Diversity. How much of your everyday life or even a part of it, is spent with people who don’t think, act or look like you? Does it matter? It does if you are looking for new opportunities to grow and learn about the world and ultimately, about yourself. And, as we know, the better you know yourself, the greater your resilience.

In Canada, we pride ourselves with our multiculturalism, yet does that translate into a lived experience? Perhaps at work, but what about outside of that? Socially, volunteering or greater community interactions?

Part of my promise to those I speak to or work with is to challenge limiting beliefs.

Before we can challenge them, we must know what they are. How do we find them? By reaching beyond our tendencies to stick with the known, asking questions, listening, being interested.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting another speaker, Evodi Bashangi. She applied to speak at a local event, Crazy Talk, for which I sit on the  volunteer board as a speaker resource. Evodi is a Canadian of African descent, with a lived experience that no one I know has shared.

Story Diversity. An opportunity for new perspectives.

Her topic – “Mental health Isn’t a White Person’s Thing” is sure to be informative and perspective shifting. An opportunity to become more informed about the mental health journey of someone in a community we don’t hear much from. I’m looking forward to what she has to say about her cultural struggles to overcome her challenges. The tidbits she shared all piqued my interest. From the unique intersection between Christianity and African spirituality to the strict cultural norms of what constitutes respect between generations. I think it will also be interesting for others choosing to attend and listen to her story.

Meeting Evodi, served as a reminder of what I’ve noticed in many of my professional outings. A  lack of visible diversity. It’s not that it doesn’t exist in the community, but rather it’s not reflected in many of the gatherings I attend. I’m left to wonder why.

I know there are professionals of color, so why then is there such a noticeable absence? It’s something I would like to ask Evodi or other friends. It may be as simple as their obstacles or the challenges they are trying to overcome are different. So their needs aren’t being met. It could also be barriers which we, as the majority, are unaware of having erected.

The Professional Diversity Gap

I did notice, at a recent networking event, how people tended to gravitate to those who looked like them. If you flip that around, imagine how isolating it would be if you’re a part of the population under represented. The impetus then becomes yours, to break the ice and make the attempt to meet people. How exhausting.

From service clubs, who are feeling the pinch of dwindling memberships, to large business events, the lack of diversity is evident. As I gaze around the rooms, in a typical introvert observer style, I am struck by the sea of white faces.

I might expect the lack of diversity in small town Canada, but in a larger city, such as the one I live in, it’s surprising. Where are my fellow entrepreneurs, professionals and creatives? Their voices, experiences and perspectives are important.

The power of in person interactions as an introduction to diversity

Thirty plus years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with a multi-cultural, international group called Up With People. A year on the road, with other young adults from 20 different countries, performing music meant to bridge cultures and promote peace. Combined with community outreach and the relationships forged within our group, it forever changed my views of the world and of myself.

Dialogues with fellow travelers about how the news media of the time skewed stories about their homelands, to reflect information that wasn’t always broadly correct. Correct in the micro, but not the macro.  It was my introduction to the role of media and the importance of critical thinking.

Our time spent in South America showed us the acute division between wealth and poverty. Travels in the USA  I experienced generosity of spirit, and witnessed visually apparent splits within communities. All of it stretching me, letting me see the complexities of people and culture. Differences and similarities.

So much of my perspective would be next to impossible without actual interactions with people who don’t look, act or think like me. It’s why I continue to seek and foster professional and personal interactions with those of all backgrounds and ages. What I don’t know will forever outweigh what I do know.

Obstacles unknown until we choose to become open

Each of us is the sum of our experiences and our interpretation of those experiences. Before meeting Evodi I would’ve been woefully unaware of the obstacles she faced. Then, upon hearing of her cultural challenges in seeking the help she needed, my understanding grew.

Are you interested in expanding what you know? Ready to do that outside of the institutions and organizations to which you belong? Then I hope you will begin to challenge yourself. Make the effort to break the ice and connect with others outside of your normal everyday existence.  Reach out.

From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping the conversation  with Evodi will lead to more down the road. Professionally certainly, but perhaps also as friends. Her joyful and positive attitude is exactly the kind of energy I wish to surround myself with.

Resilience relies on the ability to think differently, to be open to new ways to meet challenges. One of our greatest opportunities is to include others who will grow our understanding and empathy. The more aware we are of others and their journeys, the more easily we can appreciate the chances to assist each other in this thing we call life.

Finally, if you’re ready to do more, be more, then consider your next step is to invite those who can help you grow self and world understanding. It’s our diversity, our individual stories, that will ultimately move all of us to greater achievements individually and globally.

Why remain bound to old stories when you can Start Transforming Obstacles Into Opportunities For Personal and Professional Success, Today. 

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