Embracing Diversity, Fostering Change
Benjamin Rue is the Program Coordinator for The Forum on Workplace Inclusion at Augsburg University. Photo by Mike Hnida
For 33 years, The Forum on Workplace Inclusion has been a proud, beloved Twin Cities institution, a learning and development organization that emphasizes the importance of fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. As The Forum’s Program Coordinator, Benjamin Rue knows just how important The Forum’s mission is.
“Our mission is to engage people, advance ideas, and ignite change,” said Rue. “We do our work through convening people and curating the best DEI content from around the world. We host monthly webinars, have our own podcast, and—currently virtual—meetings, as well as an extensive archive of articles, videos, and other resources on our website.”
Having been housed in multiple universities and colleges over the years, The Forum moved into its current home of Augsburg University in July 2019, which Rue said shared The Forum’s passion for social activism and progressive values.
“I started with The Forum as a contractor in 2016 before joining as the Program Coordinator full time in 2017,” said Rue. “As the Program Coordinator, I am involved in several aspects of The Forum; however, I predominantly coordinate and manage our educational programs. The largest aspect of my role is working very closely with our Executive Director and Program Committee on the selection, management, and execution of the programming during our flagship conference, which consists of 90-plus workshops of varying lengths and over 200 presenters from around the world over the three day conference.”
The annual spring conference is the largest of its kind in the country, bringing in over 1,600 people from across the United States and the world at large.
“Our audience consists of about half human resource and diversity professionals and half people working in all other workplace functions, especially employee resource group members,” said Rue. “It should be noted that although our focus is on the workplace, what happens in society at large is vital to every aspect of our work. People don’t work in a vacuum: what affects them at home affects them at work. So, all of society’s issues are our issues. That could not be more true today.”
A University of Minnesota alumnus, Rue previously worked at Events by Lady K and did diversity and inclusion training and events with Amy Batiste of the Creative Catalysts before joining The Forum. Rue, who also manages The Forum’s monthly webinar and newly launched Diversity Insights Digital Presentation series, said that The Forum is a learning organization first and foremost.
“The Forum is in contact with hundreds of corporate leaders and DEI educators and consultants with experience in all aspects of DEI,” he said. “We rely on their knowledge and expertise to craft informative and co-creative learning spaces, which we package to create our events and achieve our learning outcomes. We work with government, healthcare, higher education, legal, and nonprofit institutions around the country and the world. In every case, we are working to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace and world.”
On a personal level, Rue was forthcoming as to why The Forum’s mission is so essential.
“As a Queer Black man and refugee, this work is extremely important to my own personal prosperity and survival,” he said. “Especially in the United States. I think the educational work The Forum does is extremely important for everyone in the workplace regardless of age, race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation and what has happened recently with COVID-19 and recently with George Floyd has emphasized that.”
“In recent weeks, I have spent a great deal of time explaining [how] things like Implicit Bias and its effects inside and outside of the workplace has led to the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Brown communities and the current state of law enforcement in America,” Rue continued. “Well-meaning people are eager to learn how they can be allies and help improve working and living conditions for their BIPOC neighbors, and thankfully The Forum provides those educational resources.”
Rue stated that The Forum is constantly working on new initiatives and programs to get DEI education into the workplace.
“In response to COVID-19, we expanded our already-robust webinar and podcast series to include special mini-series on topics including Responding Inclusively to COVID-19, and Leading Inclusively in this new Virtual Era,” said Rue. “We’ve also re-formatted and expanded what was our quarterly in-person ticketed breakfast event to a free (with suggested donation) virtual event in order to make it more accessible and the content more relevant.”
In regards to resources The Forum offers specifically regarding the expansion of LGBTQ and BIPOC voices in the workplace, Rue said that they have presented several webinars and podcasts regarding BIPOC voices in the work world, including a recent April webinar on white fragility in the workplace.
“We have been more focused on race in recent years; however, we recognize that there is a major opportunity to expand LGBTQ voices, especially when it comes to the intersectionality of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity/expression,” said Rue. “We are always open to proposals from those who would like to help us expand those voices.”
Rue said that those looking to help assist The Forum in their mission can start by participating and sharing The Forum’s work.
“If you like a podcast, text it to a friend or colleague, post it on your feed!” said Rue. “Did you attend a webinar and like it, or do you see a webinar coming up that sounds interesting? Share it! Word-of-mouth is still the main way The Forum grows. Most of our programming is free; however, if your readers would like to make a donation they can do so on our website.”
To learn more about The Forum on Workplace Inclusion, discover their webinars and podcasts, or to donate, visit forumworkplaceinclusion.org.