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Diversity Grand Rounds Provide Tools, Resources

The National Cancer Institute's Office of Diversity and Employment Programs (ODEP) held its second seminar in the Diversity Grand Rounds series on June 10 with an interactive presentation by Dr. Steve Robbins titled, "Unintentional Intolerance: What You Think You Know Might Hurt Others." The inaugural event in the series was held Apr. 3 and featured a presentation by Art Jackson titled, "Lions, Tigers, and Bears — Oh My."

The series is designed to help align the NIH community with the expanding conceptualization of workplace diversity and diversity management, moving from the conventional and narrow definition of representation, EEO and affirmative action, to a broader one that encompasses inclusion and strategic ways of eliciting, developing, mobilizing and utilizing diverse talents to improve organizational productivity. The seminars are open to all NIH'ers.

Dr. Steve Robbins (r) engages the audience with his "Unintentional Intolerance" seminar at NCI's second Diversity Grand Rounds.

The seminars provide tangible tools, information and resources for employees to be successful in a diverse workforce as well as to encourage on-going conversation about the evolving concept of diversity. In addition, the seminars are designed to assist managers and supervisors in meeting their diversity and EEO performance standards. They are held on the Bethesda and Frederick campuses, with teleconferencing to NIEHS in North Carolina.

In the inaugural talk, Art Jackson began with a parable about an animal kingdom of lions, tigers, and bears having trouble protecting themselves from hunters. In his story, rather than band together and consider how each species could contribute unique strengths and talents to overcome the threat, the lions saw themselves as the only and the best species for the job, dismissing the others as less capable because they were different. By the end of the parable, the lions, tigers and bears realized that by pooling their efforts they could triumph over the hunters and save themselves. Jackson's message underscored the importance of understanding diversity as a way of developing an edge of increased productivity and the overall organizational good.

Similarly, Robbins used a ship metaphor to demonstrate the importance of inclusion, and emphasized that exclusion of any group is detrimental to all. His metaphorical ship was one in which certain people were confined to the "bottom of the boat." These folks discovered a leak, but because of the exclusionary practices of the others, the "bottom of the boat people" were ignored, the leak was never addressed and the ship sank. Robbins said this is the result of "unintentional intolerance," which inadvertently happens due to the thoughtless or "autopilot" mode that directs much of our behavior. In that state, we often exclude or discriminate against others without consideration of the impact it has on them and the entire group. Robbins urged acting mindfully by increasing our awareness about our natural tendencies to "unintentionally exclude."

He closed with a quote from Yoda of The Empire Strikes Back, "There is only do or do not, there is no try," if we are to thrive and succeed as a people.

The next Diversity Grand Rounds seminar takes place Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. The featured speaker is Annette Merritt Cummings, national director of diversity services, Bernard Hodes Group. For more information visit

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