From Embarrassment to Avoidance to Acceptance and Inclusion
In honor of Diversity Month in April and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. I wanted to share a perspective on diversity and hope you find it valuable.
I felt all these emotions as I reflect on my childhood. The son of Indian immigrants, I grew up in an area where I felt different - and was often made to feel different. A Hindu attending Catholic school in Michigan, I was different. Pre-teens can be ruthless and cruel, and I feared being on the receiving end of this - often hearing the imitation of an Indian accent in more than a whisper nearby.
At the time, it was simply normal to me. But it caused me to consciously avoid certain situations that I felt would highlight my differences - things like inviting friends over to my house. I was hypersensitive to how my friends would perceive the smell of our home, the clothes my parents wore, and their accent.
While this was my situation for a time while I was young, I know now that it shouldn't be that way. I also acknowledge that some of my childhood fears were self-inflicted - I would sometimes assign intentions to classmates that didn't exist based on the behavior of others.
Some of the people that impacted me the most - far more than those who chose to tease or exclude me - are those that went out of their way to make me feel welcome - to make me feel accepted in that environment.
At an early age, I differentiated between those who were silent and avoided me (while not being overtly cruel) - and those who took action to make me feel welcome - included me in activities, invited me to their homes, introduced me to their friends.
Looking back now, I know my mother was one of these people as well, although I didn't see it at the time. She would prepare traditional curry dishes and give them to the families of my friends. It wasn't long before I had friends coming over to our home, walking directly past me and checking out what was cooking in the kitchen.
But it was the kids who went out of their way to include me that I remember most. In speaking to my father later in life, he told me of similar colleagues he had at Ford who did that for him at a time when he left everything behind in India to pursue his future in the U.S. They led with their actions to include my father and our family in both work and personal social gatherings. It made such a huge difference for him and for my family.
I'm proud to work at a company that values diversity and inclusion like GM does. I'd like to encourage each of you - take actions to be like my father's colleagues. When you are interacting with someone who can be perceived as different - do you make them feel valued and included? I believe some of our greatest opportunities to influence and instill these behaviors are as parents. Are you seeking opportunities to have these discussions with your children, so they can positively change the lives of friends and classmates at ages where they are sometimes the most vulnerable?
I'm proud of my upbringing, and I hope everyone can feel a similar pride in their lives. Let's all do our part in bringing that to life.