I FEEL VERY PRIVILEGED TO be in this role now with some of the challenges we’re having in the country. It’s really about helping Lawrence University — and in connection with that, the area — create an inclusive, welcoming environment where we can benefit from the diverse talent people might bring to this area.
It’s about changing the way we do things so that we do it with equity in mind, so we try to create the kinds of processes and activities that support a diversity of people who can help us all prosper and get the best educational outcomes for our student but also help us create a strong community.
We have a new sense of urgency for a couple of reasons. The demographics in the United States are changing. If we want to continue to fill jobs, fill seats in schools, we have to make sure it’s appealing and welcoming to people who are different from the people who have been here in the past: ethnic minorities, women in some roles, the LGBT community, immigrants.
I think there’s been lots of progress. The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, New North, some of the larger employers in the area … are all doing great things in terms of diversity. But, how do we bring all of those efforts together so we can really capitalize on the synergy of all that and target them toward the communities we really want to invite in?
It really is the right thing to do to be inclusive. It also has been shown in research that having more inclusive boards, leadership and communities helps the bottom line. It increases stock values for boards and the effectiveness of teaching in schools. It just helps the community prosper.
You can’t just throw diversity in there and not be ready for it. You have to really prepare and make sure you’ve laid a foundation with your processes and practices so people can contribute to their highest degree. When you do that, you get much better results for everybody across the board.
Invite people in. Connect and start to build those relationships (in those communities) so there can be trust that this would be a good place for them to be. Step in and try it. There’s no magic cookbook. It really depends on the organization or the area, what you need to do. Do a little research and step in and give it a shot. If it works, continue it. If it doesn’t, try something else. I’ve been asked to convene a group to figure out how we can structure a business inclusion initiative. I’ve started the Fox Cities Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative, which (includes) people really in the trenches doing diversity and inclusion work.
In a recent community meeting with some local leaders … they asked that I and the new diversity chief in Appleton, Karen Nelson, convene a group to structure a program so we can support businesses and get them engaged in this work more directly. We’ll probably have our first meeting of that group in January. I’ve really been heartened by all the support I’ve received in the region — lots of people of goodwill who want to do this work, even though in our nation, I think we’re kind of in a dark period in terms of really bringing into stark relief all of our divides.
While it’s painful, I think it also might be instrumental in taking us to the next level of dealing with those divides now that they’re out in the open. I think the arc of history really does bend toward justice. In the end, I think there are a lot more people interested in the common good than hate. I’m banking on love and compassion being much more influential than hate.