Every now and again there comes an amazing opportunity to work with a diverse group of individuals to design a new space, a new place, something that didn’t exist before, a community, a church, a business, or even a new industry. These opportunities are few and far between for most of us unless you’re a serial entrepreneur, or work as a supplier diversity professional.
For generations, those of us considered the wrong sex, color, religion, or members of the wrong political party weren’t invited to the table in many industries. The table is often a place of place power, where the decisions that affect everyone and everything on the planet are often made by exclusive enclaves.
Up through the first 30 years of my life, I was just another person without a voice or the courage to speak my mind. I was at the bottom of my class in grade school; always the last one picked for team sports and group activities. I grew up thinking I didn’t have anything to contribute, partly because no one ever seemed to give me the chance. That is, up until I lost my pulse for 3 minutes in the OR at 33 years of age. Afterward, I couldn’t NOT do anything about it. Things had to change, at least for me. Sometimes it takes the quietest and meekest among us to stand up and make change happen.
For decades, I had seen the injustice. I saw co-workers with great (really great) ideas, have them stolen by their superiors (myself included!). I saw the rich getting richer by exploiting our planet’s resources (I had been feeling the earth’s pain over this since I was 5). I saw the genius inside those labeled developmentally delayed. I was one of them too. I saw people buying cheap products for their kids from mass retailers and discount stores, items often assembled by children in faraway places who were forced to work in substandard, slave-like conditions. I saw amazing businesses being created and then sold for big payouts, making it even harder for the next entrepreneur to gain a market foothold. Further to that, the laws favor the biggest of the big.
I knew a new space needed to be created where we could imagine a better future for all life, and I knew I could start doing just that at my own table with a notepad, pen, and cup of coffee. I had absolutely nothing to start with, other than a purpose to make a difference with the second life I’d been given, and a family to support me. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I thought to myself.
I soon found that getting my head and heart into the right space would always provide freedom for my spirit, no matter how crushing the resistance appeared to be. No money? No university degree? No experience? No problem! There was something magical that happened over a cup of coffee or tea when gathering around the table with the right people. The space becomes a conscious space, something I only recognized the power of after my near-death experience. I had to share this discovery, so I wrote Gathering Around the Table, a story of purpose-driven change through business.
Whether you read the book or not, I urge you to join me in gathering around the table and to do so with more diversity of thinking than you had yesterday.
Here are a few ways that I’ve learned to have diverse conversations around the table:
- Encourage possibility. Encourage each person to discuss possibility, rather than the problems they see. Something magical happens when we envision the world we want to live in. It turns us into creators of what we want to be, instead of complainers of what we don’t want to be. No one will have the same ideas or see possibility in exactly the same way. In business, this is where innovation happens, and vulnerability becomes strength.
- Encourage appreciation. Encourage each person to discuss things they are appreciative of, to respect the gifts that each brings, and to come from a place of abundance rather than fear and fault. Try it as a new rule at your own dinner table. You won’t believe how good your food will taste, and how walls that have existed for years will come down. Everyone wants to belong and to be appreciated for who they truly are. The only way to get to know them is to listen and appreciate that uniqueness.
- Shift from the belief that it’s ‘someone else’s problem’, to instead ask yourself, “How can I help?” Stop listening to polarizing conversations and start uplifting ones. Initiate conversations about personal accountability and the ways we can each contribute to a community, whether that’s our church, neighborhood, or helping those in need. It is true that we become the sum of the 5 people closest to us. We were meant to live in a community and using our gifts to contribute is what makes this world great. Personal accountability allows freedom of choice.
- Welcome nature into the room. Gather near a window if there is one and bring plants into the room. Move from seeing the corporation and systems as the primary objective, to see the human spirit as the central component of everything. This is not a question of cost; it is a question of consciousness. I find there is always someone willing to say a prayer, sing a song, or recite a poem when nurtured by others to do so. Remarkably, the tone in the room shifts and the space becomes a little more sacred when nature + nurture are invited to share the space.
- Shift the focus from consumption to citizenship. Citizens are the opposite of consumers. I made this distinction as a child after realizing how ripped off I felt when I bought the shampoo I’d seen on TV. I experienced a painful chemical reaction instead of the bubbly joy and luxurious lather shown in the commercial. A consumer consumes, without regard for the effect those consumptions have on others. A citizen produces the future they want. Citizens don’t just wait for it, or dream about it, or even demand it from their leaders and government, they create it with every breath. A citizen is someone who is willing to be accountable for and committed to the well-being of the whole. The whole can be many things . . . a city block, a community, a nation, the planet.
This is why I’m starting our year-long conversation(s) around the table with the topic of diversity. It’s what I believe we need most in 2021, plus it’s a necessary condiment for all that I intend to serve up in the year ahead. The Supplier Diversity groups that have given me a seat at the table and a voice where there needed to be one like mine have my heartfelt gratitude. Check out this video from the Lowe’s Supplier Diversity program to see what I’m talking about.
Supplier Diversity Champions: Your deep well of grace & grit is fiercer than the mightiest of armies.
I am just one of many who are eternally grateful, and desire to do what I can to pay it forward!