Posts Tagged Diversity of thought
My daughter commented once that I define myself by my career. That surprised me. I grew up in a man’s world, had no concept of “career” and have always been primarily impassioned by my family and closest friends, followed by music and writing. My number one concern every day was the well-being of my daughters. As a divorced mom, I juggled a lot of roles. This is not to say that my daughter’s dad was absent in their lives. But in our day-to-day routines, I was both mother and father, the disciplinarian one minute and the comforter for the same child the next. Work was something I did – well, because I had to work to pay bills. In fact, I often think I didn’t choose my career. My career chose me.
I never really saw myself as a manager. My role model for work was more like my dad – a laborer who did the best he could every day in the beam yards of Bethlehem Steel. My work ethic, my curiosity, my yearning to solve and explain the incomprehensible to others – these are the things that drove me. My appointment to a leadership position was not expected. I had mentors (unknown to me at the time) who recognized my capabilities, helped me to groom my skills and who then sponsored me to management. I am eternally grateful to those men. (And – yes, they were men.)
And I have loved what I do every day at work as a manager – because I enjoy engaging with a team; I love hearing their viewpoints, listening to their ideas, learning what they know that I don’t know and piecing together disparate and new concepts into solutions. I love the collaboration. And because I care about my team, about my clients, I worked long hours while my daughters were growing up; I was available 24×7 if needed, and I have had the (unexpectedly) best work experience – one I could never have imagined as a young girl growing up the daughter of an immigrant mother and 1st generation father.
And, so, in some ways, yes my career did come to define me. The difference is this: I don’t define myself by my career. I am more than what anyone sees when they see me thru their lens. I can’t be put into a box all nicely, neatly categorized and fitting tidily into one file folder – either by my children, my friends, my colleagues, or my managers. And there’s the conundrum. When my children look at me, they evaluate me by the actions and words they see in their isolated interactions with me. They don’t understand what shaped those words and actions – where my values came from – how I grew up or what motivates me.
The problem is no different in the workplace – except that in the workplace we have a responsibility to understand and accept these nuances between each other. How difficult is that when we don’t have the same kinds of experiences or the ability to know what someone else went through on their journey to today?
When I look around at leaders who came before me, they are mostly – not all – white males that had different parents, different experiences, different education, different opportunities than I did. They have different home life experiences today than I have today. And their paths to success are paths I could not follow. (Pack up my family and move to a foreign country? Not in my realm of possibilities while raising two daughters.) And I think that’s where women and other minorities may have trouble crashing through the glass ceiling.
What I bring to the workplace is unique. And I think it’s incumbent upon me to help leaders understand – in somewhat the way I would help my children understand – what makes me different and why my differences make me stronger.
Let’s talk. You talk. I’ll listen. I’ll talk. You listen.
Don’t judge me by what you expect. And I promise the same to you.
We have come so far in this country in the spirit of diversity. But it really is time to confront the final frontier — that is, not just an acceptance of, but an appreciation for diversity of thought, character, leadership styles and work styles. There’s more than one way to create a fine bottle of wine. And there’s more than one path to leadership. Make a change. Let it start with us.
To my daughters: Hey, for all the things I have done in life, you are the best whine (er, that is, WINE) I have created.
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.