Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us

Who am I? At first blush identity seems straightforward. There is some set of characteristics, both inherent and learned, both chosen and given, which defines my identity. Identity seems to come from within. To understand identity, however, we also need to look out, to the environment.

When I lived in Alabama, I was a Northerner. Now that I live in Germany, I am an English speaker. Previous to living in these two contexts, these aspects of my identity were not particularly salient because it was normative to be a Northerner or an English speaker. Moving to these new environments prompted me to reconsider my identity.

Mariann Märtsin has put forward the notion that when we undergo a life transition such as moving to a new place, we are driven to make sense of it and this includes adapting our sense of self to incorporate our new relationship to those around us. To understand identity, then, we need to appreciate that although it feels constant – I am me, I was me and I will continue to be me – identity is something we are creating and recreating all the time. Aspects of ourselves may always have been with us, like my Northern-ness, and yet it can sometimes take something outside of us to trigger our awareness of them.

That identity is constructed and that such efforts at construction take place as the result of life events, should influence how we do our diversity and inclusion work. For example, in my case, this has involved an awakening to my privilege in the US as a Northerner and in the world as a native speaker of English. As such my advocacy can seem suspect, inauthentic, patronizing or self-serving. My presence alone can stimulate feelings of being one down. I need to be conscious of how who I am can stand in the way of my being a catalyst for people forming more empowering personal narratives and claiming the full richness of their identities. This mindfulness around identity being constructed and relational is the diversity dividend.

 

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us

Inclusive leadership starts with self-leadership

In my very first post on The Diversity Dividend, I talked about how critical it is to be aware that diversity is personal, to understand that it is about each of us and who we are, as well as being about others. What I didn’t talk about there was that how we act on this knowledge is also vital. For just as we can recognize the diversity within our families, teams and classrooms without taking steps to build an inclusive environment that allows everyone present to thrive, we can also see diversity in ourselves without embracing or validating it.

In part this is because awareness is often nothing more than registering that something is present. This noticing can be relatively free from judgment. For example, compare “I smell something” — awareness — with “Mmm, what is that delicious aroma?” or “Eew, what stinks?” — evaluation. Similarly, when we become aware of multiple aspects of our identities, we likely also decide which identities make us proud, “Mmm,” and which we are more likely be reticent about sharing with others, “Eew.” Therefore, although we most often talk about diversity awareness in terms of its positive impact, noticing some characteristic or feature about ourselves (or others) does not commit us to affirming or celebrating it or to contemplating how we can leverage it to produce more effective performance. To get there, we need to think in terms of inclusion.

So imagine the self as a meeting. The various parts of you show up and the meeting is therefore quite diverse. But is it inclusive? Only if the environment is one where the barriers to contributing are low, encouragement to participate is high and this holds across the board. Further, the meeting of the self needs to be structured such that different approaches are valued rather than stigmatized. In addition, these approaches are supported not to be nice or as a form of tokenism, but rather because they have qualities that all the meeting’s attendees deem valid.

Both diversity and inclusion need to get personal. We need to acknowledge our multi-faceted identities, the “Mmm’s” and the “Eew’s,” the gifts and the challenges. If we find new information threatening, we can endeavor to stay open, curious and appreciative, rather than trying to suppress or reject the knowledge of our personal diversities. We can treat ourselves with compassion, celebrating positive steps and progress made, rather than giving into the pressures of comparison and conformity. Having established an inclusive atmosphere in our internal worlds, this self-leadership skillset can be transferred to understanding and honoring others in our external world. This is the diversity dividend.

 

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Inclusive leadership starts with self-leadership

You can choose your world

Imagine a world where positive feedback was considered entertainment at best and meaningless at worst. In this world, your job as a leader is to privilege particular ways of being (hopefully consistent with your own ways) and do the best you can to create regulations and enforce norms that promote these, and only these, approaches. If the best approach has already been found, you make people conform to this. If it is still being sought, you seek to ensure that no one is satisfied with what they are currently doing. You seek out any and all methods that allow you to compare people to an ideal standard and show them where they fall short. In this world, even perfection might not be good enough.

Do this world sound out of balance? Do you get the impression that a lot of energy is being wasted waiting for some idyllic future where all problems will be solved (or some exceedingly gloomy one where it will all cease to matter)? Do you think people are doing their best work or is more time spent trying to cover up what’s going wrong?

Now imagine a world in which there is no scarcity of good ways to be and as a leader it is your privilege to acknowledge where people are flourishing. You look to the past to find out what is already working so that you can build on this success. At the same time, you are open to new possibilities and committed to remaining flexible should the demands of your situation change. Your job is to reward effort and integrity and to make sure that unrealized potential has a chance to surface and grow. Instead of comparison, you practice compassion because the hardest ideal to live up to is simply to show up and be authentically yourself. In this world, good is truly enough.

How often do you find yourself operating as though you lived in the first of these worlds, the one where scarcity and perfectionism are driving forces? How does this mode feel? Don’t stop at your thoughts, attend to your physical and emotional reactions as well. If you can recognize the signs — for example, a sense of unease, heaviness or tension in your body; shame, guilt and fear; unhelpful ruminations about unlikely catastrophic outcomes — you can take an intentional step into the second world, the one where abundance and diversity are the driving forces. All of the energy you’ve been devoting to force the world to look the one single way you see as perfect can instead be devoted to opening yourself up to curiosity about all the other options that might be possible if you only took a moment to accept and appreciate the beautiful, imperfect state that is reality. This freedom to choose your world is the diversity dividend.

 

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

You can choose your world

The rank scent of ranking

If we want to measure diversity how do we go about it? Typically we identify a set of categories and then sort people, objects, characteristics, situations, etc. into these categories (I’ll leave the issue of how challenging it is to discover useful categories for a future post). It’s a bit like botany or zoology where someone is trying to identify the species to which a plant or animal belongs. This sort of measurement is referred as nominal measurement because you are sorting whatever is being measured into named groups. Names, however, are a bit cumbersome, particularly if we are collecting and sorting a large number of things, and thus we usually assign each of our categories a number. If there are two categories, for example, then perhaps we assign 0 to one of them and 1 to the other. We could, of course, have chosen the opposite assignment, 1 and 0, because the numbers are simply a handy shorthand for our categories and carry no meaning in and of themselves.

This convenience is not without its price, though, as what numbers like 0 and 1 imply for most people is at least an ordinal level of measurement. That is, introducing numbers makes people think in terms of an ordering or ranking of the categories, and, therefore, of the things being classified. And just as 1 is greater than 0, assigning the number 1 to a category suggests that it is better or of greater value than the category which was assigned the number 0. Thus these numbers, utilized only to make data gathering and record keeping simpler, may very well induce the “either/or“ thinking associated with the “if I’m right, you must be wrong” scarcity mentality we are hoping to discourage with our diversity work. The ease with which we slip into 1-0 hierarchical thinking rather than 1-1 egalitarian thinking means that while the intention behind gathering diversity data may be to highlight the variety of equally valuable ways of being that exist, through our use of numbers we may instead be perpetuating the status quo of one-up, one-down inequality.

If we take seriously the analogy with botany and zoology, however, perhaps we can begin to disconnect from the desire to make some of our categories more worthy of respect than the others and begin to see them as unordered labels that signal specialization for different environments. Just like the different beak types Darwin identified among the finch species of the Galapagos, most of our personal characteristics can’t be said to be better or worse in the absence of information about the context in which they are being used. And like plant types, character doesn’t typically have a simple scoring system. Thus let’s avoid the artificial competition of 0-1 hierarchical thinking and strive for 1-1 egalitarian thinking where we focus our energies on creating diverse groups and teams: Being our diverse selves allows us to exploit the environments in which we find ourselves and helps us be best placed to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances that make up modern life. This is the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

The rank scent of ranking

Educating our palates about development

‎At first blush the German words der Korkenzieher – “the corkscrew” – and der Erzieher – ” the educator” – would seem to have little in common other than their spellings. But break them down into their parts and there is an interesting connection: they both have to do with “bringing something up.” In the corkscrew case, that something is a cork and the “bringing up” is quite concrete. In the educator case, that something is a person or people and the “bringing up” refers to the more abstract notion of “raising” or “pulling” those people up to a higher level – be it intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, etc.

There are two things I like about this connection. First, when you think about educating as being like using a corkscrew, it implies that development is unlikely to be linear: there will be twists and turns and you will come to the same place repeatedly, but as you grow you navigate this place with a greater level of skill or ease. Thus the corkscrew model of development operates from within a growth mindset (click here for an engaging piece where Carol Dweck describes her model of mindset). There is no set endpoint and you have no limit to how far you can “pull yourself up” other than that of your own vision, your own commitment and the level of energy you bring to imagining that vision and enacting that commitment.

Contrast this with a fixed mindset. You have a gift, characteristic or skill. Or you don’t. With this mindset, your vision is limited and your energy and commitment drain away when you hit that first switchback. Because under a fixed mindset, if bringing that cork up to another level isn’t easy or you can’t make it happen perfectly the first time, then you can’t really have the gift. And if you are the educator or Erzieher with this mindset, you may believe the differences between your charges are evidence for hard-wired limits on their potential and as a result you may not even attempt to “bring them up.”

Second as you consider how an educator and a corkscrew are alike, imagine a sommelier wielding a corkscrew, ready to open a bottle of wine. The wine is presented to the customer with respect. Time is taken to look, smell and taste (and even to describe the “feel” in the mouth); to consider and then detail the wine’s stellar and signature qualities. The process of opening the wine is seen as important because the contents are seen to be important. What if we as educators wielded our tools to make the learning process one that respected all learners and found just the right way to “bring them up” to a new level? What if we took the time to discern the distinctive and special talents of all our colleagues, clients and significant others? If we were to focus not on what is lacking but rather on what there is for us to learn and on how we might learn it best? Uncorking such rare vintages would allow us to drink deeply of the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Portions of this piece appeared in Pull out all the stops, 25/11/2015 http://earthquakewords.com/2015/11/25/pull-out-all-the-stops/ ‎

Educating our palates about development

More isn’t always better

Something’s better than nothing, yes!
But nothing’s better than more, more, more
[Except all, all, all]
Except all, all, all
Except once you have it all [have it all]
You may find all else above [find all else above]
That though things are bliss,
There’s one thing you miss, and that’s
More! More!
More! More! More! More!
More! More! More!
Stephen Sondheim http://www.lyrics.net/lyric/19613933

The folk wisdom captured in these lyrics from Stephen Sondheim suggests that you can never have too much of anything: if a little bit of something is good, more must be even better. However more of the same isn’t always what’s warranted. For instance, we all try to get away from the tourist who doesn’t seem to know that speaking English louder doesn’t help get the point across to someone who doesn’t understand the language. We laugh at the joke in which someone is looking for a set of keys under the street lamp, not because they were lost there, but because that is where there is more light by which to search. Yet in spite of these moments of recognition that just doing more of what we have always done is unwise, we frequently persist in using certain approaches with no serious consideration of their appropriateness or effectiveness across different contexts (for an example of the downsides of grit, see this article from Bill Murphy, Jr). Or, witness the managers who keep hiring clones of themselves and nevertheless continue to expect innovative and out-of-the-box thinking from those hires. In both scenarios, we are trapped in the myth of more of the same is always better.

When we over-emphasize similarity when making choices, be they in hiring, appraisal or promotion, we run the risk of stifling disagreement, provoking groupthink and failing to get the feedback we need. Furthermore we won’t ever know what diverse ideas, attitudes and behaviors we could have injected into our project, organization or friendship circle, had we not set out to find someone who looked just like us.

When we overdo our strengths (those of you who are familiar with the SDI will know that overdone strengths are a foundation of this model), they become liabilities. By doing too much of a good thing, we miss the opportunity to try out new, albeit perhaps challenging, ways of being. We also squander the chance to step away from perfectionistic tendencies and allow ourselves to fail at something and through this failure come to a deeper appreciation of both our strengths and our limitations.

By rejecting the notion that more is always better, perhaps we can get to a place where diversity work involves exploring ourselves in order to discover what new lies within and exploring the wider world to discern other options for flourishing. Being jubilant when people acknowledge new parts of themselves, previously unknown or even disowned, and celebrating the variety of equally valuable routes to success that exist across our human species sparks the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

More isn’t always better

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong

In 2012 I moved to Germany seeking a complete change of scene through immersion in a new language and culture. What it took me a while to grasp was that due to one aspect of my identity – my physical appearance – I was being treated differently from your average newly arrived immigrant.

Sure, it helped that my accent isn’t particularly strong and that I am good at filling the blanks in conversation from a previous career working with individuals with language disabilities. But the bottom line is that because I look right, I’m allowed to get things wrong. People here don’t typically pause to wonder if I might be a competent speaker of German. Instead, if they think about it at all, they may wonder why someone with such looks, I have German heritage on both sides of my family, doesn’t express herself more fluently and doesn’t always appear to understand what’s being said to her.

Something I had no part in, the genetic mixing that created my appearance, means I can pretty much take it for granted that people will speak German with me. Furthermore, I can usually expect patience and understanding if I stumble and stutter and the native speakers I encounter are mostly willing to persevere in conversing with me in spite of the challenges.

Why is this a story about diversity? Because diversity encompasses privilege and this is a story about privilege. My fitting the mold physically means that on sight and without any action on my part, my status is assumed to be that of “German speaker.” This presumption means that I don’t have to battle to be recognized as having the ability, or the right, to speak. Indeed, it requires very little from me to maintain this first impression of competence.

Because I didn’t anticipate enjoying a privileged status, I have had to learn not to take it personally when I am treated differently from other non-native speakers with the same or greater command of German, as this frequently says more about the beliefs of my conversational partners than it does about me. Thus, although I can feel proud of managing an entire interaction without using English, I must always be aware that the opportunity to do so may in large part be due to the positive bias my looks engender in those with whom I come into contact.

This heightened awareness of my privilege, and its connection to an aspect of my identity outside of my control (i.e., something unearned), has triggered reflection upon and discomfort with how qualities such as skin, hair or eye color, gender or clothing style can be crucial to how we judge worthiness. When possession of certain attributes makes it a certainty that we get a place at the starting line and exhibiting others means we never get to compete at all, we all lose. Some highly adept individuals get overlooked and can never contribute. Meanwhile, those who are selected miss the chance to test their abilities to the utmost on a level playing field. To change our approach to one where we go beyond surface characteristics such as someone “looking the part” and base decisions upon genuine appraisals of competence based on talents allows us to reap the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Privilege, or, when you look right, you can get things wrong

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally

Diversity is personal. Diversity is about who you are and who I am and all of the ways in which we differ from everyone else in the crowd. Diversity is about our character and our characteristics. We may have many or all of the features that our family circle, work environment or culture deems typical or normal; and yet what makes us the individuals we are is as much about diversity, as much a part of each of us, as it is for someone who does not fit the family, work or cultural molds.

Diversity is also about awareness. Not recognizing the influence of innate or learned aspects of who you are does not mean that these aspects of self aren’t influencing how you think, feel and act. Delving into the sources of your behaviors, be they external and visible or wholly internal, highlights the ways in which you operate differently due to your diversity. This mirror may be cloudy when you first hold it up, however, even a cloudy mirror can reflect back some of the features that make you the unique person you are.

While diversity is personal, it isn’t to be taken personally. That is, your way of being doesn’t have to be wrong for mine to be right – we can both be the way we are and have that be the “right” way to be. However this sense that there is just one right way to be is quite pervasive; I would argue that it flows from our focus on scarcity. With a scarcity mindset, we tend to see things as “either/or” propositions. Under this framework, when your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized as valid, the pool of validation shrinks and leaving less available to validate my gifts, characteristics or choices. In other words, we cannot both be the “right” way: either your gifts, characteristics and choices are the best ones or mine are. This mindset says that my being acknowledged puts me “one up” and you “one down.”

Switching our thinking to a “both/and” standpoint allows us to accept the valuing of others for who they are as a general benefit to all. When your gift, characteristic or choice is recognized, the pool of available validation is enriched. Thus, rather than seeing a personal affront in the celebration of someone else’s way of being, we can rejoice with them in the abundance that exists among us. This alternative mindset says that there is always sufficient validation to go around and that we all are “one up” when any one of us is acknowledged for our value.

In keeping diversity personal and in not taking it personally, three key qualities are openness, curiosity and appreciation. How can I acknowledge the various parts of myself – my gifts, my identities and my challenges – and work to leverage them? How can I acknowledge the gifts, identities and challenges of the important others in my workplace, my team, my home or my playtime – and work to see that we get the best from our joint endeavors? Creating an environment where diversity is truly part of the fabric means that everyone gains when we proclaim the ways in which we differ. Because it is only once our diversities are recognized that we can begin to leverage them. This is the diversity dividend.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Diversity: Making it personal while not taking it personally

Welcome to the Diversity Dividend

What’s The Diversity Dividend All About?
I’m challenging all of us to transform our notion of diversity from something that is force fed, top-down and enforced by others into something that is internally driven, discovery-based, personally relevant and worthy of celebration.

Whether you are a leader wanting to tap the talents of all your team members or an HR manager tasked with addressing diversity issues, read on to see how to take your diversity programs in the direction of skill building and dynamic dialogue. Reap the diversity dividend from doing things differently.

Welcome to the Diversity Dividend