This is the third of a three-part posting I’m doing on diversity in West Michigan.

First let me say that I am no expert on diversity. However I am very interested in it and feel it is an important issue to explore if our community is to be among the best in the country. As such, in part one, I shared some of my history with the topic. In part two, I shared some of my relevant beliefs about it, and in this posting I will share an idea of what I can do about it—perhaps it’s something we could all do.

If West Michigan is to become to leadership what Silicon Valley is to technology (as our Leading by DESIGN’s purpose states) then we need to learn to do better with diversity… much better.

Ever since I was ten years old I desired to NOT be prejudiced against others because of their race and ethnicity. Of course, as a ten-year-old, I had a lot to learn about how deeply prejudice can be planted and how difficult it is to eliminate. There is no question in my mind that I’m still on that journey today.

I have worked pretty hard to have good and worthy beliefs and values around diversity. However, it has become clear that even though I’m very open to giving people equal treatment and opportunities, I’m mostly surrounded by white males. This is not only in my work but also in my social circles. Maybe being open isn’t enough. Maybe being intentional about overcoming the living system is needed.

I’ve come to believe that a huge part of how opportunities are realized has to do with networks. Anyone who has found themselves needing to search for their next job knows how important working their network is. I’m pretty sure the experts say this is the most important piece of a local job search.

But what if you are a person of color. Do you have access to my network? Do you have access to other white males that hold a lot of influence in West Michigan? As I mentioned, my network is NOT very diverse. My guess is that there are probably a couple hundred people who know me well enough that they would feel comfortable asking me for help if they were looking for a job—or vice versa for that matter.

Of those two hundred people, I might only know twenty people of color. That’s only 10 percent, and yet I’m quite sure that West Michigan is includes well over 10 percent people of color.

If my network is an important portal for opportunities—either mine or theirs—then it seems like my network should be more diverse. Because of this I am being intentional this year to get to know a dozen more people of color. That’s not a very aggressive goal, but it’s a start and I am committed to this start in 2019. And yes, you’re welcome to ask me though the year how I’m doing with it.

Here is what I believe could happen because of this:

  • I will change. I learned a long time ago that who you hang out with greatly influences who you become. By hanging out with a greater, more diverse circle of people, I will gain new and different insights about the world and how it works.
  • I will have access to more people when I’m looking for some help and opportunities AND I will provide more access to them when they are looking for help and opportunities.
  • This simple action might inspire others to do the same, thus making more impact than I could on my own. In fact, I’m hopeful that several of you will resonate with this idea and decide to join me. If you do, let me know and maybe we can ask each other how it’s going.

I find it interesting that just as I began my work on this short series on diversity, I was flying back from a conference in Phoenix. It just so happens that my seat-mate was a young man named Chris who is half black and half Dutch (his father is second-generation Dutch, though visually you would likely identify Chris as a young black man).

I decided not to be my usual introverted self on this flight and instead tried to get to know Chris. He is a very interesting young man. He is someone I wouldn’t normally have in my network, but now I consider him to be someone I know, even if just a little bit.

I gave Chris my contact info on the hope that he’ll reach out to me, and he assured me that he would. I hope to get to know him better and that he’ll end up being in my network. If some opportunity comes up that I am aware of where he might be a good fit, or vice-versa, we can lean into our relationship to explore it.

Even though the overall diversity challenge still feels overwhelming to me, it seems like this is one thing I can do to help pursue the challenge here in West Michigan. Maybe some of you will join me in your own quiet way. Maybe together we could start a movement to change the living system for the better! Who knows, maybe a concerted alumni effort in this regard would get us close to being one of the best places for all people to live and thrive!

If you’ve read this far, thanks for “listening”! If you have your own thoughts on this or some feedback for me please let me know.

LEAD well this week!

Image by Biker Jun. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.