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The Courage to Change: Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement

“What’s the big deal! Diversity issues are not new.”

That’s what I hear from so many leaders recently.

They call to vent and complain. They want an easy answer to this “diversity thing.”

They ask if I can create a customized program that will stop the noise and demands from employees and the community. 

And, how fast can I deliver?

They want to check the diversity box as done.

Of course, they don’t say that so blatantly, yet, it is in their worried voices.

Before they click off from phones or Zoom the sighs are audible and the generalized response is, “It’s not going to really change. You know it and I know it. It’s just going to be more BS window dressing. Please, just get it done.”

I sense in the discouragement and frustration they wish “IT” would just go away.

When I ask what is the “IT” they want to go away, most say, “All the demands and conflicts so we can just get back to business.”

Occasionally, someone says,

“I’m yearning for change. I want it for my company, for this country, for the world. I can feel the deep desire for us to all be better, do better.”

However, even these comments still end with,

“And yet…” as they trail off, still hoping for simple answers and not expecting long term solutions.

ANGER, DETERMINATION, DESPAIR, HOPE

We have seen it all too often. 

Something happens that sparks an outpouring of emotion and a demand for change as thoughts and feelings get tangled together.

Here’s what I find.

Anger is coupled with the determination to do more, so long as it is done quickly.

Despair joins forces with hope, so long as hope wins quickly.

Ambivalence and willingness to move forward combine, so long as we move quickly.

Hopelessness that humans can’t really change links with the belief that change can happen, so long as the change happens quickly.

Notice the pattern here. 

This push-pull is inherent in human nature. 

It’s also part of human nature to accept the challenge and find the courage to change.

Growth comes from this tug of war between the comfort of sameness and the uncertainty of new ways. Think homeostasis and entropy.

“What do we do? Give up or keep going?” I am asked by seasoned executives and millennial start-up captains.

Here is my response.

SHORT- TERM OR LONG -TERM ACTIONS: WHAT REALLY MATTERS

Eventually, rage and anger go quiet. At least overtly. 

Then there appears to be more willingness to meet and talk. 

The problem is that the talk is often old and stale, filled with platitudes, promises, placating, positioning.

And while progress in these discussions does offer baby steps, they never end up with a full sprint to something new and sustainable. Something truly transformational.

Why?

Two reasons. 

First, because we want fast solutions to keep our stress and anxiety under control. That’s our instant, twitter world.

Next, because people, and I mean most of us, have not been adequately taught the important skills needed to tell the truth and listen to others, not at home nor at school. 

Telling the truth can be embarrassing. It makes you vulnerable.

Thus, what shows up instead is ‘too-muchness’: Too much polarization. Too much ‘my way or the highway’ responding too much posturing.

Right now, while there is a demand, in most organizations, for new, relevant diversity programs we have an opportunity to do it differently.

Here is one perspective for a program that may well have long term benefits.

WHAT’S YOUR STORY?

Diversity, emotional intelligence, pattern awareness, communication skills, personal and professional growth need to be combined into one program. 

Not another extra “check the box” diversity program. It’s about whole-person leadership education. 

And it takes time.

Leadership education has a good sound. It has been available for small elite business groups until now.

Call it leadership and diversity training if you want. Or just call it people education.  

What I’m talking about is leadership education for all of us. It’s about how to lead your own life, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, find work/life balance.     How to be a leader for others, without blaming, judging, or attacking. 

And it starts with a story.

I suggest the power of story, your story, my story, her story, his story is where the action lies for longer-term, sustainable change.

No, not just a stage presentation to impress. And not just snippets. I mean the whole story.

The trick is to make it safe enough for your story to be told.

I mean a deep dive into what has made you, formed your decisions, shaped your unconscious bias, given you hopes and dreams.

Did you ever meet someone you thought was a bonafide asshole only to find yourself seeing and hearing that individual differently once you know their story?

Maybe even tilt toward beginning to like him or her? 

Who knows?  Could happen.

As Harvard professor, Howard Gardner states:

                      “Stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal”

STORY AT WORK AND IN THE COMMUNITY: SANKOFA MAPPING

We developed Sankofa Mapping 25 years ago using the ideas behind this powerful word as a specific method of storytelling that helps you connect the dots of your life. 

Sankofa, an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana, the literal meaning is “go back and get it.”

The symbol is of a mythical bird with its head turned backwards while flying forward. There is an egg that the bird picks up from its back to bring into the present time. It symbolizes the still fertile and living parts of the past that should not be discarded.

It’s a symbol to clear the past and free the present for the future.

Sankofa Mapping is part of our whole person leadership program, regardless of where you fit on the leadership continuum.

After all, you are the leader of your own life. Right?

This can be done both in an individual or a group process. I love the group way. It helps you connect with others to hear their stories and lets them hear you. 

It opens minds and hearts at the same time.

It’s a mental and emotional chart so you can observe, understand, and then transform areas of your life as you see fit.

You learn to go back and retrieve it. Go back and retrieve what? Curious? Look up the word epigenetics.

It helps leaders and those they support get underneath what causes rifts and separations that then cause gossip, backbiting, power games, bullying, lawsuits, and the burden of high stress.

I have found that the story approach we developed using SANKOFA MAPPING gives a bold, new way to listen to and talk with each other for positive, lasting change to happen.

It is time for whole-person leadership education that includes diversity. Or, if you will, a diversity program that includes the whole person.

Learning what to listen for and how to respond can be life-changing. 

If not now, when?

Best,

Sylvia 

P.S. More information about the SANKOFA MAPPING Method is available in both my books, Don’t Bring It To Work, and in UNIQUE: How Story Sparks Diversity, Inclusions, and Engagement. Or you can contact me at sylvia@ceoptions.com

P.P.S. Here is an excerpt from UNIQUE.

This is part of the story from a lawyer at a Fortune 100 company:

I was just turning four and was playing with my next-door neighbor in the back yard. I ran into the house and told my mother I needed a bath. It was the middle of the afternoon and my mother said “Honey, you were just playing outside for ten minutes; you are clean, and you are fine.

“No,” I insisted. “Mary told me to go home and wash the dirt from my body, and I NEED a bath right now.”

My mother took a deep breath and explained to me I was NOT dirty; it was just that my skin was naturally that beautiful cocoa color.

I marched back out to announce that I was fine and that was my real skin color. “Mary said she would not play with me until my skin was clean and white.”

This is part of Anita’s story. One of the results of sharing this in her leadership program was that she was no longer willing to stay silent at work, no longer willing to “blend into the background.”

She started some evening programs in the community near the corporate headquarters for high-risk youth and their parents. She worked to get some of the empty rooms at corporate to be used for the meetings. It has made a difference.