There are numerous articles, blogs and discussions about the lack of diversity in leadership roles, with specific emphasis on women, people of color and LGBTQ persons. You would think, with such a strong focus on this lack and a perceived concern that something needs to change, there would be more change. So, why are these discussions continuing to be had at the corporate executive level, within the legal, the tech and non-profits industries, and within education, government and associations everywhere? Maybe there is too much focus on “them” doing something different. Could it be that there is only a cursory acceptance of understanding the impact of bias (conscious and unconscious)? Could more personal commitment and action to take responsibility to be part of the solution make a difference, instead of inaction and remaining part of the problem?
I contend that all three of these factors play an important part. It is crucial to take personal responsibility to make change happen. As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Another quote attributed to Einstein, that makes an impression is, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Which approach do you prefer?
Effective and sustainable change for creating an inclusive environment requires action and movement. The status quo will not get you where you need to be. So, let’s examine some myths (“traditional stories”) that either stop or slow progress in advancing diversity and inclusion, and actions you can take to be a part of the solution.
Myth #1: This is our model – the way we have always done things and we are successful.
Reality Check: This translates into we either don’t know how to change or we don’t want to change the way we operate. So, my question is, how is that working for you? It may work in some ways, but a closer look at the ability to attract, develop, retain and advance top talent in your industry is impacted. Competition is strong and being an employer of choice is related to having a culture of inclusivity and equitable opportunity. Numerous studies and articles have been published showing the importance and impact of diversity and why it matters, such as a Forbes magazine article cites research by McKinsey & Company, Catalyst and Deloitte. Consider exploring the risk factor and the consequence factor to determine what is best for your organization. Even if you are risk averse, what are the consequences of remaining with the status quo, and what are the consequences of working toward more inclusivity?
Myth #2: Unconscious Bias “training” does not work.
Reality check: Everybody has biases, and biases have an impact on decisions that directly advance or stagnate progress in creating change. Many people acknowledge that they have unconscious bias and conscious bias. However, many more choose not to recognize that bias exists within themselves, what they are and how they impact everything, and especially the organization and their own careers. Another reality check is that unconscious bias training does not do anything IF it is done as a “check the box” endeavor and there is no individual, personal responsibility to take the information and vigilantly become aware of your biases and the decisions you make based on those biases that impact others and you. Absolute awareness on an individual basis is important for everyone at every level of the organization. Offering unconscious bias classes is a waste of time ONLY IF all you do is say, “I’ve had that class” and walk away and do nothing. The quality of the class is extremely important but the true onus lies on the responsibility of the individuals to get clarity of what their biases are and the impact on their beliefs, decisions and actions. Without that, people do not create equitable systems, and once again, you are stuck with the status quo. I understand people don’t automatically change just because they become aware of a bias if they don’t want to change that belief and behavior. However, if within the organization, the expectation is to support teamwork, collegiality, organizational goals and objectives that provide a more equitable and inclusive environment, then it may require “parking” a belief to contribute to an environment where everyone will have the opportunity to succeed.
An effective workshop on bias is one where participants are comfortable exploring something that has been “scary” to look at, and come away feeling curious and eager to explore; where they have “ah ha” experiences and do not walk out feeling bad about themselves. I see this happen in my workshops all the time. I have witnessed both responses: the “check the box” and the taking of personal responsibility and accountability. Individuals in the organizations that are committed to their inclusivity take on the latter. Another important consideration is, if you don’t think this pertains to you because you are not a top decision maker, then read on to examine the next myth on the list.
Myth #3: Leadership development and effectiveness is for top leaders – it is their responsibility.
Reality check: Leadership effectiveness is a two-way street. It is the personal task of those named as organizational leaders, as well as the responsibility of those they lead. As stated by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander in their bestselling book, The Art of Possibility, you can “lead from any chair.” True success requires taking charge of your career and being a full contributor. Yes, the organization needs to be aware and examine policies, procedures and practices (systems) and the inclusiveness of its culture, but the individuals make up the culture and directly affect inclusion and performance. The organization benefits in countless ways when those in leadership positions work on how they show up every day. Engagement, motivation, innovation are direct byproducts of effective leadership that contribute to performance excellence. But don’t think for a minute that it is only up to a few in the designated positions to make the difference. Everyone needs to step-up and see how they are contributing and effectively leading their own career.
The partnership between an organization and the individuals is critical for success. All too often, one decides in advance how someone will respond or interact in a situation, which closes off potential. How can you really see someone if you have already decided how they will be? This is directly related to having biases about others and ourselves. I have seen many coaching clients on the edge of missing opportunities because of blame and judgment of self and others. Blame has no place in leadership. A good rule of thumb is to challenge yourself when you hear yourself think or say, “if only they; if only it; if only I; if only he; if only she, etc.” By doing so, you maintain your opportunity to effect change, growth and more productive outcomes. If you are not part of the solution, you are contributing to the problem.
Myth #4: Coaching is for behavior and performance issues.
Reality check: Coaching is to help successful professionals be more effective and more successful. This includes those in leadership positions, aspiring leaders and everyone leading their own career.
I invite you to look at how these long-held stories influence you and your organization. Determine how you can be a contributor to making a difference one person at a time.