they really engaging with others? Whom do I know that they need to meet?
It might be uncomfortable at first but you just never know what a difference a simple introduction might make in a person’s career.