If You Don’t See Someone, Say Something And Help Them Belong (Part 2)
In this ongoing series, I present the uncomfortable conversation of why racial and gender groups are under-represented within the high technology sector and how to help make space.
Diversity vs Inclusion vs Belonging
Individuals will read (and hopefully share) this article. But this article’s subject, like the statistical data it presents, ignores individuality, focusing instead on cultural and racial groups — not the individuals who comprise these groups.
This distinction between the group and the individuals that create the group is analogous to the distinction between diversity, inclusion, and belonging. In How To Be An Anti-Racist, Kendi writes about the harm that occurs when we generalize any group based on its composite individuals.
No one individual could nor should represent the culture they identify or belong to. Hiring people who all look different is the “easy” way to implement diversity practices. True diversity comes into play when the group comprises different perspectives, experiences, and thoughts.
Inclusive solutions are often difficult to communicate, support, or implement. Any act of good intentions has the potential to introduce consequent exclusion. There needs to be highly focused, specific, almost individual conversations to address the desired inclusive action.
The company that I work for has a great track record for attracting and keeping talented individuals spanning the spectrum of color, race, faith, gender, and beliefs. They offer mandatory and voluntary classes, training, and group conversations on inclusion and unifying individuals. In one class, the instructors pointed out that if you are not being consciously inclusive, then you are being unconsciously exclusive.
There’s a popular phrase about diversity and inclusion on social media:
Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance.
This summary almost hits the mark. Almost. It misses Belonging.
Being asked to dance still harkens to the same have/have-not power struggle that we need to break through.
Diversity is hiring people who look, think, or have experiences different from the majority in the group. Inclusion is ensuring they have a voice. Belonging is listening to everyone.
To amend the popular phrase:
Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance. Belonging is being asked if you are enjoying the music — and changing the song if you don’t.
Be an Ally
How homogenous is your team, group, company? Look at the faces of the people in your next kick-off, status, or integration meetings. How many of these people do you know? What values do they represent?
If you find that you’re in the minority — be it in skin color, gender, faith, age, experience:
- Speak up — if you feel intimidated, fake it till you make it.
- Find a mentor,
- join (or start) a Business Resource Group,
- help your co-workers get to know you.
Conversely, if you find yourself in the majority,
- join and volunteer with one or two BRGs,
- listen, listen, listen.,
- Then do.
- Become an ally.
If you see a group under-represented — be it a partner team or some segment of your audience — correct it!
If you don’t see something (or someone), say something!
If I Am Not For Myself Who Will Be For Me?
A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a time of transformation for the 13-year-old who is becoming a man or woman in the eyes of the Torah. However, I found my eldest daughter’s Bat Mitzvah to be a transformative moment for myself. My daughter gave a speech about what it meant to her to become a modern woman.
I became overwhelmed with the thought of how many modern women I knew were still feeling marginalized in the workplace. And I felt a deep urge to protect my daughter from ever experiencing feeling minimized. This internal pressure of Tikkun Olam — to help others to thrive — led me to the Ladies in Technology Business Resource Group within my organization.
However, my overpowering urge to reach out and help make space kept butting into my self-conscious doubts that I don’t fit in and that the group would not really need my help. Even after talking with the Ladies in Technology leadership about my desire to help, my doubts had me convinced that I was going way outside my expected boundaries. Thoughts such as “Who are you to make a difference” or, “Just do your job and come home.”
Fortunately, I ignored that voice and got out of my own way.
If I Am Only For Myself, What Am I?
Doing Something comes in two sizes:
1) General or broad
2) Focused, specific, and individualized.
The General Approach
Allying with a Business Resource Groups are a great foray into helping groups of individuals — often in some form of a minority or who feel marginalized — “foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, practices, and objectives.”
Likewise, writing articles gives me a feeling of bringing awareness of my intentions and actions to use my privilege and influence to make space for others.
The general approach is much easier than the focused individual conversations. However, individual conversations are a more meaningful way to making space and helping our co-workers feel like they belong.
Broadly communicating is a single action that can affect many people at once. But it is a less potent than the individual conversations, the one-on-ones, the work to find our commonalities.
Regardless of who we are, our circumstances of race, gender, socio-economic advantage, title or position, we each as individuals struggle with their own sets self-conscious identities. A person in a position of authority may struggle with or have overcome a bout of imposter syndrome. Or maybe someone you feel who has more advantage than you is paying down crippling credit card debt. Or struggles with maintaining their messy house.
None of these are things to be ashamed of even though most people would not likely share these details about themselves. However, it is in these doubts, these self-perceptions of lacking that can form the bond of sameness.
If Not Now, When?
I am still self-conscious of every article I share, every conversation I have on making space. I am convinced that this is the conversation that will offend a higher-up, that I am coming off pretentious.
But if I don’t stand up and say something, if I don’t reach out to someone searching for an encouraging colleague, an opportunity to grow, then who else will?
And if not now, when?