“Insights into Valuing Diversity” – Senator Kerryann Ifill, President of the Barbados Senate
Along with members of the third cohort of the Leadership Development Program (LDP), I had the privilege of meeting Her Honor, Senator Kerryann Ifill, President of the Barbados Senate, when she shared her insights in September. Senator Ifill spoke to the LDP participants on the subject The Leadership Imperative: Valuing Diversity.
Senator Ifill lost her sight at the age of four but this only served to boost her drive and ambition. She was the first blind person to graduate from the University of the West Indies, earning herself a degree in Sociology and Psychology, and she went on to obtain an MBA in England.
In speaking on the leadership imperative, she asked “What is diversity?“, and responded that it is being different. She stated that it is a mistake to associate diversity only with race or culture. Rather, she argued, we are all raised with different value systems which affect our views on various aspects of diversity such as disability, religion and sexual orientation.
Senator Ifill distinguished what she called primary and secondary diversity; she described primary diversity as things that cannot change, and secondary diversity as areas where our personal actions define us (e.g. religion, education, profession).
Senator Ifill pointed out that ecologists consider that diversity is the basis of resilience and strength.
Disabled people need support, the Senator acknowledged – but usually not the kind of support we think. Rather they need very specific support, for example in the workplace, and the best way to find out what they need is to ask!
Fundamentally, Senator Ifill opined that persons needed to apply an ARC – an acronym symbolizing Acceptance, Respect and Connection to people living with disabilities. It is instructive to note that the primary need identified by the President of the Senate was not the ratification of some treaty or protocol – not something that we need to wait for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Parliament to do. Instead, the principal need is something which each and every one of us has the power – and indeed the responsibility – to provide to our differently abled colleagues, citizens, clients and friends. Our Acceptance (NB: Not Tolerance!). Our Respect. Our Connection.
She challenged the LDP participants to examine how leaders handle diversity – do they show leadership or “followership“? Leaders recognize diversity and accept others regardless of the area of diversity. A deeper understanding of diversity will lead to treating individuals not as categories, but as whole persons.
Finally, Senator Ifill challenged participants by asking…when you see a disabled person what is the first thing you see: disability or ability?
How would you respond to Senator Ifill’s challenge? What is the first thing you see – Ability or Disability?
How do you show leadership in meeting the needs of people with disabilities in your workplace? In service delivery?
Do you have leadership lessons on diversity from your own experience?