In Dr. Janice Presser’s blog that I posted yesterday, she said “I think we’re looking at the wrong kind of diversity.”
She is right.
Diversity is more than meeting quotas. Diversity is more than gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. And diversity does not mean that you have to agree with the other person’s point of view, speak their language, or accept their lifestyle. It does mean that we have to be open to seeing the possibilities in every person we encounter. It does mean that we need to make room in the workplace for people who have differet values than ourselves. It does mean we have to realize that not everyone we work with had the same parenting, education, background or experiences that we have had. It does mean that we should embrace the fact that women are, indeed, very often different from men – just as my colleagues from India are very different from my colleagues who were born and raised in the United States. And it does mean that we have to embrace the fact that the differences between each of us are vital to a successful organization.
That means we have to work harder within these differences instead of attempting to press everyone into one common cookie-cutter mold.
I and many others (including The Washington Post) wrote about Max Schireson, the chief executive of database company MongoDB, who stepped down to a less demanding position in the company in order to have more time for his family. In The Washington Post’s column On Leadership, Jena McGregor writes: “Perhaps the best part of the blog post is Schireson’s public recognition of the double standards and differing expectations that male and female executives face. He acknowledges that while the press often asks female CEOs (GM’s Mary Barra, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi) how they do it all, no one’s ever asked him a similar question.”
The fact remains that we have different expectations for men and for women in the workplace. This extends to the hours we work to the leadership positions we hold, to how we speak, and how we manage a team. Personally, I have received feedback (through third parties) regarding my communications style – both what I say and how I say it. The reality is that while part of my communication style is deeply embedded in who I am, I learned my my work communication style at the foot of male managers. And so, after several years of receiving the same feedback, I finally said to my manager, “Please give me specific examples. The next time you hear me say something wrong, pull me aside immediately after and help me – tell me what I did wrong – because I think I say the same things you would have said.” That made a lightbulb go on for my manager and for me.
I realized that sometimes I judge the delivery of messages too. And really, as leaders we need to be looking beneath the delivery of the message to the nugget of value in what is being said. Communication is a two way street: Speaker and Receiver. Both parties put their own “spin” on the message being delivered. Both parties bring different backgrounds, parenting, experiences and knoweldge to a conversation. In a diverse workforce, we strive to hear it all.
And so, I encourage us, as individuals and as leaders, to listen more than speak, to attempt to understand the differences and why they exist, to ask questions for clarity and to make no assumptions about how the message was delivered or even about what was said. Hold back your immediate, innate reactions. Look deeper for insight and allow yourself time to process the diversity of thought.