Despite the massive strides that have been made during the past century, the burden of stereotypes continues to weigh heavy on our shoulders. It casts a nasty shadow over all the progress that has been made and it continues to be a roadblock to true organizational transformation where people are valued for their unique gifts and contributions, instead of being limited by baseless and outdated beliefs about their character, abilities and strength. If we are to create workplace cultures where diversity is celebrated and individuality thrives, we really need to take a couple of hundred steps back and examine the root of all our current challenges: the ridiculous beliefs that we have been socialized to adopt over centuries and which have become so internalized and such a part of our shared identity as human beings, that we don’t even realize that there is anything wrong.
Inclusion isn’t about ‘belonging’ or compliance and not speaking out or being different in any way. It’s about respect and empathy.
Diversity isn’t about gender or race or language or sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s not about who uses which bathrooms or how we dress or where we pray. It’s simply about appreciating that we are all different and unique and we all bring different viewpoints, skills and strengths to the table.
I’m not going to hop onto some soapbox and talk about gender equality or my support for the LGBTQ community. I’m not going to talk about the importance of removing the stigma that surrounds depression and anxiety. But I am going to invite you to take a step back and do one of the hardest things that anyone may ever ask you to do – simply question everything.
Don't be Decaf
I do a fair amount of keynote speaking. My most popular talk by far (which is in the process of becoming a book), is simply called “Don’t be Decaf”.
You may not know this, but in order to create decaffeinated coffee, there are various different processes and techniques that are applied to green coffee beans to remove at least 90% of the ‘offending’ caffeine. By the time the beans are roasted, up to 98% of the caffeine has been removed.
We are ALL those perfect green coffee beans when we are born. Limitless in our potential. Each of us with our own unique flavour. But no matter where in the world we are, every children’s book or cartoon or school or church message is crafted to turn us into perfectly compliant little grey cardboard cutout people. There is nothing worse than ‘not fitting in’ or ‘being different’. We spend a minimum of 12 years at school and by the time we are 18, we have become those decaffeinated coffee beans. We have had all of our ‘offending’ creativity and original thoughts, slowly removed. We have been told what to believe, what to think, how to behave and how to an ‘acceptable human being.’
How many of the things that you have come to believe or accept about being a human being or being a working adult or about your gender role in society, are truly your very own beliefs? How much of what you think, is simply the product of decades of socialization?
There are many specialists out there who will provide some kind of roadmap to diversity and inclusion. They will talk about equality and the gender pay gap. They will talk about toxic masculinity and bro culture. They will talk about coaching and mentoring and all manner of capacity building initiatives and strategic imperatives. And none of them are wrong.
But, you see, no amount of strategizing or mentoring or coaching or training or legislation is going to adequately address the core problem.
I recall this quote from a speech that I prepared as a very naïve young girl at some stage in high school. It was something along the lines of: ‘you cannot legislate people’s thoughts’.
Just like that. There’s our problem. So simple. Our thoughts are the root cause of everything. Thoughts become beliefs and beliefs become habits and behaviour and those, in turn, become societal norms and corporate culture and just ‘the way things are done around here’.
I may not be a global thought leader on the topics of diversity and inclusion, but I am a human being and honestly, none of this stuff is as hard as we make it out to be. If we are to create workplace cultures where diversity is celebrated and ‘inclusion’ isn’t some irritating buzzword, we need to stop believing the ‘BS’ that landed us in this mess in the first place.
And since we can neither change others, nor control (or legislate) their thoughts and beliefs, we have to start with ourselves. Question everything. All the time. Question it even more if it relates to something like ‘men are breadwinners’ or ‘women are too emotional’ or that ‘fitting in, means not standing out’.
And once you are aware of these beliefs and how they are impacting absolutely everything that you do in your personal and professional life, be HUMAN enough to change. Courage isn’t something reserved for men only. Change your thoughts and beliefs and you change your behaviour. Change behaviour and you change results. And that’s how we change the world - one small belief at a time.
Twitter card image: Google Doodle for IWD2019
Deborah Hartung - https://deborahhartung.com/
Deborah Hartung is a Consultant, Coach, Author and Speaker.
She has spent almost 20 years advising corporates on matters relating to employee relations, corporate culture and leadership development. Deborah is passionate about people and technology, the human experience in the workplace and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age.
Especially popular with young or first-time leaders, entrepreneurs and women in leadership, Deborah encourages all those she meets to align with their purpose and to be brave enough to be authentic in all their interactions. She writes about life, love, leadership, workplace culture, the future of work and the importance of making the world a kinder, more tolerant place