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Northwest Diversity Learning Series Launches Provocative Series for 2017

The Institute for Sustainable Diversity and Inclusion (ISDI) is launching the 19th year of the Northwest Diversity Learning Series which promises to provide a great series of learning experiences for its participants. Participants from sponsor organizations including Nordstrom, Boeing, Alaska Airlines, T-Mobile, The Port of Seattle, Port Blakely Tree Farms, The ITA Group and others will be in for serious conversations about timely diversity and inclusion issues.

ISDI directors and staff are pleased to share more information about next year's program. This blog provides background information for individuals and companies interested in attending who might want more information about the Series (more information can be found at

Theme: Seizing the Courage to Have Disruptive Conversations — Imperative for Inclusion

Rationale: Recent national events and discourse have exposed an undercurrent of diversity tensions putting an “elephant” in the workplace. The elephant? — Uncertainty, questions and conflicts about the implications of diversity and inclusion.

For example,

  • Pushback by white working-class men feeling shut out of opportunity and blaming African Americans, Latinos, immigrants and women;

  • Outcries of fear and disgust as transgender individuals seek equity and inclusion;

  • Mistrust and stereotyping among Boomers, GenXers, Millennials as they negotiate how to work together;

  • Eruption of the #Black Lives Matter Movement as one result of racial inequality;

  • Outbursts of sexism, misogyny and charges of sexual harassment in the public arena generating sharp calls to stop it;

  • Immigrants portrayed as a threat endangering our safety and economic well-being For the most part, we adopt a “NW Nice” style avoiding the elephant in the room. Too often, the response to these tensions is silence.

Why should we risk encouraging these uncomfortable, disruptive, and potentially painful conversations?

First, because employees are hungry to talk about these tensions—they are very aware of them, but they don’t feel they have permission, the safety or the tools to do it effectively. Creating safe spaces to ask sincere questions, to express dissenting views, and to explore the complex nuances surrounding these tensions provides the opportunity to become more informed, to gain multiple perspectives and to be better able to participate in authentic dialogue. Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, proposes, if no one “engages” the issues, “nothing changes”. Gervaise Bushe, co-author of Dialogic Organization Development says to create a more adaptive system, you have to create learning that disturbs the current state, allows something new to emerge that changes the narrative and stimulates new ideas.

Second, whether there are conversations or not, tensions about difference affect relationships at work. Susan Scott argues, “conversations are not about the relationships, they ARE the relationships!” The idea that dialogue in the workplace about diversity issues could improve relationships was first cited by Barbara Walker, who pioneered the Valuing Differences model at Digital Equipment Corp in the 1980s and 90s. She believed allowing and providing the tools for employees to engage in conversations about these tensions could break down barriers and encourage employee relationships across differences.

Third, enhancing and improving the relationships among diverse employees is the stuff of cultural transformation and organizational change—getting to really know fellow employees different from one’s self reduces fear, stereotyping and avoidance of difference, and opens the door to greater camaraderie, partnerships and collaboration. Such outcomes are sought by Millennials according to a recent research report: Millennials view inclusion as “a culture of connectedness”, which they believe facilitates teamwork, collaboration, innovation and professional growth (Deloitte University: Leadership Center for Inclusion, 2015). “Human connectivity,” according to author Susan Scott, is the last frontier for exponential growth, for new and sustainable competitive edge.” (Fierce Conversations, Preface).

Finally, we may underestimate the power of conversation in our lives. Susan Scott proposes, “Our work, our relationships, and, in fact our very lives succeed or fail gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time” (Fierce Conversations, Introduction). Barbara Walker, in her Valuing Differences approach, noted, “Through dialogue, employees discover they can learn from each other—and as they learn, they become motivated to listen. Employees can examine their views, assumptions, and beliefs, and if they deem it appropriate, change them. We find that people are motivated to learn about differences when the work is seen as an opportunity for personal development.” Why not choose success when these kinds of conversations about the differences have the potential to transform us, transform our relationships, transform the quality of our working lives, and transform our organizations?

If we want employees to behave in ways that are inclusive, civil, and respectful of each person’s humanity, we must encourage them to step out of their comfort zones and abandon “NW Nice”. They must gain comfort in taking risks and engaging in dialogue. (Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith)

2017 Series Purpose: To learn to create safe spaces where people can tell their truths and listen to each other respectfully in order to foster more inclusive and productive work environments.

The Northwest Diversity Learning Series hosts six half-day seminars and workshops each year as a resource for employees of Northwest area employers. These workshops allow employees to come together for a three and half hour session to learn about emerging D&I issues and best practices in a team and organizational context. Each annual series focuses on a theme and each session tackles a particular dimension of that theme.


Topics & Dates - What are these disruptive, uncomfortable conversations?

Session One: Seizing the Courage to Lean Into Disruptive, Uncomfortable Conversations (January 17)

This session lays out the foundation for the entire Series emphasizing disruptive, uncomfortable conversations as processes, not events. In other words, we’re setting a foundation for ongoing conversations. This session presents the rationale for having these conversations, why they are important (such as impacts on teams and business results), when and how to have these conversations respectfully and productively, tools that can facilitate the process, and the opportunity to practice.

Session Two: Seizing the Courage to Address Sexism and Gender Bias at Work (March 7)

Recent events and national discourse have brought to light continuing issues regarding sexism, gender bias and sexual harassment in workplace relationships. Often men report they have no idea their women colleagues are subject to such bias and disrespectful behavior, as well as the trauma it causes. This session will present an update of the current state of sexism, gender bias and sexual harassment experienced by white women and women of color. The session will facilitate conversational opportunities among men and women to talk about what women experience, both from a generational and a racial perspective, and how to become more effective advocates for women’s professional development. Men will have the opportunity to ask women about their experiences and what they can do to be better allies to support women in the workplace.

Session Three: Seizing the Courage to Deconstruct White Male Privilege (May 9)

White Male Privilege is a term easily bandied about but rarely examined or fully understood. This session will delve into the nuances of White Male Privilege, who perceives they have it, who does not, and the feelings and experiences that many white men may have as the population changes and the workplace diversifies (such as, perceptions of reverse discrimination and loss of opportunities, loss of identity as head of family/breadwinner, feelings as an outsider, fear of being labeled as racist, sexist, homophobic). This session will focus on engaging with white men to talk about privilege, how to respond to their views and feelings, and what both white men and others can do to help white men feel included as part of the diversity mix in the workplace.

Session Four: Seizing the Courage to Respect Gender Identities in the Workplace (June 20)

Transgender individuals face a mountain of prejudice and discrimination. In public discourse, we’ve heard a great deal of disgust about the motivations and behaviors of transgender individuals and others with varying gender-based identities. This session will focus on understanding gender identities, and having conversations about what trans people are like and their experiences, what it means to bring their whole selves to work, dealing with difficult questions, what equitable and respectful treatment looks like, and what allies can do to support and include transgender individuals and other gender identities in the workplace.

Session Five: Seizing the Courage to Unpack Power Dynamics Among Boomers, GenX and Millennials (September 19)

Employees, managers and leaders represent at least three and sometimes four generations in the workplace. Each generation is becoming more and more diverse bringing worldviews and values informed by events in their history and experiences. This session will focus on some of the tensions arising from the power dynamics in workplace relationships. The session will facilitate conversations to discuss how members of each generation are experiencing working with the other, how their values are perceived and received, and how their group-based differences come into play. These conversations will be an opportunity to discuss what’s important, sharing approaches to work, what each finds difficult and rewarding about working with other generational members, about opportunities to move up, and what each generation expects from the other going forward.

Session Six: Seizing the Courage to Respond to the Context of Racial Inequality (November 2)

Discussing racial inequality requires understanding its broad and deep structure in America— socially, economically, in the workplace. Most people of color know this context quite well; many white people have little knowledge or understanding of this context. When the #Black Lives Matter Movement erupted, many whites took offense and Black people are offended at their ignorance. This session will reveal the history of racial inequality in organizations and systems, and facilitate conversations about the implications of inequality, what people would like to hear from each other in such conversations, and what steps we can take together to counter this inequality, especially as it manifests in workplace relationships.

Note: The order of the session topics may shift as we recruit presenters and work with their availability.

Each session will include:

  • Background information on the topic to increase knowledge and understanding of the issues

  • Sharing personal stories

  • An approach to having a disruptive, uncomfortable conversation (tools & techniques such as Dialogue, Ally ship, Intent and Impact, Nudges, Improv to engage role play)

  • Opportunity to practice using the tools and techniques in actual disruptive, uncomfortable conversations during the session

Benefits of the Series:

Personal Awareness and Skill Building: Helps employees individually and in team settings, lead the charge to build more diverse and inclusive experiences for everyone at work and in their communities. o Provides insights on how to honor perspectives and viewpoints that may be different from one’s own; o Helps participants learn how to think ahead, act-proactively, and respectfully in engaging others in diversity initiatives; o Provides tools and resources to assist in learning and application.

Collaboration/Cross Pollination: Because the Series is a collaborative employer venture, participants have the opportunity to explore diversity and inclusion topics with employees from other area companies and organizations, as well as being exposed to highly respected D&I thought leaders locally and nationwide.

Safe Learning Environment: Participants enjoy a safe learning environment for gaining valuable insights and building competency.

Networking Opportunities: Networking opportunities abound in each session to address current issues and challenges and how to apply lessons learned back at work, which promotes increased learning, collaboration, and sharing of ideas.

ERG/BRG/D&I Council Leadership Development: Allows employees who participate in Employee Resource Groups, Business Resource Groups and Diversity & Inclusion Councils to strengthen their leadership skills and deepen their knowledge of best practices.

Workshop Assessment Data: Each session incorporates Kirkpatrick’s Level II evaluation (pre and post session assessments) in which participants rate their competency on the desired learning objectives.

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