Working (and Living) In a World Where Everyone Looks Like You

Oct. 7, 2020
Your opinion about diversity and inclusion says a lot more about you than you think. 

I grew up in a small, almost rural, town outside of Chicago. It was mostly a farm town when I went to school there; however, unless you had a farm, your family typically worked in one of the few local manufacturing plants. My family still calls that town home, whereas I haven't been to school there, nor have I lived there, for more than 20 years. 

Like many Generation Xers, I still use Facebook. Mostly I use it as the modern day equivalent of my mother's refrigerator door, plastering my own wall with a series of "Look at what Erin's up to!" posts. I also use it much like most people my age—as the virtual answer to the time-honored class reunion. It's often fun to keep up with all of those I wandered down the hallowed halls of high school with.  

This year, with the election looming, my virtual wanderlust took a turn. Lines were drawn in the sand, and it became clear which sides of the aisle I, and many of my former classmates, were on.  The town I grew up in wasn't particularly diverse when I lived there. It was predominately Caucasian, with a growing Hispanic population. The town was overwhelmingly Christian and most of my neighbors looked exactly like me. 

Diversity Training

When I was away at college, I was fortunate to experience a plural society. I was surrounded by a lot of people who looked, sounded, prayed, or lived nothing like the way I did. It was refreshing. I've always been a bit of an outlier among my family and friends, so diversity was a welcome change to my previous whitewashed life. Graduation, then career, then marriage, then a myriad of other life changes brought me to where I'm at now: A divorced suburban-dweller who enjoys experiencing all of the plurality and diversity life has to offer. 

This thirst to accept other people and their economic, religious, racial, and/or sexual differences hasn't played well in my hometown. Many of my graduating class work in the same plants their parents did. Some have college degrees, some don't. Judging by the comments I saw in the heated social media posts, many of them are still angry that the town isn't what it used to be—predominately Christian and Caucasian.  

I don't go home as often as I used to anymore, nor do I get involved with the Facebook conversations I did at the beginning of the year. I know whose flags I see when I drive down the street and I still hear the names people refer to each other as when they think others aren't listening.  

Which one of these things is not like the other

Being the Doyenne of all things Digital for Food Processing, I'm privy to all of the behind the scenes data our readers don't get to see. I know how people engage with our content, or if they don't.  There's a lot you can tell about people by how they react and respond to news, stories, and blogs. In fact, I can almost pinpoint with laser precision how people in our Food Processing universe will respond to this blog post.

As the creator of the Influential Women in Manufacturing program, I also keep watch over the entire manufacturing landscape, not just the food and beverage industry. My eyes and ears are attuned to how people refer to women in their press releases, their announcements, their news, and their reports. I'm even more in tune with those who don't refer to women or BIPOC at all. It's often the same group of people who, like my former classmates, don't want to acknowledge that it's an uphill battle just to exist when you aren't like everyone else. 

Leading by Example

One of the tenets of Influential Women in Manufacturing is to amplify the female voices of those in male-dominated industries. It's a passion of mine to advocate for groups that otherwise don't get a lot of attention, and I like to do it whenever and where ever I can.

I was recently asked to be a keynote speaker for a presentation to female high school students on the merits of being a female in manufacturing. It was my involvement with the IWIM program that afforded me that opportunity and I'm grateful to get the chance to lead by example. 

Though I'm still putting the finishing touches on my remarks, my best pieces of advice to these young women and, frankly, to anyone who wants to do something worthwhile are these: Break the mold. Embrace diversity and charge ahead with what moves you. And, most importantly, while you're doing all of this, don't expect everyone to look like you. In fact, embrace the fact that most of them won't. 

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