Honoring and Sharing Your Diversity Story

September 1, 2022 April Hennessey

Did you know a diverse workplace is more productive than one filled with people who are similar to each other? When we feel safe enough to bring ourselves and our varied experiences to the table, it results in a more innovative, profitable, and overall successful organization.

Creating a space where everyone feels included and honored for their unique experiences and perspectives can be a tricky thing. So how do we share our stories and educate others without feeling taxed or overwhelmed by all the work involved in being vulnerable?

Getting to Know One Another

When people are first getting acquainted, they often encounter well-meaning points of curiosity such as “where are you from?” or “what does your husband/wife do?” Depending on the context, these questions might have unconscious bias built in and could be perceived as microaggressions.

Field those inquiries with a solution that’s familiar to many individuals in the business world: Create a two-minute version of your diversity story for each area you frequently have to address. Think of it as an elevator or stump speech that becomes your go-to response for these moments.

Example: “I was born in Texas, but my dad was a career military guy, so we lived all over the U.S., coast-to-coast, and internationally. My mother is Korean, so our house was multicultural in many ways as well. Since grad school, though, I’ve lived in Indiana.”

This strategy enables you to both tell your truth in ways that feel comfortable to you and address the issues that are often at the root of those questions. Being able to identify what people are seeking to know can help you write an effective two-minute DEI story about yourself. The example above covers a whole spectrum of inquiry:

  • It answers questions of origin and nationality.
  • It addresses the ethnic/cultural background that people might be trying to identify.
  • It orients people to a place—that question about region or time zone.

It’s important to note that you don’t owe anyone an explanation about, for instance, where you are from. Ideally, we would move away from questions like this and toward ones such as “where’s home for you?” That can be interpreted differently and doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of microaggressions that questions of origin do. However, if you choose to answer and engage with inquisitive questions that might be more complex for you to answer, knowing what you’re going to say is tremendously empowering.

Going Deeper

Maybe you’ve been working with someone for a while or have built enough trust to consider deeper conversations about your diversity story. How do you begin? Here are a few strategies:

  • If someone asks you a question in a casual conversation that requires more sensitivity or time, let them know. Perhaps you can ask to set up a time to chat. Intentionally making time for the conversation will allow you to prepare in a way that works for you and signal to the other person that the conversation needs special attention and care.
  • Having these deeper conversations requires courage and vulnerability on your part. It also requires respect and empathy on the side of the listener. Set the stage at the outset for everyone involved at the outset by telling the other person how you feel and what you need from them at the moment.
  • Allow yourself to pause or stop the conversation at any time. Sometimes we can’t anticipate how we’ll feel until we’re in the moment. It’s okay to say “I think I need a break from this conversation.”

Uniquely You

Whether you’re engaging in surface level or deeper conversations, if someone asks for more than you are willing to share it’s great to have resources handy for them to reference such as blogs, books, or influencers you follow. You can redirect by saying “I really appreciate your curiosity, but this is a topic that I’m not comfortable discussing right now. I do have some resources about this that I’d love to point you to.”

These conversations are key to fostering informed and inclusive workplaces—but they should never come at the detriment of people involved. Take your time, be prepared, and honor the stories that position you and others uniquely in the world.

About the Author

April Hennessey

April Hennessey is the Director of Innovation for The Ken Blanchard Companies® where she serves on the DEI Practice Team for Diversity & Inclusion. In that role, April provides thought leadership to drive next-generation, innovative learning experiences that promote inclusion and belonging.

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