As a small girl: I was among the poorest in a wealthy community, getting many of my clothes through charitable donations.
As a teenager: I looked nothing like the people around me in Sri Lanka, and often felt like an outcast.
As an adult: I have worked in organizations dominated by traditional thinking, where my eccentrically collaborative ways sometimes seemed to threaten theirs.
After 50 years of feeling “different” and living on the margins, I have come to realize that everyone is different in his or her own way. Despite how it has long been interpreted in Corporate America, diversity is not defined by any specific attributes – the word literally means “having or being composed of differing elements” (Merriam-Webster).
During my career, I worked with some of the most brilliant minds in the field of diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) and have personally led many DEI efforts. In my experience, the greatest DEI successes happened not only when every person understood how his or her uniqueness was valued but also when leaders reinforced that with the people around them.
Aligning the practice of leadership to DEI work is one way we can make a difference for all people, not just focus on differences of some people. Leadership is needed to progress us from past approaches to DEI work (e.g., training people to avoid biases) to focusing on the mindset shifts that create both conscious inclusion and appreciation for what the differences bring to the whole.
When we proactively and holistically lead in a way that embraces differences, we increase our chance to thrive on our planet.
This Week’s Challenge: Consider the ways in which each team member at work, or each person in your life, is unique. How is each person’s diversity celebrated or valued? If it isn’t, how can it be? Next, set an intention to recognize those people and what they each uniquely bring to the whole.
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