HAMMOND — Representatives from businesses, educational institutions and organizations throughout Indiana came together Thursday to understand what diversity and inclusion means and how to implement both during the annual Diversity and Inclusion seminar at Purdue University Northwest.

Organized by the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, the seminar featured a discussion with panelists focusing on opportunities for jobs, job training and certification for minorities and women to promote diversity and inclusion in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

“Diversity is a sense of belonging,” said Maia Siprashvili-Lee, executive director of supplier diversity for the State of Indiana. This state agency looks at contracts where state money is used and evaluates sub-contractors used on projects, she said.

“There are some cultural barriers” to getting into pre-apprentice programs, said Roman Bronson, NWI area director of Indiana Plan, an electrician and first-generation journeyman in his family. “We need a path to the middle class."

Bronson also stressed that applicants for jobs need to “dress for that job. … Some are not aware of what image they are projecting.”

“We need to educate the community on what opportunities are out there and how to tap into that to get good paying jobs,” said Arden Floran, vice president of workforce development services at Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc.

Following the panel discussion, attendees chose two of the six focus sessions offered on topics including: “Doing Business with the State,” “Interacting in a Diverse World,” “Courageous Conversations-Difficult Dialogues,” “Privilege, Power, Identity and Leadership,” “Equal Employment Opportunity: Racial Equity in the Work Place” and “Silence is Not an Option.”

The "Courageous Conversations" session focused on how to engage around sensitive topics and create healthy dialogues in the workplace, home, school and community, and the benefits to the bottom line.

Bryon R. Martin, director of multicultural programs at Valparaiso University, and Zebediah Hall, director of disability support services at VU, said a healthy dialogue includes inquiry, healthy communications and empathy.

Clear communication involves purposeful listening, attentive body language including respectful posture and position and “reflect, relate, respond,” the presenters said. Reflect involves what is being said. Relate refers to “what in my background relates to what is said” and "respond is different than reaction. It must be thought out.”

James Wallace Jr., of the Indiana University Northwest Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, presented the Interacting in a Diverse World focus group.

“Everyone has a role to play,” Wallace said.

His presentation explored the history of racial issues and provided strategies for leaders to “engage in courageous conversations.” Those conversations must include staying engaged, being prepared to experience discomfort, speaking your truth and expecting and accepting non-closure, Wallace said.

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