By Charles Hallman
Diversity is an overused word, said Greater Twin Cities Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) President and CEO Gloria Lewis at the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) Minnesota Spring LeadershipForum. She was the keynote speaker at the June 4 event in St. Paul.
“Let’s [instead] say ‘everybody,’” Lewis suggested as she spoke to a dinner audience of local communications industry members. “I think one of the things that we have done is that we try to cover up racism. It does exist, but it doesn’t just exist among White people, but all people. We’ve got to overcome some of those barriers.”
She also pointed out that a successful leader today is one who understands the organizational culture they are in and is not afraid to change it if necessary. “I like taking risks,” said Lewis, who directs one of the nation’s largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates.
Since Minnesota’s overall population is rapidly changing, companies and organizations “need to look at how diverse we are,” said Lewis. She noted that when she joined BBBS in 2005, one of her goals was to make sure her organization was diverse and reflected the children and families they serve. “We’ve got everybody. I love the diversity we have.”
Lewis also talked about leadership and mentoring.
“It is a skill and talent” to be a leader, said Lewis, who has 25-plus years of experience in public and nonprofit administration. She also said that today’s business leaders must keep pace with technological and social change.
“The digital revolution affects all levels of leadership. All leaders today must understand it and embrace it. Social media is changing the landscape of leadership.
“I love mentoring,” continued Lewis. “I know that mentoring works.”
But she told the audience that when the word “at risk” is used when talking about children, it bothers her. “Every child is valuable to us. Every child will be successful — that is our mission. I don’t care where the children come from — they all can be successful. Stop labeling…and start mentoring them.”
Lewis later told the MSR that leaders “really have to be able to think globally, [because] there are a lot of people around you. That’s how they will accept your leadership.”
She also pleaded for more Blacks as mentors: “I’ve got less than 100 Black men and a thousand-some White men [as mentors]. I want Black men to step up and start mentoring these Black boys.”
The MSR also talked to two local media managers after Lewis’ speech.
WRNB and Black Music America founder and owner Pete Rhodes said he liked Lewis’ response when he asked her how “true diversity” can be enhanced in companies. She told him, “Everybody deserves the opportunity to move within the organization. [We must] stop looking at the colors, size and weight, ethnicity and sexual preference, and just look at everybody as everyone,”
Rhodes agreed: “I think she answered the question exactly the way it should be — stop looking at that word ‘diversity.’”
However, KMOJ General Manager Kelvin Quarles disagreed with Lewis. “I think the word ‘diversity’ still should be there. I don’t think America is ready for the ‘all of us’ [approach],” he noted. “I think now, in this society, if you are a non-African American or a White person, you do it [diversity] because you have to.
“If you start calling it something else, it dilutes it. The word [itself] is the power.”
Blacks as heads of organizations and corporations tend to be more sensitive to diversity, said Quarles. “It’s easy for one of us, as a person of color who’s running the organization, because we can adjust the situation a little differently, and we can see from the inside and adjust the diversity issues.
“The majority of the people that work at KMOJ are people of color, African American,” said the station manager. “But we do have a Native American young lady [and] three Caucasians that work for us. We try to be as diverse as we possibly can be… If someone shows an interest, regardless of the color, we try to bring them in.”
He did agree, however, with Lewis on her thoughts on leadership and mentoring. “You have to guide your staff and employees,” said Quarles. “But your staff has to, number one, feel good about their jobs, and number two, they have to want to be guided and have some kind of desire to be better.”
Quarles believes that more “responsible men and women of color” working with children, especially at younger ages, are needed. “They take those lessons [taught them by mentors] all through life into their adulthood.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]