Friday, January 13, 2012

December 2011 Essential Class - A Day for Diversity and Inclusion

Guest post from Essential Class of 2012 participant Ruth Gardner-Loew. The December 2011 class day theme was "Diversity and Inclusion."

December 14 was the third time since September that the Leadership Austin Essential Class of 2012 met for our monthly, all-day class. Each session had been inspiring and uplifting, but as I sat there and listened and learned and marveled at what was presented throughout the day, I felt deep gratitude and joy to be a part of it.

We were just a few weeks past Thanksgiving, and still a few weeks away from Christmas and the New Year - the perfect time for introspection and “next step” planning. This “Diversity and Inclusion” class day offered lessons that obliged each of us to take serious, personal stock of the meaning of those ideas. Ultimately, we saw that no matter how liberal and open minded we are, we still form stereotypes about people – especially those different from ourselves – and we observed how we interact with those who are “different” than us and our friends. The goal was to structure what we observed and learned into strengths that help us become better leaders.

Dr. Jean Latting and Stephanie Foy of Leading Consciously lead a workshop that helped us reflect on our personal leadership style and its effectiveness (or lack thereof), and gave concrete examples of how to bridge communication gaps. They helped us recognize how Dominance Dynamics work in society, and personalized it by separating the class into Dominants and Non-Dominants based on obvious characteristics like race, gender and religion. The differences between the experiences of Dominants and Non-Dominants becomes pretty obvious when you own being a part of a particular group, and when you own how you operate as a leader depending on whether your decisions are based on Dominate or Non-Dominate experiences. To be clear, most of us belong to many different groups and experience both roles, depending on the situation.

The exercise that intrigued me the most was “Perceptions of Power & Privilege.” Think about it:
  • Dominants are presumed to be competent – Non-Dominants have to prove themselves again and again
  • Dominants are more likely to find doors open to them – Non-Dominants are denied regular access to the opportunities Dominants take for granted
  • Dominants assume their opinions and perspectives will be treated as normal, general and universally true – Non-Dominants have their opinions and perspectives labeled as “special interest
Even more intriguing was that Dominants are typically unaware of Dominance Dynamics, while Non-Dominants are acutely aware of Dominance Dynamics. Leading consciously, facilitating good communication between vastly different groups, and getting us out of our comfort zones to become stronger leaders was high on the agenda.

Classes are structured to provide food for the brain and for the body, and a day of learning wouldn’t be complete without healthy living guidelines. Paul Carrozza of RunTex gave us his tried-and-proven-successful approach to healthy living balanced with exercise and diet. Before offering expert advice on how to prepare for marathons, he equipped us for training for the Statesman Capitol 10K by offering each class member a pair of custom fitted jogging shoes and a 2012 Leadership Austin team, t-shirt. I love exercising, but I’ve never been a jogger, and Paul’s advice for first time runners or walkers to start out very gradually was welcome news.

H-E-B Dietician Kylie Bentley
Lunch was fun, because not only did H-E-B dietician Kylie Bentley plan the healthy, tasty menu that was presented, she also showed us how to prepare delicious, health-supporting holiday snacks like Tamale Sliders, Dark Chocolate Mint Covered Pretzels, and Berry Cheesecake Bites. Yummmm... now all I need to do is find time to cook!

Finally, communications specialist Barbara Miller showed us how to speak from the heart, and introduced a session in which Essential Class alumni guided small groups on an introspective journey designed to make us aware of how events that took place early in our lives marked us and helped shape who we are today. We were all surprised by how deeply we’ve been influenced by seemingly small, sometimes long forgotten incidents. Well done, and a very fitting close to a day that allowed us to look into the mirror and study ourselves with honesty and impunity, and to continue towards our goal of becoming stronger leaders who know how to bridge communication barriers.

Ruth Gardner-Loew is Executive Director at Atticus Circle and a Certified Feng Shui Consultant with Healthy Homes and Workplaces.

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