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Leave stereotypes in the dark: create an inclusive workplace

in HONG KONG, 26/01/2011

Dialogue in the Dark and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are teaming up to create an innovative and experiential diversity and inclusion workshop that we believe will be fun, engaging, self reflective, and ultimately very effective.

What are your initial impressions of a physically disabled woman, a transgender woman, and a visually impaired man? Our experiences in life and stereotypical messages propagated in the media often prevent us from seeing people for who they really are. The values behind these words denote a sense of “other” or describe how people may be different from a proposed “normal.” Is it no wonder that creating an inclusive workplace for these people can seem challenging? Unfortunately, such labels do not capture the capabilities of a person, and certainly not those of a potential employee.

Advocates for diversity are encouraging a new dialogue, which allows for self-expression of capabilities rather than imposed and restrictive labels. Last weekend, Amiee Mullins, an actress, model, and athlete was in Hong Kong at MaD, a conference to inspire youth in Hong Kong to make a difference. She lost her legs at the age of one but has gone on to be a Paralympics medallist. She is more empowered and driven than the average person you may meet (or hire for that matter) and rejects the notion that she is disabled. She jokes that she is perhaps “super” able, with her ability to change height depending on which prosthetic legs she chooses to wear that day. Similarly, last week I attended a talk by Dr. Sam Winter, who is a psychology professor at Hong Kong University and leading proponent for transgender rights in Asia. He spoke about the implications of societal labels and misconceptions, which can alter someone’s identity as a transgender woman to that of a mentally ill man. The way people are seen determines the way they will be treated - often in a discriminatory manner. So how do we change our perceptions?

To teach us empathy, our parents often told us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Expanding on this notion, Andreas Heinecke founded the social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark, after noticing the discrimination visually impaired people face. By creating an experience where sighted people enter the darkness, the social enterprise allows them to experience their own limits and to begin questioning their prejudices. During this experience sighted people place themselves in the care of a blind person, which helps them become more receptive to the strengths of those who are often assumed to be weak. The enterprise’s main goal is to increase the public’s awareness of and tolerance for “otherness”, thereby overcoming traditional barriers between “us” and “them”.

Dialogue in the Dark and CSR Asia are teaming up to create an innovative and experiential diversity and inclusion workshop that we believe will be fun, engaging, self reflective, and ultimately very effective. We find synergy in our missions and wish to inspire you to apply the lessons learned to the workplace. Current diversity and inclusion workshops are heavily focused on terminology, which is obviously important for managers to understand, but may fail to challenge your assumptions about gender, ethnicity, disability and family status.

The first half of the workshop, held on February 17th, will be facilitated by Dialogue in the Darkin the complete darkness. Participants will be grouped into teams to work together through assigned tasks. In an unfamiliar setting, labels and hierarchy are stripped away. In the darkness, a new dialogue emerges as you begin to question your assumptions and experience new limits. Participants will discover how effective communication is vital to completing tasks during the workshop and gain better understanding of inclusive and productive relationships.

CSR Asia will lead the second half of the workshop. Reflecting upon on the lessons learned in the workshop, Richard Welford will explain the business case for diversity. He will provide a combination of concepts, exercises, strategic guidelines, and tools for building strategies to manage your workplace diversity. Exercises will prompt you to consider the diversity of your organization and what steps need to be taken in creating a more inclusive management.

CSR Asia builds capacity for management to integrate social responsibility into their business. However, much of this process involves an internal culture shift away from traditional notions of business performance. Experiential workshops, where employees engage with issues, are very effective in prompting this shift to inspire a personalized integration of principles into one’s work. In October last year, we held a similar workshop in partnership with The EarthWatch Institute on Business and Biodiversity. Through onsite workshops and practical field activities, participants learned how to incorporate biodiversity into their company’s sustainability agenda and how to engage and inspire employees to take action on biodiversity-related issues.

Recognizing the opportunities in diversity and overcoming the barriers to its integration are the first and most fundamental steps towards creating an inclusive workplace. Try something different.

CSR Asia and Dialogue in the Darkencourage you to participate in our innovative workshop, and internalize the experience for yourself. It will be fun, challenging, informative, and practical. The workshop will be held on Thursday, 17 February 2011 at the Dialogue in the Dark Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong. For enquiries please contact Angel Ng at marketing@csr-asia.com. ■

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