“My kids have actually taught me a lot about diversity with inclusion. You gotta love how kids know how to make everything fun – even diversity and inclusion!”, I exclaimed during my stand-up comedy routine at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City.  This epiphany has reinforced to me that there is clearly room for a fresh approach to making progress in diversity with inclusion.

As a woman of color rising up the ranks for over twenty years to become a senior vice president at a large financial services firm, I believed it would be most impactful for me to stay laser-focused on tackling diversity with inclusion at an organizational and professional level.  So, when I started Inspiring Diversity three years ago, I was primarily focused on working with organizations and professionals to build more inclusive, collaborative, and high performing culture. 

Then… it was reinforced to me that to make fundamental impact at that level, we also need to tackle diversity with inclusion with children – before they become set in their ways and biases.  Diversity with inclusion needs to be tackled in society at large not just in the workplace!

My kids reminded me of this two years ago when I was writing my business book, PO-LING POWER, with my mom whose name is PO-LING. One day, as I lovingly explained to my kids the PO-LING principles for inclusion and collaboration, my daughter (Moorea) turned to me and said, “Mommy, I love the PO-LING principles, but honestly, I don’t think any children would want to read your book!” Ouch!  I didn’t even see that truthful yet painful punch coming!

Moorea had a brilliant idea.  She asked, “But who doesn’t love animal stories?  We should write animal stories based on the PO-LING principles!”  Jasper (my son) then chimed in about how the different animals come together and help each other to succeed.  They impressed upon me how children are ready to embrace such important life lessons in a fun and engaging way! And that’s how The Persevering Penguins and Pals book series was born!  

For two years, I had primarily seen The Persevering Penguins and Pals as a side project while I focused on helping my organizational clients embed the same values and behaviors essential to inclusive culture.  Being resistant to being branded too much as a “mom” or “parenting expert”, I declined related media opportunities because I wanted to be seen more so as a high-power thought leader who works with prestigious clients like Intel, American Express, Marsh & McLennan, etc.  So, even though there was clearly an audience thirsty to hear more about my “parenting” perspectives on how to help children develop into successful global citizens, I was concerned about diluting my brand even though being a parent is very much part of my whole and authentic self.  While I wasn’t inauthentic, I guess I didn’t fully trust that the universe was ready for ALL of me at one time. 

Frankly, it’s been a bit of a struggle – quite an emotional tug of war to “pick my horse”, particularly since PO-LING POWER focuses on prioritization. Should I continue my focus on organizations/adults or go down the path of helping to instill these same social emotional behaviors in children? Which path best reflects the authentic Betty Ng?  How do I decide?

In fact, the right decisions often become clear when you act rather than just think. So, we launched the Persevering Penguins and Pals book series and threw caution to the wind.  Since our launch, the positive response to these books written and illustrated by my children and their cousin has certainly exceeded our expectations – as both books have already made the Amazon bestseller list for their category!  With endorsements from respected educators like Carmen Fariña, former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, it is clear that we have laid the foundation for important social emotional learning grounded in diversity and inclusion – for kids by kids. Our recent discussions with educators who want to integrate The Persevering Penguins and Pals into their curriculum have strengthened our conviction for what we’ve developed. 

So, does this mean that I should focus on the children’s angle and put my organizational/adult work on the back burner?  Is that the horse I should pick?  Admittedly, that’s how I was leaning until I met this week with a community based organization that runs over a dozen early childhood programs.

“We love everything your children’s books are teaching.  We also need to ensure though that our staff and teachers role model this same PO-LING behavior… not just read the books and teach curriculum,” said the director.  At that moment, it became clear to me that everything that I have developed for organizations and adults could be applied to educational institutions and organizations that would implement our program to help children become successful global citizens.  After all, it’s adults who teach children and need to practice what they preach to be effective teachers!  It was then that I realized that I could effectively blend both my organizational/adult work with building more social emotional learning resources for children.

So, what is my horse? I pick my full authentic horse as a builder of inclusive culture – a professional woman of color, thought-leader, educator, and mom.  I pick the PO-LING principles as the foundation for social emotional learning grounded in diversity and inclusion – behaviors that we should all role model regardless of our age. 

I am now at the beginning of my journey blending my organizational/adult work with providing important social emotional learning resources for children.  One thing is clear though, we are all children at heart and want to learn in a fun way!  So stay tuned for more!