by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
Having discussions about issues surrounding workplace diversity and inclusion can be difficult or uncomfortable. But Kimya Johnson, senior counsel and co-chair of Ogletree Deakins Diversity and Inclusion Practice Group from the law firm’s Philadelphia office, said at a Sept. 24 seminar on the North Side that those discussions are necessary to build camaraderie and make employees feel valued, but also to head off repercussions—like lawsuits.
And there are ways to make such conversations more comfortable. Johnson demonstrated one such approach at the “Coming Together: Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Discussion Series” hosted by the firm’s Pittsburgh office at Alloy 26 in Nova Place.
First, she outlined the parameters: Keep the responses of others in confidence; promote a safe place for expression—no interruption; seek to understand and not defend; focus on sharing and not persuading; listen to hear; remember that this is a “judgment-free zone;” speak only for yourself using “I” statements and presenting your experience versus that of others; and, respect versus react.
“Some of these are difficult,” Johnson said. “Especially for lawyers—we tend to interrupt, to ask questions. And the nature of our work is to persuade and defend. That’s why doing this takes practice, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
She then handed the 40 or so participants a set of discussion questions and broke everyone into six groups led by facilitators. Everyone was given three minutes—uninterrupted—to give their responses to the following:
•What is your cultural background?
•How do you believe your cultural background impacts how you see the world and interact with people who are different from you?
•How do (or have) the current events and social, political, and cultural issues happening in our community and country impact you personally?
•How have these events and issues shaped your leadership style or impacted you as a team leader/member in the workplace?
“And since I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wasn’t willing to do, I’ll go first,” Johnson said, and she did.
By the time she got to the third question, she had revealed that, in addition to being a
Black woman, an attorney, and mother of two, she was also a woman of faith and married to a pastor in the AME church.
“The shooting in Charleston, S.C., that was an AME church, and the AME church is headquartered in Philadelphia,” she said. “That was a very frantic time. We had all the leadership meetings, asking, do we need security? I thought of my husband—it could have happened here, of my children. But here’s the thing; at work, no one mentioned it. People who know I’m married to a pastor, a pastor in the AME church—they didn’t say a thing, didn’t ask if I was OK or how I was doing.”
It’s possible the breakout sessions led to similar expressions that otherwise would not have happened—and gave others in the various groups insight into their fellows they could not have had before. That’s the idea, Johnson said.
All the participants will fill out surveys on the workshop, and Ogletree Deakins will use those responses to inform the next discussion, which will likely be scheduled in the first quarter of next year.
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