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The usefulness of identity-based groups

7 Jan

Questions about identity-specific groups often come up when we talk about inclusion. These could be based on race, sexual orientation, age etc. Identity-based groups are often viewed with caution and the accusation of exclusion. Afterall, we don’t want to go “backwards”.

I’d like to suggest they are often necessary and helpful when creating meaningful change.

Many companies have Employee Resource Groups based on identity (LGBT, women, Aboriginal people, people with disabilities), and often they include allies. Many schools have GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) but they too usually include allies.
Allies are important.
And sometimes it helps to have an identity-only group or meeting. Here’s why:

Sometimes we need to be exclusive to get to the heart of an issue, to allow people the space to really share how they feel, and to ultimately support inclusion.

Marginalized groups (people of colour, LGBT people, people with (dis)abilities, etc) don’t often have the opportunity to speak amongst themselves about issues that impact them within a forum that can make an difference (I’m not talking about a gripe session over lunch). And it can be hard to have a frank conversation about race and racism, homophobia, ableism, etc or just the reality of being a person of colour, gay, or living with a disability (etc) in our societies, because we often have to manage the emotions of white, straight, or able-bodied (etc) people – from ignorance to guilt to outrage. Managing those emotions undermines the conversation – and the possibilities they can help to create.

We see and experience the world differently because of our identities (like race, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, etc).
We are impacted by systems and society differently because of our identities (like race, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, etc).
In an identity-based group, we can talk about things frankly, without having to explain, apologize, or take care of others.

In a work setting, and as a part of creating change and a more inclusive environment, identity-based conversations can help to surface issues we may not hear elsewhere, and give us clues to deeper issues. It can be a tool to help people feel safe enough to share what’s going on for them, what’s important, what they are concerned about (things we may otherwise not hear about). This information can help to address an issue or move an organization forward.

Identity-based groups aren’t meant to keep us separate, but to ultimately help us move closer together, by creating greater understanding.

For marginalized identities, these opportunities are more important than for dominant identities (white, straight, able bodied, etc), because dominant identities carry power and privilege that one taps into no matter who else is in the room. Power and privilege give people the safety and the permission to speak up (and be heard), no matter what.

Just in case some of you are thinking that I’m advocating for segregation, that’s not at all what I’m saying. The opportunity to speak with and share ideas (and even more importantly, concerns) with people we share a marginalized identity with can be an important component to help create meaningful change. Creating a forum to hear voices that are often silent (and silenced), and using that information to inform change and raise awareness in a broader context can help to create environments where everyone is heard, seen and valued for who they are and what they bring – and where the biases and unconscious biases that filter in and create experiences and systems of inequity are seen and addressed.

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Radio Show Host – Creating Families


Happy Holidays?

2 Dec

Yesterday I was in a downtown Toronto office.  As soon as the elevator doors opened onto the 7th floor I could already see the Christmas decorations.

The person I was meeting with is Jewish. So I asked him as we looked at the Christmas tree, where the Menorah was. He looked a bit uncomfortable for a moment and then said “Usually we will have one, but it’s not Hannukah yet.”

To which I responded: “Christmas doesn’t start for another 24 days! Hannukah is next week!”

“I don’t know what to say now,” he answered.

I was told by the receptionist that the Menorah will make an appearance. I’m tempted to drop by every day this week to see when it does. Because here is the thing:

It’s great that it will be there, but consider the unconscious message as we put up Christmas decorations a month before and possibly save the Menorah for exactly the 8 days it will be lit (or the 5 work days of the 8). Is there something especially anticipatory about Christmas that other holidays don’t share?

See more,

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Radio Show Host – Creating Families

Hydro One’s Stand Against Sexual Harassment

14 May

If you haven’t been following the news, after Shauna Hunt – a CityNews reporter – was heckled by TFC fans, one of them was identified as a Hydro One employee and subsequently fired.

Apparently this heckling of female reporters is a new trend that began last year.
It’s sexual harassment.
And the fact that it is a trend, is even more disturbing.


Hydro One drew a hard line in the sand. This could be good for their employees and for a safer and more respectful workplace environment – if it’s a line that informs their workplace in daily practice as well as in policy.

Inclusive and safe workplaces are an ongoing commitment. Policies are an important part of that commitment, but it certainly doesn’t end there. New employees have to read and sign policies to show they agree to abide by them. And then these policies must be reviewed regularly, to ensure that:

a) employees remember what they signed and what the policies say
b) employees that are victims of (in this case) harassment know what the policies say and how they are supported
c) any questions can be answered and situations can be discussed.

The last point is important because intervention is part of creating and keeping a safe and inclusive environment. Giving employees the opportunity to think  about, discuss, or even role play situations that they may find themselves in or witness, helps to increase comfort in dealing with these if they occur. And stepping in when someone is being disrespected helps to make workplaces safer.

So, congratulations Hydro One in taking a public stand.
And here is hoping that it’s a stand your employees feel every day.

See more.

copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Facilitator, Speaker and Author on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.

A Diversity Allegory

7 May

This week I heard a story that sparked my D&I interest.

It’s about insects, but bear with me, it’s a great allegory for D&I!

If you put bees and flies into a glass jar and put the bottom of the open jar against the window (so the open end is away from the window) on a sunny day, what do you think happens?

Apparently (and I haven’t tested this, so I’m going on faith that the story teller did their research), the bees move towards the light. That’s what their DNA tells them is the right thing to do. The flies on the other hand, don’t have a “go to the light” instinct, and fly around all over the jar (noisily, maybe annoyingly). Eventually the flies find the opening, and away they go. The bees stay collected at the closed end, still trying to get to the sunlight.

What’s the moral of the story?

I’m sure there are many, but here’s one: If we get stuck in “what we know” and don’t let others contribute their knowledge and insight, we might miss an innovative solution, a creative idea, a different path. Working with others can be challenging – annoying even – but diversity, innovation and creativity are linked – if the environment supports it.

You may never sees flies in the same light again (pun intended).

See more.

Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Author on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.

What gets us into trouble…

11 Feb

On the weekend I was reminded of a great quote by Mark Twain:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Although I would argue that what we don’t know can get us into trouble, the second half is particularly insightful when talking about diversity and inclusion.

Think about it:
What do we think we know for sure about people who are “not like us” that we then use as truth to interpret and judge their behaviour – and to determine our behaviour, decisions and language towards them?

“What we know for sure that just ain’t so” is about unconscious bias.
And the tricky thing about unconscious bias is the unconscious part.
Notice Mark Twain didn’t say it’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so, he said it’s what you KNOW for sure.
Sadly, if we know it for sure, we’re not likely to check to see if we are correct.

What do you “know for sure” about someone in your office, gym, class, neighbourhood, family, household, etc. And how might it be getting you into trouble?

See more

copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

Sexual Harassment and Intersectionality

4 Nov

Thanks to Jian Ghomeshi, there has been a lot of talk over the past two weeks about sexual violence and sexual harassment.
It’s good that we are talking about it.

Yesterday I caught the tail end of an interview on CBC radio about sexual harassment in the workplace, and why women don’t come forward.

And I thought, what about intersectionality? Have we interviewed women who are not white, or who are lesbian, or who don’t have a post secondary education (for example) about their experiences of sexual harassment at work?

Intersectionality means that we have many identities that intersect and impact our experiences of discrimination or harassment. In a culture of silence (still), bringing a complaint of sexual harassment forward is already tough enough. Racism or homophobia or classism (for example) on top of this can add further layers of silence as people try to negotiate their safety and justice in a world that doesn’t want to see them for all that they are or what they contribute – which spills into how (and if) they are heard. Coming forward with a serious complaint against someone who likely has more social power than you – in more identities than gender – would require even more courage and fortitude.

I’d like to hear a discussion on the radio about that.

See more.
Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion

Why Tim Cook’s Coming Out is a Big Deal

30 Oct

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, just publicly announced that he is gay.
While he hasn’t been closeted, per se, he felt it important to publicly acknowledge his sexual orientation.

For those of you who wonder why this is a big deal, consider that he is the ONLY CEO in a Fortune 500 company to be out.


In 2014, this may come as a surprise. It probably shouldn’t given what we are learning about unconscious bias.

What does this fact tell us about who we see as CEOs, what our unconscious bias about CEOs is, and what makes someone a good “fit”?

I’m highlighting this because Cook’s statement and Leonid Bershidsky’s article “Does Being Gay Make Tim Cook a Better Boss?” tell us a lot about what inclusion really means both personally and to a company’s bottom line.

Cook states that “being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life.”
While this is great, it’s personal – so it’s fabulous if you work at Apple, but how does it impact the rest of us?

Bershidsky’s article references Kirk Snyder’s book, The G Quotient, that is based on an extensive study of gay managers. One of the things highlighted is that the employees of gay managers (who are out) “asserted that their employees displayed 35 to 60 percent higher job engagement, satisfaction and morale than those managed by straight males.”

This seems to support Cook’s statement above and give us insight into how the personal impacts business. It makes sense that if you’ve experienced barriers, you may be more inclined to make sure your team feels valued and acknowledged for who they are and what they bring.

So while Tim’s coming out may not seem like a big deal. It is.
It will help to broaden the idea of who at CEO is or can be, it has given us the opportunity to have conversations about what it means to be out at work (and the costs if we aren’t), it provides the opportunity to re-examine our commitments to inclusion, and it will give LGBTQ youth one more role model to aspire to – which can make a huge difference in the life of a young person.

If you have 10 minutes, read the Cook’s statement and Bershidsky’s article.

And see more.

Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

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