By Wendy Sarubbi | September 19, 2014 10:42 am

A giraffe and an elephant helped teach important lessons about inclusion at September 9’s Diversity Lunch and Learn session that focused on how an institution’s home culture may inadvertently be built to exclude others.

Julie O’Mara, co-author of Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks, a guide to making organizations more inclusive, led the fifth diversity session of the year for College of Medicine faculty, staff and students. O’Mara’s global benchmarks are designed to be used in organizations worldwide and include best practices in areas like organizational development, social responsibility, fairness and equity, cultural competency, multiculturalism and strategic diversity management.

For an organization to be truly diverse, she said, its culture must be built to include all types of people. To illustrate that point, O’Mara used a video called “The Giraffe and the Elephant,” that tells the story of a giraffe who is a carpenter and builds his home/business with his own needs in mind. “It shows a house that is built for a giraffe, with skinny hallways and tall windows” O’Mara said. But when the giraffe hires an elephant to help him manage his growing business, the building doesn’t work. The elephant gets stuck trying to get through the skinny doors and can’t climb the stairs without crushing them. The giraffe’s solution is to suggest the elephant lose weight or go to ballet class to become more nimble in the skinny house. “It’s impossible for people to change, necessarily, to fit into an institution that is built for one type of people,” O’Mara said as she explained the video’s meaning. “We need to change our systems, our policies and literally our structures so that somebody for whom the house is not designed can come to work and fit.”

After seeing the video, Lunch and Learn participants broke off into groups to talk about how those lessons can be applied to the workplace. Some said being prepared is an important part of inclusion. “We find that it’s important to be proactive, instead of reactive—for example when people have disabilities,” Faculty Development Director Andrea Berry noted in the discussion. “We have to address what they may need before they come, and that just makes the culture more inclusive.”

Others saw the giraffe’s reaction as lesson for their own situations. “We’re always quick to fix other people, instead of trying to reach a compromise or focus on what we can do to make it different,” second-year medical student, Sarah Hart said.

O’Mara emphasized that as the world culture becomes more diverse, health care leaders must be able to connect with people whose life experience is vastly different from their own. “They really need to be — it’s more than sensitive — it’s skilled,” she said. “Like the giraffe, you can have good intentions, but you also have to have the skill level that comes with it. Cultural competence is key.”

Previous Lunch and Learn sessions have covered topics like gender identity, generational differences, inclusionary mentoring and making the workplace more inclusive for people with disabilities. The final session will be held on November 4, and will focus on using technology to build an infrastructure for inclusion. Participants who attend four out of six sessions will have an opportunity to make a presentation on what they have learned to the College of Medicine Council for Diversity and Inclusion to be recognized as a Diversity Champion.

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