The Intentionality of Creating a Safe Space

As I think about building organizations and developing leadership potential, I wonder about how we make our organizations and businesses attractive to all people. My belief and value systems include the intentionality of creating safe space for all people to feel welcome. When I go to new places and meet new people in their places of employment, I intentionally look at the art work on the walls. I look at the faces of the people in that work space. Do all the people look the same or is there a rich tapestry of diverse faces? I listen to what people say about their businesses, their customers or clients and the colleagues and I imagine myself becoming engaged with that organization or business.

It is amazing to me what I learn in a relatively short period of time. Along the way, I have learned that perception often becomes reality and that folks rarely get second chances in this space. I have, at times, participated in meetings where there is no complexity of complexions or variance in ages, just a very visible homogeneity. And, in these meetings, I have observed decisions being made and plans being created for groups of people who are not represented. And I marvel at the arrogance of these practices.

I weigh intention versus impact. At times, there is no evil or bad intention behind these situations but the impact is that groups of folks are being left out and excluded. And then I wonder, is the leaving out by design? And if my perception is that folks are not welcome, I will intentionally walk away from that business, organization and opportunity and the impact will be that business has lost a customer, participant or supporter.

We (This is a “global” we) have a very rich history of institutionally and systemically excluding access to opportunities in education, employment, housing and public accommodations to certain groups of people. I believe it is up to current leaders to right these wrongs boldly and without question. Leadership in this space involves having courageous conversations that are uncomfortable with one’s colleagues, business partners, senior management teams and frankly appraising where the organization is along the lines of truly welcoming diversity (in all of its forms) and demonstrating that there is value in being welcoming to all people.

Danise Haburn is the director of resource and development department with Open Door Health Center of Illinois with offices in Aurora and Elgin. Danise has served on the Elgin Human Relations Commission for 12 years and is active participant in creating courageous conversations on the inequities within our communities.

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