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Walking in your co-worker’s shoes

April 4, 2014

By Bill Springer

Prior to joining Linkage as the Chair of our Institute for Leading Diversity & Inclusion Institute, Darlene Slaughter served as Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Fannie Mae, where she led the development, management, implementation, and evaluation of the company’s diversity and inclusion programs.

As you’d expect, some of her initiatives there were large-scale, company-wide D&I programs. But some were more personal, like when she, a non-Muslim, decided to participate in Ramadan to experience what working at Fannie Mae was like for her Muslim co-workers.

“I’ve learned being an inclusive leader has a lot to do with walking in the shoes of other people,” she said over coffee with me recently. “It’s much easier to be accepting and inclusive when you really feel what it’s like for other people from different backgrounds.” And that’s why participating in Ramadan was so powerful for both her and the whole organization.

“It was an enlightening experience for me,” she continued. “I practiced the customs of Ramadan that include fasting between sunrise and sunset.” Darlene explained that the month-long fast was a significant commitment for her and it wasn’t always easy.

“At first, I thought participating in Ramadan would be a way to support my Muslim co-workers,” she added. “But, it was much more than that. I met some of my colleagues at their homes, got to know them on a deeper level, and was humbled and amazed at the support I received from them. I also realized that I was participating in something that millions of people practice around the world. It was hard, but meaningful and fun.”

More importantly, it was a powerful way to raise awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion across the entire organization. Once Darlene’s colleagues in the C-suite and other areas of the company heard what she was doing, they wanted to learn more about Ramadan and how her fast was going. Having a high-level figure demonstrating some of the principles of inclusion, without being preachy or directive, proved to be an extremely effective way to get people talking about inclusion and practicing respect for differences of all types.

“Unfortunately, we live in a culture of fear, especially of Muslims,” she commented. “Explaining what I was doing, and what Ramadan is all about to my non-Muslim colleagues in the organization helped them to realize that we all have differences, but that we’re all in this together too.” That understanding fosters real inclusive leadership, and that helps everybody.

So let’s hear it. Have you ever been excluded? How’d it feel? What did you do to deal with it? Have you ever tried to walk in your co-workers shoes?

Click here to learn how you can improve your inclusive leadership skills at our upcoming Institute for Leading Diversity & Inclusion Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, May 5-7.

About Darlene Slaughter

Slaughter_DarleneDarlene Slaughter is a Principal Consultant at Linkage. She leads the development of Linkage’s Inclusive Leadership and Advancing Women Leaders practice areas. She also serves as Institute Chair for Linkage’s Institute for Leading Diversity and Inclusion. Formerly, she was Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for Fannie Mae. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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