By Bethlehem Gebre
On Wednesday, October 26th, American University’s PRSSA hosted a Diversity and Inclusion event, featuring a special speaker, the Executive Director of ColorComm DC, Mercy Chikowore. Mercy was both entertaining and informative as she highlighted the importance of diversifying experience in a public relations career.
Mercy began by pointing out the importance of recognizing unconscious bias. Mercy mentioned that she was African. What we didn’t know was that she was born in Japan and grew up in Switzerland. Once she told us this, she explained that her outward appearance played a role in our assumptions of who she was, referencing her African print skirt and locs, but she urged that these kind of assumptions can be detrimental in the workplace when it comes to diversity.
As Mercy put it, there is no doubt that diversity is helpful for employers. It gives employers the chance to learn from different perspectives. In some cases, organizations can lose funding or face backlash for lack of diversity. However, she also pointed out that a diverse environment is also beneficial for employees, particularly in the public relations field.
These were my favorite tips from Mercy on moving toward a more diverse environment:
- Know yourself – Know what kind of professional environment you thrive in; do you work better in a conventional office set up or do you prefer a more relaxed setting?
- Get ready for uncomfortable conversations – When in doubt, always run something you want to say by someone you trust
- Seek out employers looking to expand diversity – A lot of employers are interested in doing this (Google, Coca-Cola, Edelman, and Weber Shandwick, to name a few big ones)
- Beware of seemingly diverse organizations – Although it may be difficult to determine an organization’s level of diversity without actually immersing yourself in the organization, pay attention to seemingly small details. For example, does the organization’s website say that it wants to be “inclusive of minorities” or does it say that it is “multicultural?”
- Speak up when necessary – Sometimes people don’t know the implications of their statements and actions in a multicultural setting. I resonated with this tip a lot in particular. At the meeting, I shared a story with Mercy about a recent conversation I had with a friend. We were talking about a cultural event that I invited her to. During that conversation, she tried to name some Ethiopian tribes. She named one tribe incorrectly (she learned a derogatory name of the tribe by mistake). As her Ethiopian friend aware of her error, I did my part by letting her know immediately so that it would not bar her from maintaining a culturally inclusive environment at the cultural event and avoid any potentially bad situations.
- Try new things – My favorite line from Mercy: “Sometimes you have to know what bad is to know what good is.” It is not enough just to admit bias, one has to take steps to finding diverse talent, whether you are an employer or employee. Work in environments where you know you will find people different from yourself. Although some change may not be comfortable, you may find a change that will be more fulfilling than any job you may have imagined.
Overall this event was a success. I walked into the meeting thinking that I would learn about why diversity was good for employers and organizations. What I didn’t expect was that I would learn was how diversity would help me, regardless of how culturally aware I thought I was.