Recent events make clear that our work in the area of diversity and inclusion remains incomplete. The threads that bind our social fabric continue to fray: from partisan rancor to racial tumult; from citizen/police conflict to workplace discord; and from community unrest to xenophobic, homophobic, Islamaphobic, and misogynistic murmurings. Interpersonal relations, especially those involving real or perceived differences, too often give rise to misunderstandings, fear, and, if left unchecked, hate and violence.

We must advance our diversity and inclusion efforts. We must jealously guard hope, possibility, and promise, the ideals so long synonymous with American democracy. We must reassure the vulnerable and the marginalized that they, too, belong. The sun sets, but it never fails to rise again.

Diversity and inclusion go hand-in-hand. Diversity refers to the myriad ways we differ one from another set against the backdrop of our shared humanity; inclusion, the willing acknowledgement and acceptance of those differences. The ultimate aim of diversity and inclusion initiatives is to create within a community a climate of mutual respect, support, and safety such that all community members have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

If we want to build a greater sense of community, we must view diversity and inclusion not as a problem to be solved, but rather as a reality to be acknowledged, understood, and embraced. Progress on this front takes expanding individual mindsets and transforming systems and institutions.

Diversity is. Inclusion may or may not be. Diversity encompasses who we already are demographically; our differences. Inclusion reflects an affirmative, conscious choice about how we embrace our existing diversity.

A related concept, cultural competence, has to do with our acumen at actualizing diversity and inclusion. It is a measure of our awareness, attitudes, knowledge, and skills around diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion will always be a work in progress—a journey, a destination, a prize worthy of our fixed gaze. This moment, though, seems especially urgent. That the struggle continues—that it is never-ending, and at times both frustrating and disheartening—must not be sufficient justification for complacency or inaction.

Let Tulsa be a beacon. Let us be a vast oasis on an expanding desert of disharmony. Let us lead by example.

Many in Tulsa’s corporate, nonprofit, and governmental sectors share a passion for this City and a desire for civility and inclusive community engagement. Now is the time for all Tulsans to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and redouble our efforts to make palpable, positive changes that elevate the dignity and worth of all our citizens.

Understanding, appreciating, and leveraging diversity and inclusion optimally is no small feat. It requires character, creativity, and commitment. Above all, it demands leadership.

In the twenty-first century, to ignore diversity and inclusion is to be content with mediocrity. Achieving excellence demands that we tap into the full potential of everyone; that we allow all individuals to become and be their best selves. When we do that, we no longer have to accept an artificially-limited talent pool; we no longer have to cap the range of ideas and innovations that are possible; and, we no longer have to settle for restricted and/or untapped markets. When we embrace diversity and inclusion, we tap into a vast reservoir of human capacity that enriches and enlivens our lives, our institutions, and our communities.

People seek places where they can learn and grow, have clear expectations and the resources to meet them, feel trusted and respected, and receive fair treatment. An entity—a for-profit business, a nonprofit, a government agency, or, for that matter, a community—perceived as welcoming, nurturing, and supporting by and for all, will attract the best and the brightest and, as a result, achieve at higher levels. Contentment and productivity go together like hand and glove. “Culturally contented” people–people comfortable in their environment—perform better. When that happens, we all benefit.

Diversity and inclusion lies at the heart of our survival. Ultimately, we are mutually interdependent; inextricably intertwined.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. captured that profound truth when he noted that we will come together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools. He further described Americans as being “tied together in a single garment of destiny, trapped in a web of mutuality.” Dr. King envisioned a “Beloved Community,” a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings. Diversity and inclusion efforts share that noble aim.

Exceptional leaders recognize the connections and shared fate that unite us all. They build on that commonality of interest in ways that bring us together and embolden us to confront the challenges we face head-on.

Contextually, leadership refers to a kind of facilitation that brings all people together and brings out the best in each and every one of them. It’s been said that: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”

So it is with diversity and inclusion. Ideally, when we, the people, do the necessary work, diversity and inclusion will no longer be an island unto itself. Rather, it will be integrated into every aspect of what we, individually and collectively, do.

Being disheartened about the state of the union does little to change its course. Take action. Start with the person in the mirror.

Be introspective. Think about diversity and inclusion in your personal and professional lives. Step outside your comfort zone. Challenge your own biases.

Be critical. Consider what you and the organizations with which you are associated might do differently to engage with and honor the shared humanity of “the other.”

Be proactive. Where necessary, shake things up. This is my country, and it is yours, too. We must find ways to make it work for all of us. If not now, then when?

 

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