Training snapshot: Highlights from the third diversity, equity and inclusion session

3/24/21 – RICK KAZMER – United Way of the Laurel Highlands
The third diversity, equity and inclusion training session hosted by the United Way of the Laurel Highlands focused on interview processes, organizational buy-in – and even government cheese. 
The latter topic came up as part of discussion on unintended consequences. The two-hour session Tuesday night was the third of four about diversity, equity and inclusion. It is funded by a Lee Initiatives grant. 
“It’s not always easy. It’s not always comfortable,” the instructor, Dr. Melissa Marks of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, said about building diverse businesses and organizations. 
Discussion on unintended consequences was supported by two examples, both from actual events. The most recent involved an Indianapolis-based art museum that advertised for a staff position. The leaders said they needed someone who could build a broader, more diverse audience, while maintaining the “core, white” audience. 
Session participants agreed that rewording the ad to not focus on race would have helped the tone-deaf advertisement, as the museum had been under scrutiny for fostering an elitist culture and creating barriers for the general public to attend exhibitions. 
The government cheese program from the 1970s was also cited as a program with good intentions gone awry. Marks said that the government intended to help farmers during a slow market by buying their excess milk and making cheese with it. The cheese was to be distributed to people in need. The farmers, she said, began producing more milk, resulting in a glut of cheese. 
A better understanding of the problem may have helped to offset both unintended outcomes. 
To build a diverse organization, Marks said it’s important to include a diversity of voices at the discussion table. That will help to reduce assumptions, biases and systemic racism, and ignorance of other -isms. 
“We need to make sure it’s holistic and we get buy-in,” she said. 
The conversation ended with Marks noting that it’s important that instead of calling people out when they are taking actions – sometimes unintended – that support systemic racism, that we invite them to the table. 
She said calling them in, rather than out is a counter to “cancel culture” and a way to build understanding. 
“Then you have another ally,” she said. 
The final session, focusing on putting diversity, equity and inclusion into action, will be held at 7 p.m. April 27 on Zoom. Email for more information.