Moving from Unconscious to Conscious Connections


We recently sat down with Deborah Biddle to talk about the workshop, Diversity and Inclusion, and how Madison can do better. Here’s part of our conversation:

What is your definition of Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity has become a little bit of a nasty word. People think of it as having a quota or checking off boxes. Then you also have people who feel they are being marginalized when folks of color are brought in and that those new people are not as qualified. All of that plays into diversity and makes it negative. To me, diversity is just what it is – it’s having differences. It’s not a good or bad thing. The inclusion piece is when you bring all those different abilities, backgrounds and ideas into your organization or family or business. Not only are they there, but you’re asking for and valuing their input and giving them opportunities to contribute as you would anyone else.

Who can benefit from attending this workshop?

I would say it’s going to be a workspace for everyone. We all have baggage around something.  It could be race, ethnicity, gender, age or something else. If you don’t want to share your junk, you can still spend some time thinking about questions around these issues. Are you self-selecting out of engaging with people because of a bias you may have? And if you are, what’s the impact of that? You could really be missing out on personal or business opportunities. For this workshop, we’ll be taking things out of the institutional realm and really asking individuals to explore their own personal biases and think about how those biases impact relationships. I would love for this workshop to be multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-religious. I think that would be cool because you’ll get to hear the perspectives of all these different people. We’d see that first, we aren’t always that different, but also, you’d see that there are places that we are really different, and that is okay.

Should people be in a certain place in their career to attend?

No. It’s more about self-work. We will talk about how bias shows up in the workplace in terms of advancement, performance reviews and hiring. It will be up to the individual to decide if you will change your stance if you’re interviewing with an older person or if you will go in to buck the system. If you are older, are you going to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things? Now more than ever you need to learn to be more adaptable. It’s different than it was when I was graduating college. Traditionalists were in the workplace and they dominated. Now, with more and more advances in technology and the sheer numbers of millennials and numbers of boomers leaving the workplace, there is going to be a huge shift. We had better learn how to understand and communicate with younger people who will be the bosses of tomorrow.

How did you get into this work?

I started in D&I about 13 years ago, when I was working in a school district whose demographics started to change. There were a large number of African Americans, Latinos and people from Eastern Bloc countries coming into the district. There was also an increase in kids receiving free and reduced lunch. The administration was ill-prepared to deal with this. I had to step up and educate them. I had to tell them about kids’ survival techniques and cultural differences. It began to shift the way that they did things. They started having meetings at apartment complexes and community centers. They did cultural competency training. They began to develop strategies to help all parents be more involved. They started thinking outside of the box. When I came to Madison 11 years ago, I started doing client services work at a career coaching agency. I noticed here in Madison, for all the liberal talk we do, the actions don’t always back that up. I often hear people say, ‘We’d love to be more diverse in our hiring, but we can’t find candidates.’ Often people are not looking in the right place because their bias keeps them in their own circles. I want to open everyone’s eyes to the fact that there are good, quality folks just about everywhere. If you still can’t find diverse employees, I would say take it a step further and ask, Is my criteria realistic? Are there only certain types of people who will fit this position? Will people of color fit this? Culturally, Madison has to be more inviting, companies have to be more inviting and the personal infrastructure has to be more inviting. I’m here to facilitate that work.

So why is Synergy Coworking involved in this workshop?

At Synergy Coworking we are committed to fostering a diverse and professional environment and community of growth and collaboration through the exchange of knowledge, expertise, ideas, resources, and tools. This workshop is right in line with what we strive for, information, awareness and practical tools that can help achieve professional, business and personal growth. We are also committed to support our members and the impactful work they are doing, we have been very lucky to work with Deborah and have her as a member of our community. We also welcome the opportunity to work with partners like UpStart to strengthen and provide valuable and unique growth opportunities in Madison.

Lastly, we caught up with Katie Rice, UpStart Program Coordinator and asked her why Upstart was supporting this event. This is what she had to share:

A large part of UpStart's success is based on making connections and building relationships. This workshop provides insight and tools to help break down barriers in communication that can impede that. We are grateful for UpStart graduate Deborah Biddle's willingness to share her expertise in this area and for our partnership with Synergy as we all work to foster a stronger more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem in Wisconsin.

Learn more about Upstart.