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Starting the Conversation (#LetsTalkDiversity)

Over a year ago, inspired by Starbuck’s #RaceTogether flop, we came upon a great way to get people to start talking about diversity and inclusion. It came in the form of a soft vinyl ball that looks like a soccer ball, but has conversation prompts printed on each panel, and is called Diversity Thumball (pronounced Thumb-Ball). Although we’d received tremendous feedback about the ball’s impact, we wanted to see if we could get perfect strangers to talk about diversity and their experiences of feeling different.

So, we gathered a few recent college grads (Tamara, Loi, and Carlos) and set off to the Boston Public Garden on a beautiful summer day, with a couple of Diversity Thumballs and a video camera. As people strolled through the park, we got their attention, introduced ourselves, and asked if they’d answer a few questions. Watch video now . . . or keep reading…

Talking to strangers

Our first realization was that people were unbelievably generous with their time and open to talking to us. Over the course of a few hours, we interviewed over 20 people. Before tossing them the ball to answer a random question, we asked if they typically talk about issues of diversity and inclusion with family, friends and colleagues. Our assumption was that people would say the topic rarely comes up.

The conversation HAS started!

We found rather quickly, that this assumption was incorrect. Many more people said they do talk about such matters, than those who said they didn’t. When we asked in what context those conversations arise, we typically heard, “It comes up a lot because of the Black Lives Matter movement,” or “I work in the city where we have a lot of diversity.” Many of those who said they don’t talk much about diversity explained that they live and work in such a diverse environment that it’s just not an issue that needs discussion. We realize that the time and place of our experiment could surely have affected these responses. Had we conducted interviews in a less cosmopolitan location, the responses might have been quite different.

Tell us about a time…

For their second question, we asked, “Can you tell us about a time you, a friend or family member experienced discrimination or felt excluded?” This was fascinating as almost everyone (no matter their age, skin color, or where they were from) had some sort of story — about being stopped on a street, about a transgender family member, about their bi-racial kids, friends with disabilities, and so on.

Tossing the ball

Finally we tossed the ball to each person and had them answer a random question and the stories kept coming. At the end of each interview, we asked people their impressions of the Diversity Thumball. Mostly, people shared their positive impressions, saying they thought the ball would definitely help bring out much richer conversations about diversity than what they typically discuss. My husband, a former prosecutor, would tell me our final question was “leading” and should be taken as such. Still, they were under no obligation to tell us that they’d love to get a Diversity Thumball for their own office, which we also heard a handful of times.

Take a moment and have a look at what this powerful tool can do. WATCH NOW.