Diversity Straight Up hosts Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington. PHOTO BEN HIGH


By Christine Hawes

It turns out that diversity can be, well, stereotyped.

It’s often defined as having to do only with race, ethnicity and gender – especially in today’s society, where political events seem to be feeding a fire of racial and gender conflict.

But true diversity is about so much more, say Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington, the hosts of a new podcast called Diversity Straight Up, launching this week from the Corridor Business Journal.

Diversity encompasses disabilities, interests, religion, our management styles, our life experiences, mental health, and even “privilege,” Mr. Arrington says, referring to a word meant to capture the practical reality that white men have historically received built-in advantages of which they may not even be aware.

Considering all the ways diversity can be defined, an exponentially larger number of methods exist for modern-day companies to foster it and celebrate it. Ms. Bhakta and Mr. Arrington, both longtime experts in the fields of diversity and business consulting, hope to illuminate listeners on how executives at leading companies are making our differences part of their corporate approach, through honest, authentic conversations.

“We need to broaden our horizon of what diversity looks like,” said Ms. Bhakta, who first approached the CBJ about the show concept. “We’re all about being able to unpackage terminology. And ‘diversity’ doesn’t always resonate with everyone. We need to go beyond, to what diversity means. Diversity really means ‘differences.’”

“There is absolutely no question that race and gender are top of mind in the country, in America and especially in the state of Iowa,” Mr. Arrington added. “We are not lost on that, as an Indian woman and an African-American male.

“The problem is, the pendulum has focused so much on race and gender, it has put the word of ‘diversity’ in defensive mode for the 55-year-old white male … We want to unpack the terminology so that everyone in a company understands, they are all diverse.”

Ms. Bhakta, president of Nikeya Diversity Consulting, has worked with international companies for two decades in management and diversity training. She was born in Gujarat, India, and raised in the Midwest. She’s also involved in an international study of women’s workplace leadership progression. Ms. Bhakta has written a book, “Power Up, Super Women,” and was named one of the CBJ’s Forty Under 40 in 2018.

Mr. Arrington, co-founder of Top Rank Professional & Executive Search Consulting, has also worked in management and staff development for two decades. He’s a member of the Linn County Civil Rights Commission, and serves on the boards of the Eastern Iowa Human Resources Association, the Boys & Girls Club of Cedar Rapids and the Kirkwood College Career Services Advisory Board.

Ms. Bhakta hopes to explore emerging topics around diversity and inclusion, such as the increasingly global workplace where cultures are coming together and evolving, and the growing impact of technology on diversity. She foresees compelling conversations with executives, for example, about how they work with, recruit and retain immigrant and migrant workers in an ever-tightening labor market.

“We need to get leaders to tell their stories about how they transform their thinking about race and gender, how that has affected them as leaders,” Mr. Arrington said. “And how they think about diversity themselves.

“If I can understand that I, too, am a diverse individual, and that I’m ‘different’ too, and that I need to respect others’ differences, I’m better able to live in harmony with other minorities,” he added.

Mr. Arrington said he and Ms. Bhakta aspire to create a podcast that is both engaging, and relevant, with plenty of “passion and energy.” Ms. Bhakta wants to ensure the conversation remains “fun,” and promised to unveil a surprise soon.

“Diversity is a serious topic,” she said. “We need to be sure we have some fun elements in there as well. We need to help our listeners feel inspired and empowered.”

“At the end of the day we want to continue challenging each other to continue ‘looking under the hood.’ We want others to continue looking at who they are.”

Look for the pilot episode of Diversity Straight Up, presented by Collins Aerospace and the city of Cedar Rapids, at corridorbusiness.com and on your favorite podcast platforms this Friday. CBJ