A Conversation with President Barack Obama
A few weeks ago, hundreds of people overtook the ballroom of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, anxiously awaiting a presentation by the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. “A Conversation with President Barack Obama” marked the end of the National Diversity Council’s annual conference, a three-day event designated to promote diversity in the workplace.
Banner by National Diversity Council to promote the session
PMG sent four members of its Diversity & Inclusion Group (DIG) to listen to a conversation filled with wisdom, genuine advice, and a few jokes peppered in, whom then came back with the following messages to share.
“The best solutions will always come from listening to input from people that don’t look, come from, or think anything like you.”
President Obama repeatedly mentioned that the best thing he did during his presidential term was hiring a diverse staff and cabinet. He honed in on the importance of listening to people from all ranges of backgrounds, races, social classes, and seniority levels. Reinforcing the idea that the best way to solve problems is being able to look at it from all angles.
“I have learned that I like having people smarter than me in the room.”
In the same breath, he then went on to say that he preferred to sit and listen when consulting with cabinet members. Once everything has been said, he would often point to someone standing along the back of the room, usually an assistant or intern, and ask their opinion. He said that these were the people with the most insight and knowledge because they had put in the most time researching, documenting, briefing, and most importantly, listening to the topic. Obama stresses the importance of having as many points of view as possible in order to avoid ‘blind spots.’ All of these opinions are not just valid but also important. Knowledge and intelligence are not exclusive to age, rank, gender, or race.
“Worry less about what you want to be and more about what you want to do.”
This was President Obama’s advice for those early in their career, unsure of the journey they should take. Children are constantly asked what they want to be, and their answers are always changing, from painter to veterinarian to archeologist. But rarely are they asked what we want to do when they grow up. Answers shift with just that one word, from thinking of a specific role to thinking about how you want to impact the world around you. President Obama emphasized the importance of focusing your career on the changes you want to achieve and revolving your goals around more do.
“How do we overcome these instincts that say there is an us and them? What do we need to do to think in terms of ‘we’?”
A question Obama posed to the audience early on in his conversation underscored the points he articulated throughout. Ultimately, this concept is the essence of diversity in the workplace, whether your workplace is the White House or an ad agency. How do we make sure our differences don’t divide us? When we strive to become a larger group that appreciates diverse thought and contributions, this means we embolden the individual to use their own background and beliefs to enrich their work. Demolishing that “us” and “them” divide isn’t a matter of tolerance or stripping away our differences, but of true acceptance and inclusiveness that allows an empowering of the individual.
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This session offered a life-changing perspective on how to champion diversity throughout every aspect of life. For more detail around our biggest takeaways from the National Diversity & Leadership Conference, check out Cynthia’s wrap-up blog post here.
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