Are you currently tip-toeing around someone at work because you don’t know how to approach them? Maybe they are Hispanic, white, black, gay, transgender, Mormon, Muslim, Jew, Jehovah’s Witness, Deaf, blind, techies, or even Republican. Are you dismayed by subtle acts of discrimination you see occur between fellow employees? Are you afraid that bias or hatred could lead to a violent event in the office?
Then let me introduce you to Simma Lieberman.
Let me start by admitting: I disagree with Simma Lieberman a lot. Our conversations are the stuff that would make the close-minded cringe as we dissect our differing backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems. We do not see eye-to-eye on everything. And you know what? That is simply wonderful, and juicy, and real life! To us, these long chats are tasty gourmet buffets of alternate thought and an exploration of our equally significant states of being human.
Nonetheless, Simma Lieberman is one of the “must-knows” for any company building a culture around diversity and inclusion.
Simma’s passion for diversity and its possibilities began in 1963 when she went on the March On Washington. She wishes she could say that she heard Martin Luther King give his “I Have A Dream” speech. But she was too young to remember it. However, she has always remembered what it felt like to be amongst 250,000 people for the first time of all colors, cultures, and ages, rallying and marching together for change. Later on, she began working with a multi-cultural organization in New York City, where she was trained to facilitate dialogues with diverse racial and ethnic groups, in order to reduce tension, and create effective working relationships.
Today, Simma works with leaders of organizations who understand that training in areas of diversity and inclusion is important. However, sustainable change only occurs when diversity and inclusion are integrated into the business strategy and are part of the organization’s cultural DNA. She strongly believes that implementing good diversity management and developing cultural intelligence are necessary for organizations to stay relevant and competitive in tomorrow’s markets.
With all that said, I sat down with Simma to ask her a bit more about her insight into today’s workplace.
Michael: Since starting your career as “The Inclusionist”, what do you feel has been your greatest success?
Simma: My greatest success has been bringing people together from very different backgrounds with very different perspectives and helping them find commonalities, filter out their biases, and fears and assumptions about each other. I have helped them build strong working relationships that last. That includes, LGBT and Christian family values groups, Black and White people, marketing and engineering, and managers and employees. People have told me that I’ve changed the way they think, opened their minds and enabled them to take active roles in organizational culture change.
Michael: I would vouch for that. You have made a huge impact on how I approach those who are different from myself. What would you identify as the greatest threat(s) to workplace diversity in the current marketplace?
Simma: Xenophobia and fear. Focusing only on numbers and not inclusion. Or focusing only on inclusion, minimizing the importance of diversity. Decision makers who feel threatened by change. Diversity managers who have no power. The lack of focus on culture change, diversity, and inclusion on a systemic level from C-level to hourly wage workers. Worst yet, maintaining and fostering the belief that a one-hour diversity or bias training will eliminate bias, increase diversity, and create a real inclusive culture.
Michael: What a list! With all that said, if you had to give business leaders a nugget of advice on how to start the diversity conversation at their companies, what would that be?
Simma: Start with themselves. A good diversity leadership coach will help the leader or leaders develop a diversity mindset and perspective that is crucial to the success of a diverse workforce and a sustainable culture. Work with a diversity leadership coach to learn about diversity, the business of diversity, and diversity management. When a leader can articulate their vision regarding diversity and how it benefits everyone, they can begin to start the conversation company-wide. Too often leaders don’t think they need to learn and that it’s just employees who need the guidance. Those leaders’ diversity and inclusion efforts go nowhere.
Yeouch! Some strong counsel. But with so many politicians and religious leaders fomenting hate speech, the words must be said.
Diversity, bias and inclusion are not easy subjects to discuss. But true leaders put the subject on the table and find a dignified and respectful way to talk about it. Simma “The Inclusionist” creates workplace cultures where employees love to do their best work and customers love to do business.
I plan to keep the conversation going with Simma for years to come. Hopefully, you can spearhead the conversation at your workplace if it has not already started. If you need a jumpstart, contact Simma at Simma@Simmalieberman.com.
Her unique ability to view organizations through an inclusionary lens has enabled Simma to help leaders in organizations like Intel, McDonalds, Oracle, Kaiser Permanente, and UC Berkeley to uncover employee genius, and leverage their diverse talents and skills at any level. Publications that have featured her articles and ideas include The Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Fast Company, The Economist, Forbes, Black MBA, Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, Insight Into Diversity, Working Mother, Cosmopolitan UK, Human Resource Executive, CEO Refresher and CNN.
She is the co-author with George Simons and Kate Berardo, of Putting Diversity to Work, how to successfully lead a diverse workforce, co-author of The Diversity Calling, Building Diverse Communities One Story at a Time and the author of 110 Ways to Champion Diversity and Build Inclusion and Stress Management for the Motivated, A Workbook For You.
Now, go meet someone different. And enjoy it!