Lead With Inclusion

When DEI is just like riding a bike

March 20, 2024

I don’t know about you but when I hear the phrase, “it’s just like riding a bike” I cringe a little because I don’t really know how to ride a bike (for my commentary on the word ‘just’, read here). Making a declaration like that can be a little scary because everyone assumes you know how to ride a bike. If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t say things like ‘it’s as easy as riding a bike’ with the expectation that the thing we’re comparing bike riding to comes naturally to us.

I distinctly remember my dad attempting to teach me to ride a bicycle and falling quite a few times, with the final straw coming after I scraped the side of my body along the stucco on our house after crashing into it (again). Riding a bike was definitely not easy for me and after giving up, I spent my high school years avoiding events with my friends where bike riding might be involved. As I got older, I had to avoid dates that suggested we could ride our bikes on the beach and watch the sunset. When cruising, which I love to do, I have to avoid the excursions that include bike riding. And in most conversations where people discuss their love of riding their bike and the different paths they like to take, I sit quietly and do not contribute for fear of ridicule, or pity, or scorn (I have endured all three).

A few years ago, it occurred to me that diversity, equity, and inclusion education, most notably unconscious bias workshops, are treated just like riding a bike. We assume that leaders in our workplaces would not be in those roles if they did not innately embody the components of DEI. We promote professionals into positions of power and leadership without really considering their level of emotional intelligence and capacity for leading with authenticity and with inclusion in mind.

When I’d had enough and decided I wanted to learn to ride a bike, I did not go to Amazon to purchase a book about bike riding. Instead I went to REI and signed up for a bike riding class. What’s the difference? One teaches you theory, concepts and definitions while the other provides practical application and an opportunity to practice the activity. One, you can cram for and take a test at the end, while the other, you have to attempt, fail, get up and try again, and keep doing it until you can successfully stay up on a bike and ride.

We have been treating unconscious bias education in the same way you would expect to learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book. It ain’t never gonna happen.

 

Be An Inclusive Leader

If you want to show up as an authentic leader who understands how to lead inclusively, then you are going to have to learn to ride a bike. Too many organizations are consistently rolling out unconscious bias education without a means for the concepts to be applied. If you are currently a leader in an organization, you are probably dealing with a lot of fear, which is justified due to our current political climate and our tendency to embrace cancel culture. But last I checked, leadership wasn’t for the weak or the cowardly. To manage the issues we’re currently facing in the workplace, true leadership skills are needed to stop this slippery slope we’re on. It’s time to address the elephant in the room and level-up.

Professional development isn’t only for new hires and entry-level employees. I’ve worked with so many leaders who want to make changes but are afraid because they don’t have the words, don’t understand the concepts and don’t know how to put them into practice. It’s ok to ask for help, but first you have to admit you need it. You’re expected to innately “know” how to be an inclusive leader, but just like learning to ride a bike, you can’t hide behind a book when action is needed.

 

Lead With Inclusion

It’s already clear to most employees that DEI is something we need to tackle in the workplace, there is an expectation of company leaders to address it and they will leave an organization that doesn’t agree with either of those sentiments for one that does. Despite these sentiments, we still participate in bullying, don’t stand up for others when we know we should and commit microaggressions left and right, leaving our coworkers feeling unwanted and ostracized. So while you may not manage a team, your contribution to the lack of inclusion in the workplace has not gone unnoticed. There is also a bike with your name on it and that bike is Unconscious Inclusion.

We are at a turning point in society – a line has been drawn and you have to decide which side of the history you’d like to be on. When we look back at this transition point of a few decades, what will your children and grandchildren read about the decisions you made? It’s true that riding a bike comes a little more naturally or easily to some. We all learn at different stages and ages in our lives and some of us need more help than others, but we canall get there.

If you would like a safe space to not only learn, but also practice the concepts so you can lead more inclusively, join us for our April cohort of Unconscious Inclusion. Not only can you join with your team for some added accountability and built in support, but you can also earn SHRM and HRCI credits as well as a DEI professional certificate showcasing your increased leadership skills.

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