Difficult Conversations-Sharon Danosky

Can you Face your Vulnerabilities in the Workplace and Beyond?

It is difficult to have conversations about racial equity, social justice, and real community engagement. For the most part, we are a polite society. We would prefer to stay quiet rather than risk offending someone or saying the wrong thing. So we say nothing at all.

Our firm was fortunate to be chosen to be one of the consultants facilitating theWorking Cities Challenge, a funding initiative from the Boston Federal Reserve to focus on economic development. We are working with a number of organizations in the greater Danbury area and were challenged by the Working Cities Challenge during a Design Session to explore the issue of racial equity. As many do, we lightly addressed the subject in terms of cultural and language differences we need to address. Yet, I was bothered. I felt we weren’t going deep enough.

I was going to facilitate our next team meeting along with my colleague Larry Smotroff, and we were struggling with this issue. As I was going through the daily news feeds, Independent Sector posted an article by Fortune referencing a video produced by Accenture. The video was attempting to address how the inability to address diversity in the workplace can personally impact employees in some very painful ways. I viewed the video through eyes that were tearing. After sharing the video with Larry, we made a decision – we were going to show this video at the meeting and see if we could prompt discussion.

We did just that and then opened it to discussion – carefully going around the table to ensure that everyone spoke. Two young men, freshly out of college and one who is Puerto-Rican/Dominican, spoke first – about how it affected them personally. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable and share how difficult it has been for each of them. That began a discussion where everyone spoke of their own challenges. Then the conversation shifted. And the meeting was no longer about how we can solve problems, but how we need to understand what those problems really are – from the perspective of the people who are living in poverty and have experienced generational poverty or have come into a community that is diverse but extremely disconnected.

It is a beginning.

I am of the generation where I was often the only woman in a room of men and frequently my voice was not heard. So I developed a facade of having to know all the answers, always be right and never let them see how you feel. Now I know better. And I truly believe that when we allow ourselves to share our vulnerabilities, we become stronger and can seek solutions in a very messy, confusing world where conversations can be difficult.