Why, Not What

Christine had an exemplary two years of college. Her GPA was high and she had become a leader in several organizations. Even more important was her volunteer activities with the Girl Scouts. The only problem was she couldn’t get an internship.

When Christina met with her advisor/mentor, he was also confused about why she hadn’t been successful in finding an internship. He did a mock interview with her, and she nailed every question. When he asked her about the companies that had turned her down, he was surprised to learn that one of the companies was led by one of his former students, Greg Browner.

“Let me make a call to see why you were rejected,” he volunteered. When Dr. Wilson called his former student, Greg told him: “I’ll find out why she was rejected and call you back.”

A day later, Dr. Wilson got a return call from Greg. “I’m embarrassed to tell you what I found out. Christine was rejected because of her accent. I was furious. Our people promote diversity in our workforce but then invent ways to reject people who don’t fit the mold. I told them to call Christine and give her an offer. I also have launched a reexamination of what diversity means. Just because someone speaks with a southern Appalachian twang is no reason to reject them. I even found that we are paying for accent reduction classes for our international employees. That’s ridiculous. We should value diversity in accents, not attempt to standardize them.”

When Christine was told she would get the job offer, she was excited but also wondered why she was rejected. Dr. Wilson assured her that it was a mistake and that she would be great.

Three months later, when Christine returned to campus, she met with Dr. Wilson to thank him for helping her get such a great internship. “I heard from my former student that you were great. I’m so proud of you.”

Christine then told Dr. Wilson: “You won’t believe this. People would come to me and ask me to speak to them. They just loved my accent.” Dr. Wilson just had a big smile on his face when he heard that.

Diversity has become a societal value as we discover the benefit of different perspectives. But what does it mean to be diverse? In Christine’s case, her twang accent was held against her. There are other forms of diversity that can be deterrents. A person’s looks can be a reason for rejecting them. Those who are introverts also struggle. In many cases, a person’s socioeconomic background can be a cause of rejection.

Mark Twain once said that the two most important days in our lives are the day we were born and the day we found out why. Why can’t we just value a person for who they are as reflected in their why and not their what?

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“Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people?” – Desmond Tutu

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