The conversation around cultural diversity and inclusivity should not be reserved for one day a year. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking having a designated day to focus on the conversation, but it isn’t enough. This is something we should be talking about everyday instead of pussyfooting around trying to balance political correctness and social graces.

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This annual March 21st observance originated in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid pass laws. In 1966, the United Nations called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. A lot has changed in the past 51 years, but one look at a today’s news is enough to know it hasn’t changed enough.

This past weekend, over 30,000 people gathered in London to protest a rise in racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Amidst conversations of bans against people immigrating from specific countries based on religious beliefs or building a wall between Mexico and the US border, having conversations about inclusivity are more important now than ever. It’s no coincidence that the 2017 theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is: racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including the context of migration.

But let’s take that a step further and cover all of the bases. Diversity can apply to cultural, racial, LGBTQ, age, religion, gender, etc. Today’s world is a strange dichotomy between outright discrimination like what we see in the news and people terrified to have important conversations because they are afraid they might offend someone. The only way around this is to accept the fact that you will piss someone off or offend them on some level. One way around this is to start a conversation with an upfront disclaimer that you do not intend to offend, but you might.

It is important to have a voice – silence can be construed as agreement. Sometimes we forget to stand up and say something or our fear of creating discord (feeling discomfort in our fear of being uncomfortable) keeps us silent. We need to have a voice, and opinion but learn to do so respectfully to be able to have those conversations. This concern can be debilitating…part of diversity is having many ideas and thoughts. Acceptance is being able to share these ideas and I believe it’s imperative to our success — personally, professionally and collectively

The workplace is one of the easier places to promote inclusiveness. Diversity creates a better work environment with teams that foster a more creative and innovative workforce and creates conversations that makes us think more globally and pulls from other experiences. This is especially important for entrepreneurs. Every person has a huge background of experience and skills coming with them. The key is to know what diversity you’re looking for in the team you are developing.

Hiring someone with English as a second language, can certainly be a challenge and create barriers, but on the other hand, you are getting an employee with the valuable skill of speaking a different language–an important skill in today’s global economy.

So what do you do with people who don’t think they should have to be inclusive? Because, let’s be honest, we all know someone who is not. To them I ask: What are you afraid of? Is it change? I challenge them to really think about whether they would want people to accept them for what they believe or would they be ok with completely changing their values to match where they are? Accept the difference instead of resisting it. We are all immigrants. If you travel to another place, it is your job to respect their culture and language but not assimilate. This doesn’t require changing values.

So what can we do everyday?

  • Educate kids. Hate and racism are taught. We teach that to future generations so it is on us to change it.
  • Don’t get complacent
  • Have a conversation. Don’t be confrontational, the goal is not to change someone’s beliefs, it’s to get to a  place of understanding and acceptance — inclusive of both opinions.

Differences create beauty in our world–in people and in nature. Embrace them.

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