I gazed at 20 business communicators, all in various leadership positions for major firms and organizations. In my best professorial voice, I gave them an assignment and a deadline. I announced, “You now have five minutes to get to know your banana.”
So began my presentation about diversity to a group of professionals who write, message and meet with people of all types for a living. When I received the invitation, I grappled with how to leave some substantial idea within a limited amount of time. I remembered how friend and colleague Ruth Seymour, a journalism professor in Michigan, introduced me to a variation of this “fruit” exercise years ago. Then it happened — the “a-ha!” moment of profound, yet simple, realization. Diversity is dynamic, not static.
I learned this early when I worked for the Houston Society for the Performing Arts years ago as a consultant to help increase support for it from African-American communities. Joining forces with similar outreach to the Latino and Asian committees and working closely with the executive director, I was thrilled with the results. New relationships with ethnic media, community groups and businesses began and flourished, yielding measurable increases in group ticket sales and positive visibility in these communities. SPA expanded its program too by including performers that were diverse and hugely successful draws. It all began and ended with research — not static surveys, but through dynamic, reciprocal exchanges. Personal influencers, affinity groups and ethnic media were key partners in our success.
Five minutes later, my group “knew” their bananas so well they could pick them out again after they were randomly sorted. Pleased and surprised, they learned to look beyond the surface of their “diverse” publics. How about you? Is your diversity dynamic or static?
Submited by Meta G. Carstarphen. Meta is associate professor & Gaylord Family professor at the University of Oklahoma. A former FAA public information specialist, she is author of Writing PR: A Multimedia Approach. She specializes in diversity and nonprofit PR and teaches PR Writing, PR Campaigns, and Race, Gender & the Media courses.
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