By Laura Gardner, Program Manager, Asia Business Center & Berkeley-Haas Diversity Initiatives
Ferguson. Eric Garner. Street harassment. Prejudice. Islamophobia. Sizism. Mental health stigma. Ageism. There is so much going on in the world around us that is hard to comprehend, and that attracts a wide array of opinions and reactions—both intellectual and emotional. While many may think that these topics have no place in the workplace, we disagree.
The Haas School of Business’ Office of Diversity Initiatives has started monthly discussions for staff to address many of these topics. The idea came about while our Director of Diversity Initiatives, Eric Abrams, was attending the FTMBA students’ conversation series called “Hot Topics,” and was seated with Erin Kellerhals, Stephanie Fujii, Mike Katz, Nikita Mitchell, and Heather Faison, among others. It was sharing that experience with a student, her partner, and several colleagues that really made him think of starting a similar series for staff.
“It dawned on me that staff might benefit from the chance to discuss issues of the day that relate to diversity,” he explains. Discussion is a great way to be heard, listen to others, and air issues that may be more covert than overt in the workplace.
These discussions are intended to be informal, confidential, and judgment free. They definitely do not replace formal HR complaints, and are intended to bridge understanding. Abrams explains, “We’re NOT trying to change anyone’s hearts or minds. Rather, we want to encourage people to talk to each other. I think that many people look for a safe space to discuss difficult issues, and my hope is that the number of participants continues to grow.”
In December 2014, a group of 23 staff members came together to discuss the racial bias in law enforcement. Abrams gave a presentation about the importance of knowing and meeting people with other backgrounds than one’s own. Since we were short on time, we continued the conversation in our January session with a group of eight staff members. In February, we shifted gears and discussed street harassment with 12 staff members, by showing a couple of YouTube videos to kick it off.
Kate Alper, program manager for the Center for Responsible Business has attended all of the discussions so far. “These discussion topics are issues that affect our daily lives, whether we choose to focus on them or not,” she says. So far she’s appreciated the outlet. “I enjoy the opportunity to hear from other members of the Haas community about their varied perspectives and backgrounds.”
Abrams said the street harassment session was most memorable to him, “As a man, and as a father of sons, I want to behave in a responsible manner… but I’m sure that there have been times where I might have looked too long at a passerby. I know that there have been times where someone has been uncomfortable in my presence, and I’d like to learn how to mitigate that. The conversation that we had was fascinating!”
All of the discussions take place mid-day, and include lunch with an early enough RSVP. In April, we are expanding to include a session at Addison Street for staff working downtown, where we’re going to tackle body image and sizism, by first watching a 45 minute video, followed by a discussion.
About future discussion topics, Abrams says, “I’d like to discuss faith in the workplace—I think a lot of people find discussions of faith very interesting, while others find the topic a bit awkward. Also, a conversation about who benefits from diversity efforts would be topical.”
We would love to hear topic suggestions, if you have them, and look forward to building a more robust participation.
Tuesday, April 7 from 12–2 pm at 2001 Addison St. Berkeley
Thursday, April 9 from 12–2 pm at Haas School of Business, Room C330
Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org