I’m a processor of information. I’m an observer of human behavior. I’m curious about perspectives that are different from my own. I’m vigilant about creating welcoming and inclusive environments both personally and professionally. I’m comfortable and confident in my own skin. I exhibit the traits of a leader.
Some of these traits have been learned and honed over time. Others seem hardwired into who I am. All of them were tested in late 2016 (yes, I’m referring to the election) and they likely will continue to be in the days, months, and years to come in new and unexpected ways. I’m ready.
For me, part of being ready means trying new things. So, before we go any further, I feel a disclaimer is in order. I consider myself to be a social liberal and a moderate fiscal conservative. I share that: a) to be transparent; and b) because I hope that you, the reader, can move beyond my political “labels” to hear the new (at least for me) ideas I’m suggesting we consider. These new ideas should not be viewed as a message about political advocacy, but rather as a possible road map for continuing to build bridges in our workplaces.
For anyone who knows or has worked with me, you’ve probably heard me be critical of some trends in the D&I field. I’ve been pretty consistent in my belief that as D&I Practitioners and Champions:
- We have to stop repackaging yesterday’s solutions and calling them new
- We can’t say we stand for and promote inclusion, but only include people who think like us in the conversation
- We have to do more than tell people what to do—we have to move into a more facilitative role that bridges understanding between divergent views and delivers sustainable, strategic action plans
- We must challenge traditional norms if we are to thrive in a dynamically changing world, especially in the world of work.
The election and the new administration’s actions didn’t create my views, but they sure did sharpen and accelerate my thinking.
In a world of urban or rural, red or blue, filled with segregated neighborhoods and denominations, where people tend to choose media outlets and news based on what they believe to be true, and where many choose their acquaintances by how aligned they are to their own beliefs, the workplace continues to be one of the few places where we are forced to interact across lines of difference. I mean eye-to-eye, toe-to-toe interactions, not the Facebook-feed level of interactions.
So in this time of established “camps” and divisiveness, I believe we should once again look for opportunities in the workplace to help influence our current social landscape. After all, it’s been in the workplace that we’ve concentrated our work under the broad heading of Diversity & Inclusion. And while I’m critical of the field of D&I and think we can do more, I’m proud of the strides that have been made for the veterans, women, people of color, people with disabilities, folks of all ages and generations, and the LGBT. Our ability to elevate discussions and expose inequalities appears to be producing both organizational and personal benefits.
Here comes the new part. It might be time to expand our discussions to politics and religion. I know these typically have been taboo and the third rails of D&I work. How often have we heard the mantra of “religion and politics don’t mix at work”? I can’t help but question how well that approach is working for us. Why did the mantra even come about? Because the discussions are tough—sure. Hard to navigate—absolutely. But we’ve not been afraid of tough and difficult discussions in D&I in other areas, so why these? Again, the workplace—because it is where we are forced to interact with each other so closely—may be an appropriate place for us to facilitate dialogue, understanding, and appreciation for one another, even in these controversial areas. Of course, doing so constructively and productively is the challenge. I’m up for that challenge, or at least, I’m willing to give it a try.
What could this new discussion look like? It would be truly inclusive—it wouldn’t just include those of us who are more liberal-minded, those of us who are acutely sensitive to other cultures and races, genders, and orientations. It might include people whose beliefs and/or opinions seem to run counter to the principles of D&I work. Yes, perhaps it is time to more purposefully include and value the white, conservative, straight, able-bodied, Christian men and women at our D&I table. There, I said it. Not to play into stereotypes or imply that that demographic is the only one we’ve really not been inclusive of, but to illustrate that I truly believe that by reaching out to and inviting everyone to the table, we’ll be able to have frank, honest conversations that move our workplaces and our societies forward.
With this new environment comes an opportunity to learn from one another. We welcome your ideas, input, and stories about your workplace experiences on this front. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I believe that regardless of our religious or political affiliation, socio-economic status, education, or other demographic label, we ALL fundamentally want to be and feel included. In the spirit of inclusion, let’s move forward together in 2017.