Monthly Archives: July 2018

Experience Resources

The best way to learn about other cultures is to experience them. Keep an open mind and visit these museums and go on these trip suggestions.




Watching Resources

Replace an episode of reality TV with one of these videos and expand your views on diversity and inclusion.

TED Talks





Reading Resources

The first step to becoming more inclusive is learning new perspectives about the culture around you. Take a look at Sharon Orlopp’s list of her favorite readings and open your mind.


The Swimming Pool Incident by Sharon Orlopp

I Am Woman by Sharon Orlopp

I Never Do a Good Enough Job by Sharon Orlopp

Discussing Controversial Topics by Sharon Orlopp

Dining at the Religious Smorgasbord by Sharon Orlopp

Our Different Lenses by Sharon Orlopp

Why White Men Matter by Sharon Orlopp

We Are All Michael Brown and Darren Wilson by Sharon Orlopp



Sharon’s Favorites

Five Books Every Diversity Professional Should Read

Robust List of Diversity Books

7 Books that Teach Kids about Diversity

50 Best Culturally Diverse Children’s Books

Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity, and Profitability Through Inclusion by Caroline Turner

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect by John Maxwell

Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage by Shirley Engelmeier

Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words by Stephen Young

Moving Diversity Forward by Verna Myers

Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts: Communicating Respectfully in a Diverse World by Leslie Aguilar

Speak Up! Responding to Everyday Bigotry by Southern Poverty Law Center

What If? Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue by Steve L. Robbins

What If I Say The Wrong Thing?  25 Habits for Culturally Effective People by Verna Myers

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Tatum



100 Lessons in Diversity: Learning About Yourself and Others by Stanley Bongwe

Becoming an Inclusive Leader by Shirley Engelmeier

Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America by David Thomas & John Gabarro

Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino

Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority by Tim Wise

Difference Works: Improving Retention, Productivity, and Profitability Through Inclusion by Caroline Turner

Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine by Lu-In Wang

Giraffe and Elephant: A Diversity Fable by Roosevelt Thomas

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right by Mary Gentile

Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words by Stephen Young

Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing  by Verna Myers

Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts: Communicating Respectfully in a Diverse World by Leslie Aguilar

Speak Up! Responding to Everyday Bigotry by Southern Poverty Law Center

The Inclusion Paradox by Andres Tapia

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz

Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

What If? Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue by Steve Robbins

What If I Say The Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People by Verna Myers

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson



A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nichlas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn

How Remarkable Women Lead by Joanna Barsh & Susie Cranston

How to be Like Women of Influence by Pat and Ruth Williams

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

The Athena Doctrine: How Women and the Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future by John Gerzema & Michael D’Antonio

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home by Lisa D’Annolfo Levey

The Third Law by Tamra Ryan

The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life by Sophia Nelson

Thrive by Arianna Huffington

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter

Why Women: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men by Jeffery Tobias Halter

Women World Leaders by Laura Liswood



A Chance in The World by Steve Pemberton

Dare to Dream by Felicia Mabuza-Suttle

Dare to Take Charge by Judge Glenda Hatchett

Forgetting to be Afraid by Wendy Davis

Letters to My Daughters by Fawzia Koofi

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate by Juan Williams

The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear by Shirley Sherrod

The Invitation by Clifton Taulbert



Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference by Jennifer Kahnweiler

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extravert World by Marti Olsen Laney


Disability/Differently Abled

I Can See Clearly: A Different Look at Leadership by Steve Hanamura

Reading Lips by Diane and Philip Scharper



Are You Guys Brothers? by Brian McNaught

Gay Issues in the Workplace by Brian McNaught

God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson

Making Gay History by Eric Marcus

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino

The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez

What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak


Native American Indian

Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller



Written by or about Sharon Orlopp University of Arkansas 

Diversity Inc.

Diversity Best Practices: The Swimming Pool Incident

University of Denver alumna article 

Diversity Central article/interview about diversity strategy

Hispanic PR Interview 

Diversity Woman article/interview 

We are all Michael Brown and Darren Wilson published by Diversity Journal – also published by Diversity Best Practices

I Never do a Good Enough Job published by Network of Executive Women 

Huffington Post Article



Brainy Quotes About Diversity

235 Quotes About Diversity

12 Empowering and Inspiring Quotes About Diversity

We Are All Michael Brown….and Darren Wilson

Generally, when a child is born there is an aura of hope and dreams of a great future. Parents, relatives, teachers, and neighbors provide love, support, guidance, and advice about pursuing the American dream in our great nation of unlimited opportunity.

As a white mother of a 20 year old son and a 17 year old daughter, I have had conversations with my children about respecting elders, respecting authority, making smart decisions, and not causing trouble. But a pivotal moment occurred for me during a discussion about the Trayvon Martin situation. I found out that my friends who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Muslim, and others who are viewed as “different” have a more unique conversation with their children.

The conversations have a similar theme about respecting authority but the advice is far more specific and it focuses on survival—staying alive. These conversations, called “the talk,” have occurred for many generations and often start as early as the age of seven. The advice that is provided includes:

  • Turn all the lights on inside your car if you are pulled over
  • Keep your hands where they can be seen
  • Do not make sudden movements
  • Ask for permission to retrieve your driver’s license and registration
  • Don’t talk back to the police
  • Don’t ask for help

“The talk” occurs regardless of socioeconomic status and education. Friends I have spoken with remember exactly when they received “the talk.” They also share humiliating stories about interactions with police, being detained in airports, and being followed while shopping. Some provided stories about their sons and husbands who have been long-time residents of affluent neighborhoods being reported to the police by “concerned” neighbors when they are walking in their own neighborhood.

As a Chief Diversity Officer and an H.R. professional, these stories saddened me tremendously and it made me realize that we need many more conversations so that we understand each other’s experiences and perspectives. How can we create a much different version of “the talk” that includes people from many different backgrounds sharing their dreams, aspirations, struggles, and obstacles? Rather than being afraid of open dialogue about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, we should provide opportunities for discussion on controversial issues where each person’s voice is heard and valued.

I also worry about the social conditioning that occurs with multiple generations hearing “the talk” and understanding the applicability in the workplace as well as in our personal lives. Does a continual reminder of respect for authority, remaining quiet, and keeping your hands in sight result in a focus on conforming and fitting in rather than “leaning in” as Sheryl Sandberg suggests? What are the long term effects of messages about interactions with police?

Each of us is shaped by our life experiences which influence the majority of our day-to-day decisions. We tend to like people who look like us, think like us and come from similar backgrounds. Research has shown that beliefs and values from our family, culture and experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate others. Instinct kicks in when we are confronted with a threat to our survival. Instinct is a spontaneous, split-second reaction to a situation based on our knowledge and experiences.

Whether it is a life-or-death situation, or an employment decision (hiring, promotion, performance evaluation rating, or termination), our unconscious bias may blind our decision making. The situation in Ferguson, MO where Michael Brown was killed by police officer, Darren Wilson, requires a call to action that significantly changes our life experiences and re-wires our brains so that we first become self-aware and recognize our own unconscious biases and that secondly we change the course of our shared humanity by purposefully changing our current experiences.

Specific steps that each of us can take to change the trajectory of human connectivity are:

1. Become self-aware. The Implicit Association Test, developed by Harvard Business School, is one of the most effective tools for testing our own unconscious bias. It is available for free at

2. Create open dialogue opportunities. During staff meetings, personal encounters, or at large venues, create an environment where open, transparent conversations are encouraged about uncomfortable, controversial topics. Ensure that people attend these conversations have different points of view. Establish “rules of the road” where all opinions are heard and valued.

3. Purposefully become “one of the only” or “one of a few.” Put yourself in situations where you are different than others around you. Attend a house of worship, visit a mall, host a dinner event, visit a neighborhood or attend a conference where you are very different than everyone else around you.

4. Seek to understand. Educate yourself by reading books and articles and attending museums and movies about different people, cultures, and perspectives.

5. Ask for feedback. Ask many people of different backgrounds for honest, transparent feedback about your style as a leader. Ask their opinions about what behaviors would make you a more inclusive leader.

Collectively, we can create a much different version of “the talk” by providing venues with open, transparent dialogue to share unique perspectives and experiences. By purposefully immersing ourselves in situations where we are different than those around us, we become more empathetic and understanding and we look for moments of exclusion to be turned into lifetimes of inclusion.

The Swimming Pool Incident

It was a hot holiday weekend in Arkansas and my twelve year old daughter and I went to a community swimming pool. The pool was very crowded – mostly with white children and two black children. I laid down to suntan and to possibly doze off, which I know is not a smart thing to do as a parent. But I rationalized that my daughter is a strong swimmer and there were plenty of children and parents in and near the pool.

As I was dozing, I heard a man yell, “Why don’t you morons get out of the pool?” It took me a few minutes to react as I tried to determine if that was a dream or something that had happened in the pool area. I sat up on my lawn chair and noticed that the black children were nowhere in sight. I motioned for my daughter to come over. I asked her what had happened and she repeated what the man had said – she said he directed the comments at the black kids.

I have spent most of my adult life telling my children and associates at Walmart the importance of speaking up and speaking out when something isn’t right. Here was a moment that wasn’t right and my daughter had witnessed it. Would I do what I had always taught her was the right thing to do? How would I do it? I mulled over different approaches and decided that I would approach the man on a weekday when the pool wasn’t so crowded.

That Monday, I drove to the pool. The pool area was completely empty except for me and the man who oversees the pool. He was sitting behind a desk when I walked into the small attached cement building.

I introduced myself and said that I wanted to talk to him about something that happened on Saturday. I asked him, “Did you say ‘Why don’t you morons get out of the pool?’” He angrily stood up and demanded, “Are you calling me a racist?” I thought about the fact that no one knew where I was at that moment and that the two of us were the only ones in an isolated building. I paused for a few seconds to think about how to respond to his question. I thought to myself, “I am in this conversation deep – there’s no turning back.”

I replied, “I’m not calling you a racist, but I’m concerned about how your comment made the black children and all the children in the pool feel on Saturday.” He sat back down and we proceeded to have a conversation. He assured me that he calls many people morons – he uses the term for women, Hispanics, and others. I talked with him about the impact of calling people morons. At the end of our discussion, I felt that the two of us had very different viewpoints.

Two weeks after our conversation, my daughter and I returned to the pool. As we were walking into the pool area, he started pointing at me. He said, “You! I know who you are and what you do for a living.” I’m still not sure how he knew I was responsible for diversity and inclusion at Walmart. He got closer to me and leaned into my ear and said, “Thank you for having that conversation with me.”

My daughter and I did not return to that pool until four years later. As we walked into the pool area, he recognized me and said, “You! I remember you and I remember our conversation.” I got closer to him and leaned into his ear and said, “You and I will always be connected because of that conversation.”

This experience taught me the value of speaking up and speaking out. Often, we are caught off guard when we hear comments or jokes that are offensive and inappropriate. Sometimes we don’t know how to handle the situation. The best suggestion I ever heard is to simply say “Ouch.” This puts a pause in the conversation because most people know what ouch means.

I am retiring in a few weeks and I have thoroughly enjoyed my past 12 years with Walmart because at Walmart we are open and welcome to everyone. Everyone.

We open our doors every day around the world to all customers – and we welcome them. We provide access and affordability for the daily necessities of living.

Respect for the individual has been – and always will be – a core fundamental belief at Walmart.

We expect that all associates and all customers will be treated respectfully regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

We don’t discriminate and we don’t pass judgment.

Over the past decade, there has been a natural evolution in the diversity arena. Now most companies are very focused on inclusion. Sometimes the words diversity and inclusion are used interchangeably—but they have different meanings.

Diversity is about our differences. Diversity is typically captured in metrics.

Inclusion is about environment. Inclusion requires action—specific actions help create an inclusive environment.

An analogy to help demonstrate the difference between the words diversity and inclusion is thinking about going to a dance. Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is actually being out on the dance floor dancing.

Diversity is about counting heads. Inclusion is about making every head count.

There are several inclusive leadership behaviors that each of us can demonstrate that will help our environment become even more inclusive:

1. Speak up/Speak out: If something isn’t right, say something and do something about it. Don’t be a bystander. Be a person of action who corrects inappropriate situations.

2. Never let anyone sit alone: Notice those who aren’t sitting with anyone and either join them or ask them to join you. Do this in meetings, at lunch, at conferences, etc.

3. Ask quiet associates their opinion: Pay attention to who is and is not talking and ask quiet associates for their opinions. Oftentimes, they are strong observers, planners and thinkers and they have the best business solution.

4. Use inclusive language: Words have power. Your words indicate your level of inclusiveness. Use words like loved ones, significant others or partner rather than spouse. There are many religions represented in each country as well as individuals who are agnostic or atheist. “Happy Holidays” is an inclusive phrase.

5. Develop relationships with those that are different than you: Personal relationships have the ability to change our perceptions. Purposefully develop strong relationships with people who are different than you. Invite them to your home.

6. Be a continual learner: Read, visit museums, watch movies, and travel to learn about other people and cultures. Be a student of diversity and inclusion. Understand historical and current events and the linkage to inclusion.

Our collective diversity and inclusion journey is a series of phases – a continuum. We increase our awareness through relationships and education. We move from awareness to a low level of inclusion called tolerance. When people say they “tolerate” diversity it sounds like they are doing what is minimally required. Acceptance is a pivotal stage because it typically accelerates a person’s movement through the continuum.

Celebrating differences means that there is an understanding that different opinions, experiences and backgrounds will help us arrive at a better business solution. Leveraging differences is a higher level of focus on diversity and inclusion – using our differences to create competitive advantage.

The final stage before becoming an inclusive leader is being an advocate, a champion for diversity and inclusion. An advocate and champion is someone who regularly talks about diversity and inclusion and asks others what they are doing to leverage differences and to create an inclusive environment. Inclusion drives innovation because all team members feel valued, respected, and heard.

My challenge to each of you is to be a champion for diversity and inclusion. Be loud and proud. Be the torchbearer for what is right.

Our Different Lenses

As I write this article, I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Denver where I am clearly in the minority. About 90% of the guests are blind and there are very few people with sight in the lobby. The National Federation of the Blind for Colorado is hosting a convention in the hotel and it’s a wonderful diversity and inclusion moment to be in the midst of many people with guide dogs and walking canes.

Recently my mentoring circle and I participated in a Dining in the Dark experience where we ate lunch and learned to serve ourselves food while wearing room darkening blindfolds. We also learned how to guide or help individuals who are blind. Those learnings have helped me quite a bit while at the hotel because I have learned how to ask others if they need help and I have learned, and am still learning, what help looks like for others.

Some tips for helping others include:

  • Never assume someone needs help. First ask the person “Is there something I can help you with?”
  • If you’re unsure how to help, ask “How can I best help you?”
  • Don’t be discouraged or offended if a person does not want your help
  • For people who are visually impaired or blind, before reaching out and touching them ask them if they would like help being guided
  • One way to help guide people who are blind or visually impaired is to have them put their hand on your elbow or on your bicep, right above your elbow
  • Share information, such as directions, nearby furniture, and the number of feet to an entrance, turn, etc.
  • If someone has a guide dog, do not reach out and pet the dog. First ask if you can pet the dog. Often the response will be that you should not pet the dog because the dog is working.
  • During meetings or when you see someone who is blind, address that person by name and state your name, even if the person knows you well.

Ryan Loken, Director of Human Resources, is blind and he’s been with Walmart for 10 years. Ryan shared what his recruiting experience with Walmart was like and it illustrates how we each have assumptions and how our assumptions are often incorrect. Ten years ago, Ryan’s phone interview went really well and the recruiting coordinator indicated that the next step was for Ryan to visit Walmart in Bentonville, AR. The recruiter was insistent that Ryan rent a car. Ryan told the recruiter that wouldn’t be necessary and he would take a cab from the airport to the Walmart Home Office.

When Ryan arrived at the Walmart Home Office, the recruiting coordinator met him in the lobby and exclaimed, “Thank goodness you’re blind!” Ryan found that statement unusual and asked the recruiter about it. She replied, “I thought you didn’t want to rent a car because you had a DUI and I was concerned that you wouldn’t pass the background check process.” Ryan felt relieved and excited about the comment and shared, “It was really enlightening to see someone totally disregard the blindness and to think of me as a regular person.”

Several years ago, I was preparing a speech for the American Association of People with Disabilities. I prefer to include personal stories in my speeches and wanted to share a personal story about people with different abilities. My father-in-law was born with polio and had an operation at a young age that created an unusual gait. Three weeks after he retired, he had a stroke that resulted in being able to speak about 10 words and his mobility decreased. He lived for 30 years after his stroke.

As I was preparing my remarks, I asked my husband what life was like living with a father who had a disability. My husband looked at me with an expression of confusion. He replied, “I have never viewed my father as having a disability. I have always just viewed him as my father.”

This was an “aha” moment for me and it became a cornerstone in my learning about diversity and inclusion. When we are with people we love and people we care about, we see them as individuals, not as a category of people.

I Never Do A Good Enough Job

During a holiday weekend, my teenage daughter, Shannon, and my husband, Craig, were preparing to wash and wax her car. As they were setting up the buckets, hose, and cleaning materials, I was sitting on our deck out of eyesight but not out of earshot. I heard Shannon ask her Dad, “Do you need any help?” Craig replied, “It’s up to you.” Shannon woefully said, “I never do a good enough job.”

The words hung in the air….and continued hanging in the air. Seconds ticked by. Inwardly I urged Craig to answer the question. Don’t let those words linger. Nothing. Answer her question I felt like screaming. Don’t let this moment pass by. Time continued to pass very slowly.

Unable to stand it any longer and feeling like an eavesdropper on a private conversation between a daughter and her Dad, I went into the house. I jotted down a few phrases inside the book I was reading that described what I had just heard.

  • Always trying
  • Always chasing
  • Always competing
  • Wants her father’s love and approval and praise

The prior day I had been to the beautician, Olivia, who my daughter and I both use. My daughter had seen Olivia two days prior to my appointment. Olivia and I were discussing how Shannon may succumb to “senioritis” during her final year of high school. Olivia told me that Shannon had said she won’t have senioritis because Shannon wants to ensure she outperforms everything her older brother has done.

Our son and daughter are overachievers in academics and athletics. Shannon is driven to prove herself to her father and to outshine her brother. I admire and respect her drive, ambition, and competitiveness. I also fully understand it. I have been driven throughout my entire life to please my father and to achieve as much or more than he achieved.

Winning the praise and approval of parents is something most of us crave. This feeling continues as we encounter teachers, coaches and supervisors. We want them to notice our efforts and to praise us. Words of praise and encouragement are golden and can turn us into superheroes.

I recently read The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. The authors set out to discover why girls and women have less confidence than boys and men. They visited with neuroscientists who have discovered the confidence gene, psychologists who study confidence, and senior level women in politics, sports, the military, business and the arts. In school, girls are expected to keep their heads down, study quietly, and do as they’re told. These behaviors don’t translate well in the workplace for advancing careers.

Kay and Shipman discovered that men rely less on praise to feel confident. Men don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do and they spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure. Research has shown that success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Without confidence, we live stuck at the starting block of our potential.

Shannon came into the house about mid-way through the car washing activity and I shared my observations with her—she is always trying, always chasing, always competing, and trying hard to win the love, approval and praise of her father. Shannon’s eyes welled with tears and her voice choked with raw emotion. She rasped, “When I have a great volleyball game, Dad criticizes the way I play. I just want him to tell me that I played well.” I told her that both Dad and I are proud of her volleyball skills and her grades.

Shannon went back outside and finished washing and waxing her car with her Dad. Later in the day, I had a conversation with Craig about Shannon’s revealing statement, “I never do a good enough job.” Kudos go to my husband because he did address Shannon’s comment with her by giving her examples of things she does well.

For each of us to crack the confidence code of others, it requires our efforts as parents, teachers, coaches and managers to recognize and praise our children, students, players, colleagues and employees. Finding magical moments to say something that helps others put on their superhero cape builds their confidence and their ability to succeed.

Jeff Haden wrote an article about the elements of highly effective praise. We can apply these tips in our personal and professional lives:

  • Don’t wait; begin recognition and compliments now
  • Be specific
  • Be genuine
  • Save constructive feedback for another time
  • Spend time looking for and commenting on the things that are done right
  • Be surprising; provide recognition and praise when it isn’t expected
  • Treat people like snowflakes—everyone is different

Recognition and compliments nourish our souls and fuel our desire to succeed.

I Am Woman, I Am Strong

The lyrics from Helen Reddy’s song, I Am Woman, are resounding in my head as I watch the news about Beverly Carter, a realtor in Little Rock who was kidnapped and killed. The man arrested for the crime stated that he targeted Beverly because she was “a woman who worked alone.” Hannah Graham is a missing University of Virginia student last seen walking to her dorm room alone. And the National Football League (NFL) is grappling with the handling of Ray Rice, an NFL player caught on video tape knocking his fiancée (now wife) unconscious in a New Jersey casino elevator.

As a woman, it can be very dangerous to be alone. Violence against women, particularly in the U.S. doesn’t get discussed often and it’s far more common than we realize. According to the Justice Department, 1.9 million women are physically assaulted annually in the U.S. and approximately 15 – 25% of American women will report a sexual attack or rape at some point in their lives.

The NFL has taken a strong stand on the topic of violence against women. NFL players will be suspended for six games without pay for the first offense and will have a lifetime ban from football for the second offense. CBS host, James Brown, delivered a powerful pregame message about educating viewers on what respectful men do around women and the language and behaviors they should demonstrate. He cited a statistic that three women per day die at the hands of their partners.

When I was in college, I had a man from one of my classes stop by my dorm room on a Friday night. My roommate was gone for the weekend. He wasn’t a person that I was attracted to or had an interest in, so I was just making small talk. He obviously had other interests when he grabbed me forcibly and kissed me. I struggled to remove myself from his grasp and his embrace strengthened. The fear that cursed through my body was electrifying. I knew that physically I could not match or beat his strength. My only weapon was my voice. Although I was petrified, I did not want him to know it. I spoke confidently to him and after some time I was able to reason with him and he left. I am one of the very lucky ones.

As a young adult, I traveled 80% of the time for my job. On four different occasions, I had men trying to get into my hotel room. One man was dressed in a hotel uniform and knocked on my door about 1:00 a.m. stating he was delivering room service. I didn’t answer the door and called down to the front desk. The front desk clerk told me room service had stopped two hours earlier.

My personal experiences and stories from the news make me very observant. I am on high alert when I am by myself. When I enter a hotel room alone, I immediately check under the bed, in the closet, in the bathtub and window/door locks. I don’t open hotel doors or doors at my home unless I know the person on the other side. These safety precautions don’t matter if the danger resides within your own home.

When my daughter, Shannon, was 10 years old, she had a sleepover at a friend’s home. I was out of town visiting my grandfather for the last time before he passed away. When I returned home, Shannon wanted to talk with me about what happened at the sleepover. While she was at her friend’s home, domestic violence broke out between the husband and wife. Shannon and her friend hid in the closet while the violence continued. Shannon remained at their home overnight. In the morning, domestic violence began again and the police were called. Shannon was told to go home. Shannon came home and never said anything to her father or brother about what had occurred.

I never thought I would be talking with my 10 year old daughter about the potential for violence in relationships. I had imagined that I would have this discussion when she started dating. I told her that if anyone ever hits her that she needs to get out of the relationship and tell someone.

Shannon was concerned about her friend and we noticed that a U-Haul truck was in their driveway. It appeared that the family was splitting up. When the U-Haul truck was still in their driveway many hours later, Shannon wondered why it was still there. I talked with her about how challenging it is to leave relationships, even when there is violence. Each person makes their own decision and there are many complicating factors.

Similar to James Brown’s request, we need to change the dialogue about women to one of respect, inclusion, and appreciation. Our language and our behaviors reflect our attitudes as a society about women. The fear or reality of rape is one of the fundamental realities for most women. Creating dialogue and open spaces to discuss personal experiences paves the way for new possibilities for our collective future.

The lyrics to I Am Woman by Helen Reddy demonstrate the strength that resides within women:

I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an’ pretend ’cause I’ve heard it all before And I’ve been down there on the floor No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

As the dialogue continues about violence against women, below are safety tips for children and adults—these apply to boys, girls, men and women.

Tips for Teaching Stranger Safety to Children

  • Children should consider anyone outside of their immediate family as a stranger.
  • Children should not go anywhere without your permission.
  • Don’t force your child to interact with a person they feel uncomfortable around.
  • Give your child confidence to tell you anything, particularly if others have told him/her not to tell you.
  • Never help a stranger search for anything.
  • Never accept gifts from strangers.
  • Scream and run from someone you do not trust.
  • Avoid strange cars that pull over.
  • If you are being taken against your will, grab the nearest adult and scream for help.

Other Things Parents Can Do

  • Know where your children are at all times.
  • Point out safe places.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts.
  • Teach your children to be assertive.
  • Encourage your children to play with others—there’s safety in numbers.

Adult Safety Tips

  • If asked/forced into an attacker’s car, even if the attacker has a weapon, run away screaming. Escape is always your best option.
  • Keep car doors locked while driving.
  • Do not pull over unless you are in a well-lit and populated area.
  • Keep hotel and house doors locked and only open if you know the person at the door.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
  • Act confident and self-aware.
  • Always know where the exits are in your location.
  • Do not be distracted while walking alone (cell phone, looking for keys, etc).
  • If grabbed, fight back aggressively, scream, etc.
  • Let others always know where you are going.
  • Make eye contact. It is easier to identify a potential attacker and it may deter them from attacking you.
  • Regularly change your walking and travel routine.
  • Trust your instinct.

Discussing Controversial Topics

At any given time, there are controversial issues around the world. Current world events that have a wide range of perspectives include the situations in Ferguson, MO with the recent grand jury decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson, the Egyptian judge’s decision to drop all charges against former President Mubarak, the mass kidnappings in Mexico, and many other events.

Thoughtfully engaging in these conversations, particularly at work, requires being mindful, socially aware, and educated on the wide range of opinions. Most importantly, it requires active listening—actually hearing what others are saying—and seeking to understand other’s viewpoints.

Some tips for being an inclusive person and having the ability to thoughtfully discuss controversial topics are:

1. Seek to understand: Ask a lot of questions to better understand others’ viewpoints. Ask respectfully and with the intent to truly understand others’ experiences and perspective.

2. Listen actively: Pay very close attention. Lean into the conversation with eye contact and nonverbal language. Seek to understand and ensure you are hearing what the other person is saying. Do not plan your response while the other person is talking.

3. Dig deeper. Go on an authentic journey. Ask probing questions. Ask about experiences that will help you understand a different viewpoint. Meet others who share varying perspectives.

4. Diversify your friends. Look at the people you spend the majority of your time with—are they similar to you and do they share the same viewpoints? Purposefully develop relationships with people who aren’t like you and who have very different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.

5. Educate yourself on the topic. Read articles and books that highlight various perspectives. Read historical content to understand current context. Visit museums and watch documentary movies to better understand the subject.

6. Diversify your media. Watch various news sources, including independent news programs. Stay connected via social media with sites that offer a variety of perspectives. Evaluate the information you receive on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. If the posts aren’t varied in perspectives, enlarge your circle of friends to include differing perspectives. Realize that some items and sources may not be completely factual.

7. Connect with the community. Attend or create community discussions. Run for a local office position.

8. Practice proactive inclusion. If you see situations that aren’t inclusive, speak up and say something about the situation. Don’t wait for others to comment on it. Take action yourself.

As we searched for information about how to have thoughtful conversations about controversial topics, an associate shared this sign that is posted in an elementary school. It has great tips that apply to children and adults.

Think before your speak.

Before you text, tweet, type, speak or share –

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspiring?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

Before you criticize, before you complain;

Before you share, before you proclaim.

Taking an active interest in current events by understanding all sides to an issue helps each of us become more inclusive, aware, and action oriented.

Dining at the Religious Smorgasbord

My parents were married at the tender age of 19 and came from very different socioeconomic backgrounds and religious backgrounds. My Mom was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was the first person in her family to marry outside of her faith. My Dad was raised as a Methodist. Growing up in a family with two very distinct religions was interesting and it made me aware at an early age that religious differences can cause conflict.

My parents later divorced and my Mom married a Jewish man. My brother’s wife is also Jewish. Within our extended family, we have many faiths and perspectives including Protestants, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, Mormons, Jews, atheists and agnostics. This great mixture makes for interesting dinner conversations and life experiences. I feel like I am continually dining at a religious smorgasbord.

When I was growing up we would travel to Salt Lake City each Christmas to visit relatives. One of the most breathtaking, magical sites at Christmas is the Latter Day Saints Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. It is decorated with hundreds of thousands of brightly colored Christmas lights with various nativity scenes. Visitors are invited to enjoy the lights, watch the story of Christmas outside the Visitor’s Center and to listen to a variety of outdoor musical performances.

The first memory I have about feeling excluded occurred when I was eight years old. I was holding my Dad’s hand as a light snowfall gently fell as we walked in the cool, crisp air admiring the incredible Christmas display at the LDS Temple in Salt Lake City. Some of our relatives went inside the Temple and I began following them. I wanted to see and experience the inside of this beautiful cathedral. I didn’t know that Temples are very sacred and only open to certain church members. I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder as he pulled me back. He told me that we weren’t allowed to go inside.

For some reason, the song that popped into my head at the moment was from the 5 Man Electrical Band:

Now, hey you mister, can’t you read?

You’ve got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat

You can’t even watch, no you can’t eat

You ain’t supposed to be here

The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside

Our family didn’t have the membership card to get inside. At eight years old, I didn’t fully understand why I couldn’t go into any building in America that I wanted to see. I understood the meaning and feeling of being on the outside looking in.

This experience generated a lot of questions that I used to bombard my Mom with, especially when our Mormon relatives would come to visit us. My litany of questions consisted of:

  • When our relatives visit us, will they attend our church or will we go to their church?
  • Are they allowed inside our church? (The answer is yes.)
  • Are we allowed inside their church? (The answer is yes.)
  • How did you and Dad decide to raise us as Methodists rather than Mormons?
  • Will we still have ice tea, soda and coffee when they visit? Do we hide these beverages or keep them in plain site? Do we offer these beverages to them?
  • What other customs, practices or traditions do Mormons have?

At a young age, I knew that most of our Mormon relatives did not drink caffeine. But I also knew that some of our Mormon relatives did drink caffeinated beverages so I found the whole thing somewhat confusing. I wasn’t sure if that meant I shouldn’t drink any sodas or tea when I was with my relatives.

The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith, created the Word of Wisdom in the 1800’s which indicates that church members should refrain from coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol. Caffeine is not mentioned, but many LDS members choose to not drink caffeinated beverages.

I grew up, got married (to a Methodist) and had children. When we visit my Mom and her husband for Christmas, my children inundate me with questions:

  • Will we be celebrating Christmas, Hanukah or both?
  • Will there be a menorah and a Christmas tree?
  • Will we be exchanging gifts?
  • What color wrapping paper should we use?
  • Which church service will we go to?

Let me be very clear—my children’s main question is whether or not there will be gifts. That is their main interest. However, I am glad that they were aware of different religions at a very young age rather than assuming there was only one religion in the world. Being aware of other beliefs, perspectives, and opinions helps all of us be more inquisitive and inclusive.

When my children were 8 and 12, we planned a trip to Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Utah. It would be their first time meeting their Mormon relatives and there were 12 cousins they would get to know. I made a list of the names of all their cousins and their ages, as well as the corresponding aunts and uncles. I also told my children that there would not be any caffeinated beverages in their homes and they should not ask for tea or soda with caffeine during our visits. They asked me if Dad would be able to drink his coffee since he loves his morning coffee. I told them that Dad would not be drinking coffee in our relatives’ home.

We spent several days in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and in Yellowstone Park before arriving at my aunt and uncle’s home. We had a fabulous dinner and terrific conversation and then went to sleep. The next morning, there was a coffee maker and a can of coffee on the kitchen counter. The coffee maker and can of coffee were symbols of inclusion. Without saying a word, these innate objects said, “You’re welcome in our home. We may have different beliefs and customs, but we want you to feel welcome.”

These symbols of inclusion in their home made me wonder about symbols of inclusion in the workplace. Some symbols of inclusion in the workplace are:

  • Photos of family members, partners, loved ones and friends who look different than you
  • Books, posters, artwork, and artifacts from other countries, different religions, unique perspectives, and different groups
  • The rainbow flag, pink triangle or equal sign demonstrate support of LGBT rights

Words are the most powerful symbols of inclusion. By using words such as partner, loved ones or significant other rather than spouse and family it demonstrates inclusion. Happy Holidays is more inclusive than Merry Christmas because it recognizes that people may have different faiths and beliefs.

As we were driving to the airport after visiting my aunt and uncle, I asked my children what the most memorable part of their vacation was—we had camped under the stars for three days in the Grand Tetons and explored the unique geysers at Yellowstone Park. Both kids immediately replied that the most memorable part of their vacation was seeing the coffee maker and can of coffee on the kitchen counter. To them, those symbols said, “We care about you.”