I just had the opportunity, no privilege, to talk with Joe Gerstandt in the blogger’s lounge at the SHRM 2015 Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas.
His business card states: “illuminating the value of difference”. In our conversation, he passionately and persuasively talked about the importance of valuing difference by more than just labels, but also by conscious activism.
I asked Joe what propelled his passion. The answer: his background. But don't jump to conclusions too quickly.
Joe grew up in Iowa where there was little diversity, at least visibly. And, he was told and believed, that anyone could “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” if they just tried.
Then Joe joined the Marines. In his service to our country, he was exposed to diversity, broadly defined. He realized “not everyone had the wind blowing behind them”.
After his time in the service, he entered the non-profit world. Again, he worked with clients of an organization who faced obstacles that he did not face, obstacles because of their race, sexual orientation, HIV status and other reasons.
Fast forward, today, Joe works with companies to help them understand that, while there still is conscious bias, there is plenty of unconscious bias. Sure, inclusion is a great word. But what does it mean? And, does it really happen?
You can talk about inclusion, but if people don't feel comfortable disagreeing, it does not really exist.
You can talk about inclusion, but if people can't come to work as themselves, it does not really exist.
If you assume and don't ask employees whether or not they feel included, what you believe, and what your employees feel, may be worlds apart.
Joe is optimistic, but believes, and I agree, much work needs to be done. We need to be open to social science about unconscious bias so that we can consciously avoid it.
Joe gave me a number of practical examples. I was disappointed that I had to leave for a meeting because we could have talked for hours.
I love champions of diversity who go beyond platitudes. Joe is the real deal!