Two (2) Diversity Lessons for 2022
Welcome to the Mindring, Career Ringers! In today’s post we’ll take a look at the topic of diversity and two important lessons you may want to work into your 2022 reflection and 2023 planning exercises. While it may not always be obvious, diversity impacts everyone.
Intrigued? Well read on my career-ringing friend…
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End of Year Diversity Thoughts
While diversity is a year-round topic for thought and action, I find the end of the year is a great time to consider how diversity has played a role in my life over the past year and how it may play a bigger role in the coming year. To me diversity seems more tangible this time of year as well. Think about all the different people and cultures across the world celebrating religious and secular traditions. In many ways we’re very different. For example, I offer the Tio de Nadal (Caga Tio) or “poop log” as a tradition I learned about just this year. The Catalan tradition of decorating, feeding, and beating presents from a decorated log is something new to me and I can safely say that in the 50+ holiday seasons I’ve celebrated, it is unique.
Despite different activities, most of the worldwide celebrations incorporate wishes of peace and good will, time with family and friends, enjoying food and beverages, and balancing fun and reverence. These traditions cross cultural and other boundaries and can bring us closer together.
As I was thinking about diversity lessons for 2022 I remembered following a US Supreme Court case that was held at the end of October involving the University of North Carolina (my home State) and diversity in their admission process. One thing that caught and kept my attention from the case were comments from Justice Clarence Thomas and his struggle with the word “diversity”. I think there are some key lessons from this story that we can all take into 2023.
“Diversity” – “I don’t have a clue what it means.”
The first statement that caught my attention was Justice Thomas’ saying that he had heard the word “diversity” used several times during the oral arguments and that “I don’t have a clue what it means”. He went on to say that “it seems to mean everything for everyone.” My first thought was that it’s not possible that a well educated person in his position of power could be struggling with the definition of diversity. For this, I give him the benefit of the doubt. On the second statement, I wondered if, beyond a basic definition, he is looking for a singular, definitive perspective (which is difficult to achieve with far less complex subjects). For a summary of the conversation, see the embedded 2 minute video from USA Today or this link to an article covering the topic on Business Insider.
Justice Thomas asked for a definition of diversity and the lawyer noted the definition used by both the Supreme Court and the University is defined as a “broadly diverse set of criteria that extends to all different backgrounds and perspectives and not solely limited to race.” The key words here, to me, are “background” and “perspective”. Hold those words in mind as you read on.
After hearing the definition and supporting statement on the educational benefits of diversity Justice Thomas went on to say that “I didn’t go to racially diverse schools, but there were educational benefits.” That statement really underscores the earlier comment of not “having a clue what (diversity) means.” My take away is that, from his perspective, since he has attained a level of “education” and “success” while attending racially non-diverse schools, that there are limited, if any, benefits for others.
This is where “background” and “perspective” come into the picture. We all experience life a little differently from each other even if we have the same cultural, environmental, and other backgrounds. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that because someone works for the same company, at the same level, has attained a similar level of “success”, etc. that they must have perspectives on career and life that align with yours. It’s also easy to find yourself wondering why others don’t see the “simple truth” of your perspective. I still remain a bit unclear on Justice Thomas’ comment about diversity meaning “everything for everyone”; however, I can see how the tangible benefits of diversity could mean something different to others or be described differently by others even if we agree on the basic, dictionary, definition.
The first step starts in communicating with each other (not past each other). If we take time to discuss our backgrounds (experiences) and perspectives on crucial subjects with others, we will not only find that we have some similarities but we may, through those discussions, gain a different perspective and a better understanding of each other. That understanding can mean the difference between working through challenges together versus blocking all progress (largely because of a lack of understanding).
It’s also possible that some of the obstacles, challenges, and hardships you faced and overcame, or worked-around, could be handled differently (perhaps even better) with knowledge of your perspective and tweaks to the processes.
Still confused about diversity and what it may mean for you?
You may be saying “But, Ron, I’m not a Supreme Court Justice making decisions on diversity. In fact, diversity doesn’t impact me in my current position.” In response, I ask you to pause and think about that statement. Did you really attain your “success” without any assistance? Are there no rules that others challenged and changed from which you receive benefit (or received benefits in the past)? While “not a Supreme Court Justice”, can you help someone on their path by trying to understand their background and perspectives?
It’s easy in this situation to go full Frank Sinatra and think “I did it my way” but in reality, the vast majority of us are walking a path that others cut for us. It’s not just that we’re heading in the same direction but also the kind of path that we’re moving on – some are trudging through knee deep mud while others are running on smooth, flat pavement. Which path are you on? If you’re on an easier path, how would you feel if you were on the more difficult one?
If diversity is so beneficial won’t it “just happen”? Earlier in my life I thought diversity was a passive activity and I thought as long as I treated everyone fairly (equally) then “diversity” would “just happen”. I was pretty comfortable in that mindset but I realized that my growth was being held back by my “comfort”. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?:
– I’m very comfortable with the people I work with or interact with outside work. I become very uncomfortable when someone new, different joins “my circle”.
– When I come up with ideas the people around me always support me. They never question my intent and I rarely, if ever, have to alter my ideas.
– That “new person” talked to me about their perspective on a topic and their ideas are a bit different from mine. This makes me uncomfortable – I think that person is going to make trouble.
It is easy to get caught in our own “bubble” – that’s where we’re most comfortable. Few challenges. Few discomforts. Known boundaries. As a human – what’s not to like? Oh. It’s also the smallest place in the universe, very easily “popped”, and provides no benefits to us beyond comfort and could suffocate us professionally and personally? Well – that doesn’t sound comfortable.
On my journey, I discovered that, instead of being passive, diversity is a very active process. Working with people to establish trust and a sincere desire to understand their background and perspective isn’t always an easy task. Despite the mountains of opinions voiced on the Internet, articles and videos don’t replace really getting to know someone – especially those you work with closely.
As I attained positions of responsibility impacting a greater number of people, I found an even more urgent need actively seek different perspectives rather than waiting for them to find me. Does that level of action sound uncomfortable or, perhaps, even a little scary? It was scary and uncomfortable for me as well but I found that the benefits of knowledge (perspective) far outweighed the risks (being vulnerable, imperfect). With great power comes great responsibility – where have I heard that before?
What can we learn about diversity from Justice Thomas’ statements?
So, what can we learn about diversity from Justice Thomas’ statements and how can we apply them as we think about 2023? I offer the following, two (2) take-aways:
1. Don’t assume that the people around you understand what diversity means – no matter their education, position, background, or other factors that might make you assume they understand (and perhaps even support) diversity efforts.
As we see in the Justice Thomas example, people at all levels of education and power can struggle with the meaning of diversity. Waiting on enlightenment is unlikely to produce results – you have to actively seek the understanding. Gaining an understanding will likely challenge your own perspective – that’s pretty uncomfortable to most people. Know that, on the other side of the discomfort, you’ll have a better understanding of the person (people) sharing their ideas.
Once you have an understanding of different perspectives, you may help others grow by sharing with them. In fact, your voice may be the only one that some people will hear from their “bubble” because you already have a trusting relationship with them. Will the conversations be difficult? Possibly. As with all conversations, be respectful, be understanding yourself, and accept that you may not walk away in agreement.
2. Watch out for the “It didn’t affect me” blinder.
If you find yourself thinking “oh, diversity is something that impacts others – I made it this far all on my own”, it may be worth checking your perspective and thinking about how others may have helped you in the past without you actively noticing. You may just find that you’ve been helped by a more diverse group of people than you realized. Take an active role in looking for those who have (and are) helping you and take an active role in learning about, understanding, and helping others.
As we close out 2022, it’s a great time to think about how we have or haven’t actively contributed to diversity in our own “career rings” and learn from those lessons as we plan for 2023. As for myself, I’ll continue to step outside of my comfort zone to learn about all you wonderful, diverse people out there working to make the most of your careers/jobs. Along the way, I’ll try to help enhance the comfort of those around me on the journey and be thankful for learning from the rich, diverse experiences and perspectives you share with me.
I’d love to hear your thoughts through comments on any of the social media platforms: LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, or drop me a line at email@example.com.
By the way – if your career/job has you feeling like the holiday “poop log” (beaten to produce “presents” to the point of being “burned out”) – career coaching may be a path back to balance and a more fulfilled career/job. Even if you’re not in that extreme a situation in your career, you may benefit from career coaching.
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Resources and Attributions
- Tio de Nadal, Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ti%C3%B3_de_Nadal
- Festive Poop Log – Tio de Nadal, YouTube video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnMsXLY4-CU
- Can race play a role in college admissions? The Supreme Court hears the arguments, NPR – https://www.npr.org/2022/10/31/1131789230/supreme-court-affirmative-action-harvard-unc
- Clarence Thomas says ‘I don’t have a clue’ what ‘diversity’ means as the Supreme Court confronts the role of race in university admissions, Business Insider – https://www.businessinsider.com/clarence-thomas-diversity-supreme-court-affirmative-action-2022-10
- Clarence Thomas says he doesn’t ‘have a clue’ what ‘diversity’ is, USA Today, YouTube Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4lGCplE8nk
- Licensed images from Envanto