Diversity and inclusion is one of the core values of UMD AMA. This week, we are thrilled to be joined by our own Smith School of Business Professor and UMD AMA Advisor, Mary Beth Furst, to speak about perspective-taking and assuming positive intent.
To get started, Professor Furst had us take our dominant hand, snap three times, and draw an E on our forehead. She asked us to reflect upon whether we drew the E from our perspective or from the perspective of someone looking at us. From there began the discussion of perspective-taking and its application to all areas of life.
Professor Furst compared this exercise to sales. She explained, “sales are not something that only just those salespeople do, we all do it every day.” Every day we try to convince people to do things. Can you help me study? Can you come to dinner with me? Even as a professor, Professor Furst asks people, can you come to class? However, without taking the perspective of the other person, none of these questions can be answered.
Relating to the topic of perspective taking, Professor Furst asked us how power manifests itself among our peers. In a group project, who holds the power? Is it the first one to get to the meeting, the first one to take charge, or the last one to take the final copy and revise it? What about the people who remain quiet and do not do a lot of the work? The sad truth is we tend to get angry and dislike these people, often because we fail to take their perspective.
In a group project, there is usually someone who doesn't seem to care, but why? They may be thinking there are other people to do it …I don’t need to do it… I don’t care about this class…this class is not a priority…I lack motivation… I have other things going on. Have you ever asked these people why they aren’t doing the work? Probably not! Professor Furst explained how this is a difficult conversation to have. It’s hard to get someone to open up and share their perspective. However, once you do take the leap to have this personal conversation, it opens the door to a new perspective, a new understanding for the other person, and a more empathetic view on the situation. All members have strengths, all members have weaknesses. It is important to be inclusive of others and divide the work to somewhat match everyone’s unique abilities.
In situations like group projects, there may be privileges we have that others don’t which affect each member’s performance. Professor Furst asked us to make a mental list of our privileges and to realize what we may uphold that others don’t. For example, our own DEI Director, Isabella Guggino, told us how she is fortunate to have parents that support her emotionally and financially, and who will guide her through her college experience if needed. Not everyone in her group project has that same privilege which will certainly affect their performance. These privileges are not spoken of, thus making it extremely difficult to step outside of your shoes to understand another’s perspective. Professor Furst encouraged us to engage in perspective taking as much as possible in order to uncover these hidden privileges and offer support to whoever may be struggling behind the scenes.
Moving along, Professor Furst explained Anti Discrimination laws. She asked us if you were in the position of targeted discrimination how would you feel? Our Co-VP of Membership Operations, Luca Mancino, mentioned how his confidence would be damaged and he would feel more reserved. There may be feelings of isolation, lack of trust and safety, and angry emotions that overcome you. Most importantly, it creates a sense of unfairness. This unfairness connects back to how each person’s perspective influences how they view others.
As these issues are becoming more talked about in our society, companies are taking notice. Professor Furst explained how Apple has had an 89% increase in the number of female employees, a 71% increase in the number of Black employees in the US, and a 104% increase in the number of Hispanic/Latina employees in the US. While it is great that companies are doing this, Professor Furst pondered the question of why weren't they doing this all along? What were the starting numbers for these sets of data? Is this part of their core values or just a way to generate more sales? As young people just entering the workforce, it is our responsibility to hold companies accountable to their words and continue pushing for a more diverse and inclusive work environment.
In conclusion, it is important to come together to recognize the unique experiences that everyone has. Everyone has a different story and it may be hard to put yourselves in someone else’s shoes. However, before you make rash assumptions about someone, take a moment and try to see the world from their perspective. It may open up your eyes to something new, something more inclusive, and something that will help our society be more empathetic.
Huge thank you to Professor Mary Beth Furst for discussing inclusivity with us this week and thank you to all our members for coming out to our last professional event of the year. See you all next week for a social event to wrap up an AMAzing semester!
- Layla Shulman