Nina Godiwalla on Improving Diversity Training with Sharing and Story

In Chapter 10 of 22 in her 2011 Capture Your Flag interview, author Nina Godiwalla answers "How Can Diversity Training Become Less About Avoiding Problems and More About Creating Opportunities?"  Godiwalla sees diversity training as an option to have a discussion rather than give a lecture.  She shares an example from learning diversity training from a theater group as well as from her own account in her book.  Godiwalla is the author of "Suits: A Woman on Wall Street". She is also a public speaker on workplace diversity and founder and CEO of Mindworks, where she teaches mind-based stress reduction techniques to help organizations improve employee wellbeing.  Godiwalla holds an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, an MA in Creative Writing from Dartmouth University and her BBA from the University of Texas at Austin. 


Erik Michielsen:  How can diversity training become less about avoiding problems and more about creating opportunities?

Nina Godiwalla:  One of the things is, is the mindset that people have and I love it that you said you know that of kind of avoiding these situations.  I remember when we had diversity training specifically in investment banking, because it was a more conservative culture and there weren’t a whole lot of minorities.  There was just this incredible dread like people were angry almost that they had to take an hour or two out of their day and it was pushed on you and it was you have to do it, nobody wants to do it. I really see it as an opportunity to have a discussion and those – those typically those weren’t discussions, it was basically like, “You all are not allowed to do this.  You’re not…” You know it’s almost like these slap on the hands, slap on the hands and the people that are in the room which is interesting, that do some of the stuff.  They don’t see themselves as the people that are doing those things. 

One of the most effective things I’ve seen is when I was getting a degree up on the East Coast, the university did diversity training and they brought in a theater company and what they did is they took real issues that happened at different universities and this was for the university staff.  They took the real issues and they had a theater people act it out, so all of a sudden it’s not you know you did this or you’re inappropriate, it’s like, “Hey, we’re just showing you some of the things that didn’t necessarily happen at your university but it’s happened in places.”  And they’re nuances things, it’s not someone hitting on someone which is like, “Okay, we all know that’s not supposed to happen.”  It’s really difficult conversations where someone might make an inappropriate joke but it’s not quite that inappropriate but at the same time, it offended four people in the room but no one’s going to say anything because that person is so senior, so it’s those types of things and what happened is afterwards, it became a discussion, the whole audience was engaged in the discussion and not everyone agrees and it was the most remarkable thing because you want to hear the different perspectives and I think when something was inappropriate I didn’t know, if I thought it was inappropriate, I didn’t even know the perspective of someone who doesn’t think it’s inappropriate and so it was amazing to hear those different perspectives and it was fun.  I loved it and I thought it was interesting.

And I think of my book as that, to me it’s a story, so that you get the theater thing and you get to hear a story, the book to me is a narrative.  It’s a story.  It’s removed from everybody.  It’s not threatening necessarily to them but let’s talk about some of the things that it raises and what does that mean for people. And I think the discussion makes people from all different areas feel like they’re heard because I don’t think diversity is minorities against non-minorities or women against men, it’s how do we all come to an understanding and see each other’s perspective because so often, so many things happen innocently.  I don’t think -- there are people that are out there to get other people but I think they’re very much in the minority.  That’s not the average person.  The average person thinks they’re doing the right thing.