Healing: agency, accountability and action


Two weeks ago I wrote about how the US election had galvanized me to think about the power of acceptance, openness and curiosity in the process of healing. This week I want to continue that discussion because I believe that this power is only available to us with three additional components: agency, accountability and action.

Acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance involves seeing reality as it is, starting where we actually are, not where we would like to be. To accept reality does not require us to assent or accede to the rightness of being in that place. In other words, acceptance requires recognizing and claiming agency. Resignation is the abdication of our agency. It looks at the world from a stance of fear and paralysis. Acceptance, on the other hand, operates from a stance of hope and creativity; it tells others that we are ready to investigate where our values can help us alter our reality for the better.

Openness is not “anything goes.” When we are open, we seek to understand what might be driving people’s behavior, rather than dismissing them out of hand as crazy, stupid or incompetent. This is not the easy stance of rubber-stamping all points of view or all types of behavior, however. Instead, openness is accompanied by accountability. We hold ourselves and others to the standard that words and actions have consequences. Nor, moreover, does being open mean we take the pressure off those acting in ways that cause pain or harm or violate the principles and ethics we believe govern a fair and just society.

Curiosity is not passive voyeurism. To be curious means to fight apathy, boredom and indifference. Curiosity is more than that the blind consumption of whatever information is offered to us. It is the active search for truth and ability to face that truth honestly. Being curious obliges us to examine our beliefs and assumptions and seek data sources with regard to their accuracy, authority, timeliness, objectivity and completeness, as opposed to whether they support our personal position or the received wisdom. Curiosity also means that when we take action based on the best available data, we reflect on the outcomes we get and adjust our actions accordingly to improve performance the next time.

Acceptance, openness and curiosity involve work. Let’s do that work together and find out where agency, accountability and action, and our diverse approaches to healing, can take us.

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

Healing: agency, accountability and action

Getting down to the work of healing

“For those who have chosen not to support me in the past…I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”

Donald J. Trump, 9. Nov, 2016

Back in January I began The Diversity Dividend with a piece about three qualities, openness, curiosity and appreciation, and how the cultivation of these qualities could lead to leveraging the best that is in all of us. In the job of healing our country after a divisive election, I believe that these qualities must come to the fore.

When you are open, you can make connections. When you exhibit curiosity, your connections are deepened as you move toward a better understanding of what it is to walk in this other person’s shoes. When you show appreciation, you let the other person know that they have been seen, heard and valued.

Let’s, therefore, not underestimate the possibility for positive change going forward and accept the opportunity President-Elect Trump has afforded by offering our guidance and help. As people who work to help foster diversity and inclusion:

  • We are no strangers to difficult conversations
  • We wield tools that can help to steer conflict in productive directions
  • We embrace “both/and” thinking, can sit with ambiguity and endeavor to see the glass as half full
  • We celebrate growth and seek to validate multiple routes to personal development
  • We recognize that awareness that there is a problem is a crucial first step to making progress in unraveling that problem

From where I sit, our work is now more rather than less important. Let’s demonstrate the power of openness, curiosity and appreciation and seize this moment to lay the groundwork for an abundance mentality.

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

Getting down to the work of healing

Diversity work with savoir-faire

I’ve been preparing for an upcoming trip to Paris by listening to the Michel Thomas’ Speak French for Beginners course. In one of the recordings, Thomas points out that the words voir, avoir and savoir are built up by adding one new letter to the head of the word, first an “a” and then an “s.” This relationship between the French words for “to see,” “to have” and “to know” prompted these reflections on the sorts of activities needed to build up support for diversity and inclusion.

voir – to see
Diversity and inclusion starts with awareness.
The word voir reminds us that we need to see that there is an issue around being inclusive and honoring diversity. In addition, we need to see not only the diversity around us, but also the diversity within us — we are all part of an interlocking set of groups/identities and at the same time a unique culture of one.

avoir – to have
Diversity and inclusion requires resolve.
The word avoir reminds us that we need to have the courage and strength in order improve our homes, our workplaces and our play spaces. Having passion for and commitment around diversity and inclusion makes our efforts sustainable because they become something internally driven rather than externally imposed.

savoir – to know
Diversity and inclusion necessitates know-how and its practical application.
The word savoir reminds us that we need to know how to put our ideals and aspirations into action and those around us need to know that we hold ourselves accountable for the results of these efforts. For diversity and inclusion work to be effective, we need also need to know if what we are doing is working through evaluation and feedback.

Diversity and inclusion demands SAVvy – to see, to have and to know. When we work to be savvy about diversity and inclusion, we SAVe-nergy, energy that can be put toward better performance. SAVvy D&I practitioners aren’t smug, but they do remember to SAV-o(u)r their successes.

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

Diversity work with savoir-faire

The ABCs of diversity and inclusion

A is for acknowledgment. Working toward an inclusive organization involves acknowledging that different styles exist and that different approaches can be equally valid and effective.

A is for appreciation. Acknowledgment is an important first step, but an inclusive organization goes beyond tolerance of different styles to appreciation of the diverse talents of all its members.

A is for action. Appreciation on its own is not enough. We need to take an active role in shaping an environment that offers the space for the diverse talents of all to flourish.


B is for breadth. Working toward an inclusive organization involves realizing the benefits of being broad-minded and open to the full range of knowledge, skills and abilities that a diverse workforce presents.

B is for belonging. When we see differences, we need to move to an inclusive outlook where all the breadth that is present is seen as a reason for belonging, rather than an excuse for exclusion, distancing or distrust.

B is for bravery. We can believe in the value of others, however without the bravery point out when that value is being dismissed or people are being asked to compromise parts of themselves to belong, the inconsistency of our words and our deeds will sap our energy.


C is for conscious. Working toward an inclusive organization involves becoming conscious of privilege and marginalization and the organization structures that perpetuate these status differences.

C is for curiosity. Awareness on its own can make diversity and inclusion seem like someone else’s problem. We need to get curious about our personal diversities and how we are privileging or marginalizing aspects of our multi-faceted selves.

C is for creative. Once we open ourselves up to the wondrous variety within and without, we have the engagement needed to create new ways of being and working that promote wholeness and acceptance.


To do diversity work well, make no assumptions, do your best and see the best in others and be compassionate because becoming more inclusive is a process.


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

The ABCs of diversity and inclusion

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.

Creative Commons License
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

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

In Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, Dan Pink has adopted and adapted Carol Dweck’s terminology – her fixed and growth mindsets – to talk about motivation. As I interpret his work, the fixed mindset (or the entity theorist in his terms) compels us to action through external motivators, whereas the growth mindset (or the incremental theorist in his terms) engages our desire to act through internal motivators.

“Equally important, engagement as a route to mastery is a powerful force in our personal lives. While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it’s a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

p. 112


“ To analogize to physical qualities, incremental theorists consider intelligence as something like strength. (Want to get stronger and more muscular? Start pumping iron.) Entity theorists view it as something more like height. (Want to get taller? You’re out of luck.) If you believe intelligence is a fixed quantity, then every educational experience becomes a measure of how much you have. If you believe intelligence is something you can increase, then the same encounters become opportunities for growth. In one view, intelligence is something you demonstrate; in the other it’s something you develop.

p. 121

As I read the passages quoted above, I was prompted to think about how these ideas could be applied to motivating people within the diversity context.

When you operate from a fixed mindset (entity theorists), your goals for diversity work are about demonstrating the existence of diversity. Diversity is something you have or you don’t. To demonstrate it, you create mountains of statistics, you tick off the boxes into which individuals fall and you feel you are doing well when you measure what you’ve got and the total score is a high one.

When you operate from a growth mindset (incremental theorists), your goals for diversity work are about developing the diversity that exists and finding new areas in which you and your team can grow – both by adding new members and by making the most of what is already present. Diversity has always been there and now that you recognize it, you can work to strengthen what you have. You feel you are doing well when you can see an increase in the ways in which you and others identify yourselves and in the ways all of you seek to be identified.

How is your mindset affecting the way you think about and work with diversity?

  1. Do you tend to see identity as something that is flexible or something that is fixed?
  2. Do you find yourself claiming the power to self-identify or do you feel forced live with the identities others grant or impose on you?
  3. Is diversity an ongoing journey of discovery or simply an endpoint to be reached and filed away?

Your emphasis on either the demonstration or the development of diversity has knock-on consequences: When you demonstrate diversity, typically it is a one-time thing; when you develop diversity, typically it is a continuing process. Take a look at where you fall on this continuum in the various domains of your life, and, if you find yourself on the “demonstrate performance” end of the spectrum in one or more areas, consider the follow-up question of how effectively is this mindset “getting you through the night.”


Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. NY: Riverhead.

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

Do you seek to demonstrate or develop diversity?

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.

Creative Commons License
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