LIVINGSTON, NJ — Diversity in the workplace (The “D” Word) was the central theme of Sobel & Co. LLC’s Executive Women’s Leadership Breakfast last week, where businesswomen gathered in Livingston to hear a presentation from Alycia Banks, training and development officer for Columbia Bank.

Following some networking and a light breakfast, Banks opened a conversation on how to create a diverse and inclusive environment in the office. In her presentation, she identified why diversity matters, demonstrated how diversity impacts the bottom line, shared inclusive behaviors in the workplace and provided the “how to’s” of fostering innovation through diversity and inclusion.

Livingston resident Holli Ehrlich, Isagenix Personal Success Coach, said she was inspired by Banks’ message that “women are masters of embracing diversity because [they] are nurturers and cultivate conversations to be inclusive.”

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“We need to be active listeners and have an open dialogue, which will lead to increased productivity, improved customer service, and a better understanding of those you work with,” said Ehrlich. “Becoming more aware of who you are and your cultural perspective will help shape your interactions. Being open to learning about others, respect, and effective communication is the key to building stronger relationships personally and professionally."

Banks has had many opportunities to teach and create diversity initiatives over the 22 years that she has worked in learning and talent development, but said that she has always run from it, thinking of diversity departments as “a sinking ship.”

“Diversity is a topic that everyone tries to avoid,” said Banks. “There tend to be programs that we run, but we have failed tremendously in many efforts as a whole Corporate America. We have tended to wrap [diversity initiatives] into multicultural days, employee resource groups, but ‘have we really moved the dial forward’ is the big question.”

Banks said she always ran from it because of the stigma that was associated with it.

“Being an African American woman, I only saw people in Corporate America teach diversity that were people of color, and so I felt that many of them were very preachy…and that’s really not me,” said Banks, adding that she felt she was only offered the position because she was a woman of color. “As I approached my last eight years, I have taken a different approach, realizing that diversity is really lived out when there is transparency and it’s about telling your story. We have to get comfortable in telling our story and being comfortable in our own skin in a professional way that makes us credible and in a way that allows us to share our diversity.”

Banks stated that diversity exists in everyone and that there is “not one person in this world that is the same person as the person sitting next to them.”

As one of 10 children, Banks overcame her fears and became an advocate for diversity after some of her siblings married outside their race and others married individuals of the same sex. She said she learned first-hand how “joy and love comes in many forms,” and she can now embrace diversity with passion.

In order to embrace diversity in the workplace, Banks said a business or organization has to demonstrate behaviors that are inclusive, which involves addressing common patterns like making assumptions based off premonitions, misunderstanding others due to poor communication, giving into prejudices and naturally fearing the unknown.

Stating that diversity is the opposite of discrimination, Banks discussed techniques to overcome each of these patterns, and also spoke about the significance of equal employment opportunities and affirmative action plans.

During the breakfast, Sobel & Co. also hosted a “Newark Arts Showcase,” highlighting some key organizations from the music and arts community of Newark, including Barat FoundationHave You Met Newark ToursGlass RootsNew Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Newark Arts Council.

To become a part of the next Executive Women’s Breakfast conversation, join the Sobel & Co. Executive Women's Breakfast group on LinkedIn or contact Sally Glick, principal and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co., at sally.glick@sobel-cpa.com