Dignity and Respect

I’ll start this post off by telling you this has been a tough week for me. Most people saw the “Becky Willis: Professional” who had a smile on, was networking, was building career opportunities, was laughing with co-workers, was answering phones during high volume hours, was pulling data quickly, and was spur-of-the-moment costume changing for a co-op work group off-site meeting. Few of you saw ‘Becky’, but she’s trying to make a comeback. I had the pleasure to attend a Chatham Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship breakfast that was enlightening and motivating last Friday morning. I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts on the event with you; however, my heart has been heavy because I’ve been wondering if the ‘Becky’ is the ‘Becky’ the world really needs to see. My reflection on Candi Castleberry-Singleton‘s Making the Workplace a Better Place for All-With All of Our Differences” will hopefully engage and inspire you like it did for me, and help us all live in a world where there is dignity and respect

Candi Castleberry-Singleton inspired me last week. She spoke from her heart, and although she integrated some lessons she’s learned as UPMC’s Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, her words and goals for the world we live in are what meant the most to me. The overarching theme of the morning was that we need to have diversity and respect.

There are many definitions for diversity, and Candi even noted that it’s not a global word. Regardless of how we define diversity (and inclusion), it doesn’t matter. “What matters is how the people feel” and if the company (or people around them) are committed to it. This got me thinking – you hear diversity and acceptance a lot, but are we really there?

Candi challenged the women (and three men) in the room to think about our own relationships. Are you surrounded by others just like you?  (For the record, I was there with my cousin. We are a lot alike, so I was sure to point that out to Candi afterward, handing her my ‘lil Burghers business card and telling her to check out my pages and be sure I do surround myself with people who are not “just like me”.) Naturally, we gravitate to people just like us. It’s comfortable, and I totally agree with Candi that that’s why our closest friends lack diversity. But for me, people “just like me” aren’t necessarily white professional women. They are women and men of all sizes, shapes, colors, backgrounds, education levels, interests, and jobs. That’s the way I like it…and for the most part, they are all welcoming like me (hence the forming of my inner circle).
She challenged us to try to see the difference “between being the cashier and the person”, that sometimes the company or the title make a person act a certain way. We should think about this the next time we are out in public.
Her lesson letting people tell their stories was another that I enjoyed. Sure, we all can usually relate to someone’s story because YES, it does happen to you. The problem is that we miss the message because we tune out the message and miss the fact that the story doesn’t happen to you in the same way. Think about this next time that you say, “Oh yeah, I’ve done that before” when a friend is trying to tell you about their bad day in the rain, okay?
While we want to live in a diverse and included world, we have to think about what we are doing in every interaction. Are we listening? Are we putting down technology and hearing the real message? Are we considering the person as a whole? We have to make relationships work to promote this world we (should) want to live in.
She went on to talk about how just having diverse people in the room doesn’t mean it’s working and right. We have to build relationships, give each other dignity and respect, and all be involved. Her challenge to resist the urge to push back was a great one, too. Just because people say something to you about your skin color, religion, job, whatever, doesn’t mean it’s right to just stay silent and move on.
Candi repeated this lesson: 
We’ve been given this day to use as we will. You can waste it or use it for good. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, just like every day. Let it be something good.
Finally, she gave the audience three things to do:
  1. Get new friends.
  2. Listen without comparing.
  3. Take it. Self, partner, kids, work, community. We are all responsible.

The main takeaway was that we have to build dignity and respect to live in a truly diverse and inclusive world. My thoughts around Candi’s speech are nowhere near as eloquent and moving as she put them; however, I hope they’ve made some sense. Greg and I want to be sure our kids are aware that yes, they are different; however, that doesn’t make them wrong or that people should treat them any differently because of it. Let’s hope we can succeed at this challenge.

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