Westmoreland museum speaker Johnnetta Betsch Cole urges audience to acknowledge biases, celebrate diversity
All workplaces should include employee training about unconscious biases that many people possess, says a principal consultant at a Maryland firm that provides services on diversity and inclusion.
Such education would help to address inequalities locally and nationally because that type of bias can lead to discrimination, Johnnetta Betsch Cole said Thursday.
“Workplaces need to do it with all of their employees and, most of all, their leadership,” she said.
Cole’s engaging discussion at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art touched on several issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She is the former director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and previously was president of two historically black colleges for women. She now does consulting for Cook Ross Inc.
Her talk spurred some laughter and plenty of applause from about 150 people in attendance, including business professionals, county employees and members of the Westmoreland Diversity Coalition.
Johnathan White nodded several times while listening to Cole speak. He is a history lecturer at Penn State Greater Allegheny and a committee member of Crossing Bridges, a group that convenes a speaker series and engages students of all types on campus in an effort to promote the subjects Cole discussed.
“I love when she said we have to do better,” White said. “We as a collective have to do better.”
Cole spoke about inequities around the country, such as women and people of color being paid less than white men who dominate corporate leadership roles and discrimination based on race, gender and religious beliefs. She encouraged those in attendance to make workplaces more diverse and to seek out people who are not like them to learn more about others.
“It’s in your hands and it’s in mine,” she said.
One audience member questioned how she could help her two daughters, who are white, learn more about other cultures in a predominantly white community. Westmoreland County is about 95 percent white, according to Census figures.
“First of all, you can acknowledge that it is not 100 percent white,” Cole responded, to laughter from the audience. “There are other folk who live in this community.”
The woman was invited to get the girls involved in a local NAACP youth council.
“There are living human beings in this community,” Cole said. “Find them.”
A twist of fate helped East End Pittsburgh resident Paula Weiner find Cole, who was her beloved college professor decades ago at Hunter College. Weiner recalled signing up for every class Cole taught and was pleased to be invited to hear her message Thursday.
“It’s such a divisive atmosphere in the country, it always has been,” Weiner said. “She hit home so many truths. There’s so much we need to still do.”