Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates was born in Nigeria, raised in Queens, N.Y., and spent two years teaching English in Japan. But it’s for her work promoting diversity inside one of Southwest Florida’s largest companies that Oloruntola-Coates is a FACE Award for education.
As supervisor of diversity and language services for Lee Memorial Health System, Oloruntola-Coates’ position is an all-encompassing mission of staff education, cultural competency, interpretation and translation services, community outreach and resolving issues of intolerance inside the 9,000-employee health system.
“What I think she has is a passion for doing what’s right,” Kristy Rigot, Oloruntola-Coates’ coworker at Lee Memorial, says. “She demonstrates the epitome of professionalism. When she gets in front of an audience, she has an energetic style and she listens well. When she’s having an intervention, she is proactive. She fosters an environment that’s more communicative.”
Oloruntola-Coates credits much of her expertise in relating to different cultures to her time spent teaching English in the tiny, rural village of Wani, Japan. There, she helped insert a slice of different traditions including Easter egg hunts, Christmas, French toast and African fashion shows.
“Because of my background, to me diversity is very broad,” Oloruntola-Coates says. “When I teach I say diversity has many forms. My mother was an identical twin, but she was completely different. It didn’t mean their dreams were the same.”
To facilitate the differing dreams of the employees at Lee Memorial, Oloruntola-Coates designs the system’s diversity education curriculum and is the hospital’s bridge to Southwest Florida’s minority communities.
But no matter how preventive she hopes to be in workplace clashes, the numerous and disparate collection of employees at Lee Memorial sometimes fosters conflict. It is Oloruntola-Coates’ job to teach understanding in these sometimes bitter encounters.
“You have to identify the problem. Is it racial? Ethnic? Personality? Don’t be accusatory. That shuts people out and they can’t do their job,” she says. “Approach from [the point of view of] understanding.”
Again, Oloruntola-Coates points to her time in Japan, where she was the first black woman many of the villagers ever met. There, education could only take place when the two parties talked about their differences. “They were hesitant, they didn’t know how they were going to respond,” she says. “You have to turn the pages to know what’s in the book. We live through the filters of our knowledge. We have to expand our filters.”