In my 30 years of industry experience, the sweeping movement of diversity and inclusion (D&I) within corporate American culture seems to have seriously take hold just a few years ago. Company policies, corporate cultures, and leader/individual awareness are all moving in the right direction, and with accelerating momentum. That’s great news, even though there are indicators that it is not moving fast enough. There’s more work for all of us to do!
Like you, I experience D&I from the chair in which I sit. Importantly, my perception and interpretation of D&I is shaped by life experience and my inner script (i.e., the stories I tell myself) based on who I am in terms of age, gender, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, personality, upbringing, and so on. It’s the same for you. I experience the world, and D&I, as a white female squarely between Baby Boom and Gen X.
On the job as leaders and individual contributors, most of us (self included) are truly open and accepting of people who are different from us. I don’t focus on any of those physical attributes or stereotypes when it comes to a sense of belonging in the workplace (or at home, for that matter). Most of us are much more interested in appreciating what people believe, understanding how they think, observing what they do, and how that translates into business results and success in life. And still, with our collective-conscious mindset, corporate policies and initiatives, and even standard-setting legislation and regulation, our brains are still wired to surround ourselves with people just like us.
So here’s my question. If we’re all generally on the same page, then why is it taking so long to move American corporate culture to a place of equality and acceptance where we no longer even need D&I awareness, training, programs and processes?
What’s all this got to do with Uber? I didn’t expect this be a lesson in D&I. This was about expanding my comfort zone through experience, mostly because I was afraid to do it. Yes, folks, I was an Uber driver for two hours! I had three customers for a total of $25. After taxes, gas and car maintenance, I was probably in the hole by about ten bucks. We later looked it up: the average Uber driver makes only $7/hour. Tip your Uber drivers, people!
Don’t quote me, because there’s a fairly extensive document to which you agree when you register as a driver. It includes rules you would expect – for example, drivers are:
- not allowed to discriminate
- required to accept service animals
- expected to take people where they’re going
There’s a lot more, and it all makes total sense. I didn’t think of it before, but the rules and processes are in place to support D&I as they are anti-discriminatory in nature. As it should be, of course, but I also think D&I is much bigger than managing or mitigating discrimination. Doesn’t D&I go beyond external qualities by including those who are just…different? Isn’t D&I ultimately about acceptance? unity? oneness?
So if the entire point of being an Uber driver was to get uncomfortable getting comfortable, it was epically successful!
- I experienced fear picking up strangers who are different from me e.g., gender, non-white, younger/older, and different work backgrounds. But I also moved through that fear with conversation and connection – my passengers and I were more similar than different after all. I suppose that is the fundamental truth of D&I.
- I quickly established a two-way trust highway (no pun), if only to assuage my own insecurity and trust issues. Implicit in the Uber transaction, passengers have to trust their drivers, and drivers must trust their passengers in order for the model to work. Much like corporate D&I – creating a culture of belonging is a trust issue and it is as much about leaders as it is about individual employees. Goes both ways.
- I ventured into parts of town that were unfamiliar. It wasn’t dangerous, just different. And uncomfortable. Unfamiliar territory got a little more familiar after a few circles finding my way.
So what’s the bottom line? I believe most of us have our heads and hearts in the right place when it comes to corporate D&I. But it’s also way too easy to default to our current brain patterns, thereby making biased choices in favor of likeness. In order for the corporate D&I movement to really take hold, it’ll take everyone at all levels to consciously do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable getting comfortable.
Ideas to try:
- As a manager, make sure you have no gender-based compensation disparity issues. If you do, fix it! In performance reviews and calibrations, check yourself to make sure that the “how” factors are equally evaluated across all types of associates.
- Explore a business resource group that isn’t you: meaning, attend a veteran’s meeting if you’re not a vet; check out a women’s forum if you’re a man; reach out to Hispanic or Black network groups if you’re White…
- When new hires come on board, make an conscious effort to include and accept them, even though they are likely different from the rest of the team simply by virtue of coming from the outside.
- Run your own experiment for the experience of it: attend a different church just to see what it’s like; try a restaurant in a part of town you’d normally never venture into; engage someone in conversation who you’d normally avoid.
- Sign up to be an Uber driver for a few hours.
Drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you. And always, let me know how I can help.