Brian A. Gallagher
President and CEO, United Way Worldwide
“In today’s integrated global economy, we’re all connected like never before. The very definition of “community” has been rewritten by people coming together through shared interests—in local communities, across nations, online, and around the globe. To say our communities are increasingly diverse is an understatement.”
Understanding Diversity, and Living an Inclusive Life, Takes Effort
In today’s integrated global economy, we’re all connected like never before. The very definition of “community” has been rewritten by people coming together through shared interests—in local communities, across nations, online, and around the globe. To say our communities are increasingly diverse is an understatement.
Understanding this change is one thing—embracing and living it is another. That requires a concerted effort.
I grew up in a relatively diverse urban community. I’ve spent a career working with a cross section of the community that includes business, government, nonprofits, and people from all walks of life. Three important women in my life—my wife and daughters—have also helped me understand their unique perspectives. I thought I was as aware, as anyone, of what diversity and inclusion means—and what achieving it requires.
I wasn’t. I needed to be reminded that that true diversity and inclusion is a journey.
Fortunately, I had, and still have, a great role model and teacher. Her name is Dr. Johnnetta Cole. Dr. Cole has been a leader in the United Way network for many years. She currently serves as director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and, before that, she was president of both Bennett College for Women and Spellman College. She’s touched many lives.
A few years ago, my wife and I attended an event with Dr. Cole in another city. Afterwards, the three of us shared a cab to catch the red-eye home. It was late, and we were all very tired. During the ride, the cab driver began making inappropriate remarks about a group of people. I’m certain nine out of ten people would’ve looked out the window or pretended to be asleep. Not Dr. Cole.
She turned the experience into a teachable moment. She didn’t beat up on the cab driver for what he said, but rather taught him. She talked to him in a way that changed his thinking and moved him forward.
It was also a teachable moment for me. Ignoring a situation like that one just isn’t good enough. Standing up for diversity, and living an inclusive life, requires effort.
For United Way, it’s meant changing the way we think about diversity and inclusion. It can’t end with compliance and representation. It has to be integral to every part of our work. It has to be central to our culture. We have policies, research, advocacy and movements, yet we still struggle. And, that’s OK. What’s important is continuing to recognize our biases and change our behaviors.