When I first got involved with inclusion and diversity (I&D) initiatives last year, it was a matter of chance. I, like a lot of people I talk to, was ready to just check the box for I&D. To be honest, what I originally understood about I&D just didn’t draw me in.
It was only after I got involved in I&D discussions and initiatives that I realized what an essential personal and corporate business tool it is, from a multitude of perspectives. I realized that it didn’t matter who talked about I&D in what way (a rose by any other name, as it were). Anyone who jumped into I&D with an open mind would gain something from it, whatever their reasons or motivation, as it is specifically designed to help drive knowledge.
I&D is a relatively new kid on the corporate block, moving into the neighborhood because of a very real 21st century business need. But as the new kid, no one is yet really sure what to make of it, even though it is clearly brimming with power and potential.
Here’s my take on I&D, based on the relationship I have so far developed with the new kid:
It’s not about minorities, though minorities play a major role.
It’s not about allies, even if allies are crucial to the success of I&D.
It’s not about “haves” and “have nots,” even though some have and some have not.
It is about providing a means for diverse people to work with an unobstructed flow of vital business knowledge.
I&D empowers us to connect with others whom we may not have otherwise met or collaborated with in the workplace so we can gain knowledge that is vital, necessary, and cannot otherwise be gained on our own. Though I&D does provide a means for people of like minds to join together, an “inclusion network” is the antithesis of a club. It offers a smorgasbord of new ideas, untapped potential, and different perspectives. It is for anyone who can’t currently find the answers they need, who are tired of the same-old, same-old, or who are longing to learn and grow.
Just as importantly, I&D enables us to gain, process, and direct required knowledge into all we do. This improves personal business practices and our organizations’ bottom lines simply by keeping needed knowledge flowing in all directions, when and as needed. In turn, it helps keep workplaces and, consequently, communities and society functioning most effectively.
And though I&D may appear on the outside to be a feel-good, do the right thing initiative to restore equity and balance in groups of downtrodden, that’s just its outer shell. Deep within, like the big, juicy part of an orange resting within a thin peel, is what is most important and delicious about I&D: a means to unleash everyone’s “people” potential and keep everyone’s knowledge flowing, no matter whether “we” or “they” are the minority, the majority, mainstream or out of stream.
This is what empowers us to innovate, communicate, brainstorm, envision, impact, sell, build, in ways we could never have done alone.
Unleashing Our Personal Power by Unblocking Ourselves
The only difference between the 20th century “haves” and “have nots” in a 21st century workplace is how we need to open the door. The “haves” need to open the door by stopping themselves from holding it shut. And the “have nots” need to be ready at times to gently, and at times more forcefully, pry the door open.
When a door swings wide open, it doesn’t matter which side of the door we’re standing on. The power is unleashed for everyone standing near the door, on either side, ready to use as each of us sees fit. And it’s unleashed for every person who connects with us on the knowledge highways we travel.
When I got involved in I&D, I found workplace power that I didn’t even know I was missing, in myself and my business practices. I found ways to have my voice heard, my point of view considered, added to the workplace, only because I realized from someone else’s perspective what I needed to do to bring my voice to bear.
I am convinced that whether…
we’re in it to win it, to compete, to care, to share, to build, to sustain, to envision…
we’re in finance, design, legal, engineering, supplies, marketing or sales…
and we have or have not…
I&D has something extremely valuable to everyone. It has rainbows and cotton candy, and a really sharp business edge, with a whole lot of other stuff in between.
I was listening to someone talk on NPR the other day about I&D in their workplace. This woman summed up what I also see as the main roadblock limiting I&D growth today: all the truly amazing structures were in place, ready to go and partially implemented, as a result of what I would call the 20th century powerful people in her organization wielding their power toward I&D. But those same people were not always willing to relinquish or share power in the ways needed in the 21st century. So I&D could not find its way into every corner of her organization – only the places where select doors were opened.
Even with all we’ve achieved with I&D thus far, it’s only a drop in the bucket compared to the latent potential not yet unleashed because of select closed doors. Some people may be consciously avoiding I&D, closing doors for their own reasons, just like I had my own reasons for not initially jumping into I&D. But we may also be closing doors consciously and unconsciously with outdated business habits.
Many of us aren’t even aware that we are the ones pressing I&D doors closed, or that it’s up to us to help pry open the closed doors we see. We may not be relinquishing power toward I&D or exerting power toward it only because of our own ground-in business habits around amassing and wielding business power. These are business habits that don’t take I&D into account, simply because I&D didn’t live on the corporate block when our power-based business habits were formed.
If we truly want to succeed given the tremendous power I&D can give us, we must find ways to reinvent our business view of amassing and wielding power. Otherwise, our virtual knowledge-based power plant will be humming with fresh, new power only in some aspects of our organization and capped off in others where latent, unrealized potential is still waiting to be unleashed.
What It Really Means to “Be Real, Be You”
One of the simplest ways I see to begin rooting out our outdated business habits is with the scrutiny, reduction and elimination of what I call personal jargon.
We need to have jargony words like “stories” and “epics” and “PI”, or whatever jargon is in our area of work expertise to communicate together about what we’re working on more easily and efficiently. It helps us understand each other quickly, without having to explain ourselves each time we meet. And to be fair, we need some personal jargon too – to ease interpersonal communication.
But personal jargon can become a knowledge door closer, reducing – even eliminating – the essential workplace communications that spread vital knowledge.
I, for one, have found one common personal jargon phrase unconsciously and consciously used of late, to be quite insidious when it comes to closing I&D doors: “thanks for sharing.” In my view, this phrase is a conscious or unconscious means to deflect input that we don’t fully understand or want – even though it may be vital to our own success.
I intend to root out “thanks for sharing” from my personal business vocabulary as part of my commitment to I&D and instead take the time to formulate a “Be Real, Be Me” response to replace it (“Be Real, Be You” is personal jargon that is often a door opener. “Thanks for Sharing,” not so much).
As I see it, the rewards of this endeavor will be twofold.
First, I get to add more of what makes me diverse into the workplace, leaving less latent knowledge inside me. And second, it encourages me to be inclusive for the benefit of everyone.