We should succeed because of our differences, not despite them.
Jermaine was excited about his new job. But on his first day he was told to take down his blog on personal experiences with race because his manager had seen it and disapproved. Jermaine’s boss wanted his color, but not the lessons that came with it.
Diversity is a range of human differences, and inclusion is bringing those differences to the table. Studies have published the benefits, which include creativity and innovation, employee retention and a 19 percent increase in profitability.
We want to avoid a culture of sameness by supporting diversity of experiences. Without it, we would never know about a Muslim who feared being seen as “backwards” when he doesn’t drink at work events, a gender nonconforming person who has to constantly argue about pronouns or a disabled person who is never asked about their relationship status because of the assumption that they aren’t in one.
To really create change together, we must challenge systems as well as ourselves.
When we shift from a celebration of music, food and dress toward deeper conversations about personal upbringing, views on social justice and barriers to success, we can finally tap into people’s lived experiences/life curriculum.
Organizations can begin by having inclusion as part of their mission statement.
They should then establish a culture of respect, where people are appreciated for their differences; a culture of safe spaces, where people feel comfortable sharing their differences; and a culture of leadership vulnerability, based on acknowledging privilege and building trust.
This should be supported by actually asking employees if they feel included.
In her book, “The Authenticity Principle,” Ritu Bhasin talks about shifting from our performing self to our authentic self. Putting in self-work will identify our values informed by our history, background and culture. These experiences are vital for challenging monoliths and supporting complexity.
As Ritu explains, we don’t have to always bring our entire authentic selves to work, but we should be strategic with it. These adjustments can be draining, but may also lead to big changes over time.
Authenticity can come through our support or silence toward ideas, from sharing details of what we do in our free time, and from telling colleagues about our charitable commitments.
We can also introduce counter narratives, something I do when I read my son books and tweak the names of the characters to introduce him to diversity he wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.
Choice is a privilege
Jermaine ended up killing his blog, saying that, “being myself was a privilege I could not afford.” He was right in saying that the reason one person may like him could be the same reason that someone else does not.
Ultimately workplaces are better for our differences, yet those differences will not be supported in their own right.