Diversity in the Workplace

I really value diversity in the workplace. I believe people from different backgrounds can bring different perspectives and fresh new ideas to the table, and that we can learn from those who value different things. Because I work in a school, I think it is valuable for students to learn from someone who looks like them, so diversity in my workplace is especially important to me.  Students need role models who look like them and come from similar backgrounds as much, if not more, then they need to learn from those who are different from them.

My previous job as a school counselor in the Pacific Northwest was in a very rural, geographically large, mainly white, poor area. I cannot think of a single faculty or staff member who was not white. I can only think of about 10 students (out of 450) who were not white. As the school’s counselor, I started a Diversity Club, in which students met weekly at lunch hour to learn about diversity. We made a bulletin board for Black History Month, we read about different Asian Americans during Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, and we did Native American themed crafts for Native American History month. But we also drew upon our own diverse backgrounds to enhance our understanding of different cultures.

One of my favorite “lessons” in Diversity Club was when a student of Polish descent brought in Polish foods and taught our group some Polish words. Most of the other kids in the group did not know she was Polish (although her name is not an American name, so I’m not exactly sure what ethnicity they thought she was) and did not know anything about her country. She was able to teach us about her background, and it led to several other students researching their heritage and teaching us about where their family came from in later lessons. We came together as a school community to celebrate our backgrounds and the diversity that existed within our own community.

As I began this school year as a counselor in the South this past week, I noticed something different; something wonderful. The staff population mirrors the student population in almost every aspect. We are different ages, races, and genders. We have different religious beliefs (more on that later) and we have different values. Sure, we have a lot of new-to-the-school teachers this year, but we also have a lot of students who are new to the area as well. I think it is absolutely wonderful that we, as a staff, have such varied backgrounds and I am so excited to watch all 750+ of my students grow and learn from people who are both similar and different from them.

And what about Buggy?  She’s been spending time with her Dad.  This week she enjoyed the daycare at the gym, a trip to the mall play place, and an outing to the park!

Park

Buggy exploring the park with her Dad while her mom works.

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Working Mom Update

I recently wrote about who was going to watch Buggy when I returned to work, and addressed some questions and concerns people had about me working and my husband being a stay at home dad. Here’s an update on how things went the first two weeks:

  1. I will miss Buggy – True. I do miss spending time with Buggy. I look at her picture a few times a day, and whenever I talk to my co-workers about her I miss her, but for the most part my days have been filled with meetings and paperwork, so I haven’t had a ton of time to sit there missing her.
  2. I won’t be able to make friends – False. I have made 3 good friends at my new job whom I am planning on inviting over to dinner in the near future. I also have still managed to hang out with my old friends on the weekends, so I would say this statement is completely false.
  3. I won’t be able to keep breastfeeding – False. My supervisor is very supportive of breastfeeding/pumping. I have ample time to pump and a private room attached to my office that I can use whenever I need to. I also have 2 co-workers who pump, so when we go to meetings in other buildings it is less awkward when we have to ask for a place to pump and store our milk because we go ask together. I also know I have 2 allies who will support me even if nobody else does. It’s nice to know others who can relate to my situation.
  4. I can’t trust my husband to watch Buggy – Completely false. As I wrote in my previous post, I can and do trust him. Since I have returned to work, he has taken her to the park, the play area at the mall, on a play date, and with him to a meeting. They are planning to go to story time once it starts back up again in September as well. I know they are having fun and she is learning new skills each day. She takes naps, eats, and plays. What else could a girl want from her caregiver?
  5. Daycares are horrible – Once again, I don’t need to use a daycare, so I am not going to comment on this one and repeat myself.

Overall, the transition to work has been relatively smooth. I wish I could spend more time with my family, and long days (like Thursday when I had a 5 hour meeting followed by open house and was gone for over 10 hours) are rough, but when the kids return to school I should be home around 3 or 4pm daily and still have a few hours with Buggy before bed.

Yes, My Husband Is Black…

At my last job I would usually engage in polite “water cooler” talk with my co-workers at lunch or when we passed in the hallways, so when my husband and I renewed our vows at a wedding ceremony 6 months after our official courthouse wedding I told my co-workers about it and when I returned from the ceremony I showed them photos. I was expecting them all to comment on how pretty my dress was, or how great the decorations looked, and some of them did make those comments, but they were overshadowed by someone saying “You didn’t tell me your husband was black”.

I guess that I had never shown my co-workers a photo of my husband before, and had not told them that he was dark skinned. It wasn’t like I didn’t tell them he was black on purpose, it just never came up. When I think about conversations I’ve have about my husband I realized that I almost never tell people that he is black. I wasn’t sure why until I realized that it feels incredibly unnatural to tell people that. I don’t even know the appropriate way to tell someone he’s black without making it sound awkward. Usually I just talk about him the way I talk abut anyone, and just let people find out he is black by either meeting him or seeing a photo of him. For the most part people don’t say anything, but occasionally I’ve seen surprised faces or gotten a comment about him being black.

When I first told my dad I was dating someone new (my now husband) I didn’t say “He is black” and when my dad saw his picture a few weeks later he was surprised and said “Why didn’t you tell me he is African-American?” My response was that I honestly didn’t think about it. It isn’t a big deal to me, and I know if I had been dating a white man my dad would not have asked me why I didn’t specify the race of my boyfriend. If you think about it, how often do you tell someone the race of your significant other? Chances are, you don’t.

Now that I have new co-workers they sometimes ask if I have any children and I gush on and on about Buggy and how awesome she is. I usually pull out my phone and show them the most recent photos of her doing new or silly things, or just looking adorable and I have yet to get any comments about her race. However, I am anticipating a comment one of these times, and plan to simply tell them that Buggy is biracial and leave it at that.

bug with car

Buggy playing with her new toy car. She’s so cute rolling it all around the carpet.

How do you deal with someone’s surprise that your significant other is a different race?

 

Who’s Going to Watch Her?

When I tell people that I am going back to work this fall I am almost immediately asked one of two questions: “What daycare is Buggy going to go to?” or “Who’s going to watch her?” My answer is neither. My husband is going to be a stay at home dad.

I’ve actually gotten just as many, if not more, questions about the choice for him to be a stay at home parent then he has. I keep finding myself justifying our choice for me to go to work and him to stay home. Never mind the fact that I have an advanced degree and he dropped out of high school, or that I want to work after taking the last year off to move across the country and have a baby.  Plus, he is still recovering from a deployment, intense training, and an injury that led to a medical retirement from the Army and he wants to stay home and spend time with our daughter. Yet I should be a stay at home mom because according to these people who keep questioning me, I’m the mom and Buggy needs me (and me alone…?)

Here are some reasons I’ve been told that I should stay at home:

1. I will miss my baby too much – It’s true, I will miss Buggy a lot. But I will see her every morning, evening, and weekend. I am sure my husband will also text me photos of her throughout the day, and I’m guessing that over time it will get easier.

2. I won’t be able to make friends because parents of young children are all stay at home moms who only go out while their husbands are at work– Good thing I already have a bunch of friends who like to hang out in the evenings and on weekends and I’m planning to make new friends at my new job who also work and aren’t free during work hours just like me. I actually hope it is easier to make friends when I have adult interactions at my job every day then it has been trying to arrange play dates and connect with other parents online.

3. I won’t be able to keep breastfeeding if I go back to work because I won’t have time to pump – I don’t even know why someone would say this. First, I will have time because I will make time. My new office has a small conference room attached, which has no windows and a locking door. A prefect place for me to pump uninterrupted as often as my body demands. And second, how or what I feed my baby is not your business, nor is it a reason to go (or not go) back to work.

4. I can’t trust my husband to watch Buggy – If I can’t trust him enough to leave Buggy with him while I work then we have a BIG problem. I know some people actually do have husbands who won’t change diapers or give their child a bath, but my husband isn’t one of them. He does just as many “baby chores” as I do, and so far she’s turned out just fine. I’ve had several variations of this conversation over the past few months, and it makes me sad every time. Why would you choose to have someone’s child if you couldn’t trust them to watch the baby?

5. Daycares here are horrible, and it is really hard to find someone good and reliable to watch Buggy in my own home. – Did this person miss the fact that my husband will be the one watching Buggy while I work? My husband, who I know and trust, is going to stay home with Buggy and will eliminate the need for daycare or a babysitter. I totally get that it can be difficult to find good childcare, but that is irrelevant in my case.

Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom. I actually admire parents (moms or dads) who stay home all day every day with their children. It’s hard work to take care of the house, cook, clean, and care for another human being. I know I couldn’t imagine doing that full time; I get exhausted after just a few hours together. My problem is that I just don’t understand why some people feel the need to tell me what to do. If I want to work and my husband wants to stay home then why is it anyone’s business what we do? I applaud parents who work and ones who stay home. I think that no matter what you do you should be proud of yourself for providing for your family in whatever way you can.

Did you stay home with your little ones?  Did people criticize you for going back to work?

Stranger Danger

My husband and I were out with some friends the other night and he made an off hand comment that he fit the profile for several armed robbers in the area.  We all laughed, because it was kind of true.  He is an average height black male between 20-40 with a muscular build and a five o’clock shadow.  Later, he told me that when he goes into a gas station late at night he will get stares or employees will follow him.  If he asks “what?” because he didn’t hear what someone said they startle and act scared of him.  It’s like they are expecting him to do something violent or steal something.  Particularly if he is out at night and in the store without me.  The reality is that all kinds of people, male, female, white, black, brown, young, and old, commit crimes.  I used to volunteer for a youth court diversion program and we had plenty of young white girls who got caught shoplifting or trespassing.  But the media portrays young adult black males as criminals and so as a society we believe that someone who fits that stereotype must be dangerous and treat them as such even when the evidence in front of us suggests otherwise.

I, as a white woman, have never experienced these things.  If I go into the gas station late at night employees usually say hello and occasionally just ignore me all together.  I am always aware of my surroundings, but I am not fearful of strangers.  I say hello to homeless people and make eye contact and smile when I walk by someone on the street.  When I take Buggy out I make sure she sees me being kind to strangers, and as she grows older I will make sure she understands the difference between someone intending harm and someone just being friendly.  Certainly I will warn her not to get in a van with someone who offers her candy, and tell her not to go up to people with weapons, but I will also teach her to accept kindness from strangers and to be kind in return.  Just the other day a mom at the park offered my husband a piece of her son’s snack to give Buggy.  He accepted.  Sure, the snack could have contained some type of poison, she was a stranger after all.  But the chances of that were so slim that it never even crossed his mind until I just told him I was writing about it.

All too often I see parents with their kids at the park getting mad when their child speaks to a stranger.  They warn their child not to talk to anyone and fear that someone will kidnap their child.  The reality is that most kidnapping cases are actually committed by someone the child knows (like a non-custodial parent, grandparent or step-parent), not a stranger in the park.  Yet people still fear strangers.  Personally, I am always vigilant about checking my surroundings and if I do feel unsafe I make sure to get out of the situation.  I do not go walking alone in areas known for high crime, or head out at night down a dark alleyway by myself, but I also refuse to live my life in fear of strangers.

Yes, my husband may fit the profile of an armed robber, but he is a great guy and I am glad that I looked past his dark skin and decided to dance with him the night we met because I found out that under his dark skin and hard exterior there is a big soft teddy bear full of lots of love for me and Buggy.

BugAndDada

Buggy and her dad roasting marshmallows. Does this guy really look like he’s going to hurt anyone?

She’s yours?

A family friend of ours has a young daughter who met me when I was pregnant, met Buggy at our house when she was just a few weeks old, and has seen Buggy both with my husband and I together and with just me.  It never occurred to me that she didn’t know Buggy was my daughter.  When they came over a few weeks ago I was getting ready to put Buggy to bed.  I brought her into her room to get her PJ’s on and the little girl looked up in surprise and said “Oh… she’s yours? But her hair is so… different…” I said “Yes, she has brown curly hair” and (after a few second awkward pause in which the adults all looked at each other unsure what to do) I asked if she thought Buggy looked like my husband.  She said “A little” and went back to playing.

SleepingBug

A sleepy little Buggy, all worn out from playing with our friends.

I thought the whole thing was kind of cute, but I also wonder who she thought Buggy’s parents were?  And who did she think I was if I wasn’t Buggy’s mom?  Her babysitter?  A friend?  I found it interesting that she said Buggy’s hair was different but didn’t mention her skin color.  I’m not sure if she realized that hair might be a more acceptable thing to comment on then skin color, or if she really did just notice Buggy’s hair the most?   I mean, she does have crazy hair, but still…

This comment was similar to the time a little girl asked where Buggy’s mommy was in that a child was confused about the relationship between Buggy and I, but it was more interesting to me because this time it was a child who we know who didn’t realize that Buggy is my daughter.  When Buggy gets older will her classmates and friends also not believe that she is my daughter?  I’ve heard of some children who don’t look like their parents thinking they were adopted, or not believing that their parents are their biological parents and I wonder if we will go through that phase with Buggy?

As someone who is practically a clone of her mother, I don’t think I’ve ever questioned if I was my mother’s daughter.  I look so much like my mother that she actually use to joke that we were sisters… and she looks young enough that we might pass as such if it weren’t for the fact that I also look younger then my age (Last year a teacher at the middle school I worked at mistook me for a student!!).

Have you ever experienced your biological child thinking they were adopted?  What was your response?

Maine

Growing up in Maine, the whitest state in the country, I never really experienced diversity until I left the state and went to college.  Even then, I attended a small, private liberal arts college in Washington State (Go Loggers!) where the majority of the students were white and my one black friend nicknamed me Wonder Bread.

As a small child I had only white friends.  We lived in a white neighborhood.  At my elementary school I can only remember 1 non-white student.  This wasn’t something my parents planned, it just happened that way because we lived in a predominately white area of a very white state.  In high school I did have a few Asian friends, and there was the token Black guy who was the star of the basketball team, but other then that I don’t remember a whole lot of people who were different races then me.

Now, as a white woman married to a black man, I have a new understanding about how growing up in a predominantly white state impacted my racial identity and why some people who have never been exposed to diversity may make rude or inappropriate comments.

I took my husband to my hometown over 4th of July weekend, and we visited a local bar.  A friend of a friend (who I had never met) walked in, saw my husband, and said “Wow, a black guy in Bangor” I didn’t hear this comment (my husband told me about the incident when we got home) but at first it bothered me that someone would say this.  In reality, there weren’t other Black people in the bar, and there are very few Blacks in town, so my husband stood out. He wasn’t really offended by the fact that this guy pointed out that he was the only person of color in the establishment because it was the truth, and also because my husband is a very confident man who isn’t easily offended.  I think it’s because he grew up in a diverse area, where he experienced comments about his race throughout his childhood, whereas I am experiencing racially driven comments for the first time in my life as his wife and Buggy’s mom.  It is a new experience for me, and one that I am not yet comfortable with.

The guy in the bar was simply stating a fact that there was a Black guy in town, and that this is a novelty.  It wasn’t meant to be rude or to make anyone feel bad.  I think the guy’s surprise at seeing my husband kind of surprised me at first.  But now I get it – he hasn’t been exposed to many people with different skin tones and was unable to keep his mouth shut when he saw someone who looked different then him.

I haven’t spent a lot of time in Maine since I moved away a decade ago, and I have never been there with my husband until now.  Where we live in The South there are many people of different races, and it isn’t uncommon to see mixed race couples around town, so being around someone who hasn’t had similar experiences to me and wasn’t afraid to say what he was thinking was an odd experience.

Buggy had a wonderful time on vacation, and the only comments she got were “she’s so cute” “I love her giggle” and “adorable” Since my husband is darker then her, I guess people were too shocked by his skin color to notice hers.

bug and anderson

Buggy’s favorite part of vacation was playing with my brother’s dog!