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Leveraging Our Differences

By Douglass L. Jackson, DMD, MS, PhD on 11/19/2014 | Featured Columns & Series

“Embrace our differences and find strength in our connectedness.” This is one of six core values at Girls on the Run and you’ll see it in action every day throughout the organization. For example, I bet you’ll see it when you’re observing the girls in the program and their volunteer coaches and running buddies at one of the practices or celebratory 5Ks. You’ll also see it when you’re working with the program staff, volunteers and board of directors of the council in your community or at the Girls on the Run headquarters in Charlotte, NC. I choose those examples because they are among the many ways that I’ve experienced Girls on the Run living up to the true spirit of diversity and inclusion.

Diversity at Girls on the Run means much more than just racial and ethnic head counts. For starters, diversity is more than just race and ethnicity. Diversity through the Girls on the Run lens is the uniqueness of each individual. That uniqueness is shaped by our life experiences and gives each of us a perspective of the world around us that is solely our own. This expanded focus is a significant evolution of the diversity work that began during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. That work sought to alleviate the injustice and inequality of discrimination along racial, ethnic, gender and other lines, and its successes were measured primarily by head counts.What we’re talking about now is much more than head counts. It’s about the intentional sharing of what’s inside those heads for the greater good!

Instead of the limited and limiting focus of counting the number of “heads” in specific categories like race, socioeconomic status, or physical or intellectual ability, Girls on the Run focuses on what we want all of those different heads (and their perspectives) to share with each other and to learn.

Fostering an environment in which every girl, coach, running buddy, volunteer, staff member and board member feels safe and welcome to express their full and best selves is important to Girls on the Run and why diversity and inclusion are among our core values. Girls on the Run recognizes that together, diversity and inclusion are powerful tools. Leveraging the many different perspectives the program brings together increases the intellectual development, service orientation, self-awareness and cultural competence of the girls we serve. As for the grown-ups (the ones who work with the program currently and the ones the girls will grow up to become), we learn to leverage the differences among us in ways that lead to innovations that not only improve Girls on the Run but also, when applied in all aspects of our lives, makes a better society.

Douglass L. Jackson, DMD, MS, PhD


Dr. Jackson—a member of the Board of Directors of Girls on the Run International—is a consultant in the area of healthcare quality and has served as the Director of the Center for Diversity and Health Equity at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Associate Dean for Educational Partnerships and Diversity at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the health profession’s workforce and advocating for workplace climates in healthcare organizations that value inclusion and cultural competency has been a focus of Dr. Jackson’s work for more than 20 years.

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