Lead With Inclusion

Why diversity makes us uncomfortable

May 8, 2024

It can be tough to admit “I don’t know.” And it’s no shock that adults don’t like exposing our knowledge gaps or being wrong (especially in public). It’s true of just about everybody. And our discomfort with being wrong is a huge reason why embracing diversity in the workplace can really make people squirm.

Lead With Inclusion:

Why are we so squeamish about admitting when we don’t understand something? Think about it: you spent years in school being rewarded for having the right answer.

We strived for the “A” and the only way to get it was to be right.

We grew up believing that if we yanked on those bootstraps and worked hard enough we’d achieve success, right?

As adults, we know it’s not that simple. Lots of folks are working hard without catching a break. When we succeed, it may feel like it’s all because of our hard work, but it’s often also about what’s on our label—the way our identities and personal characteristics influence how the world perceives us.

It can feel almost threatening to discover that what’s on our label is different from what’s on someone else’s label. And that perhaps, our label made it easier to get that paid internship, book deal, or promotion.

We don’t usually get to pick our labels—most we’re born with, though some change over time. Whether your label says “Black” or “African-American,” “wife” or “mother,” “she/her,” or “they/them” (you get the idea) these labels impact how the world treats us.

I understand realizing, much less acknowledging:

  1. we don’t understand other people’s experiences, and
  2. our success isn’t just about hard work

can be pretty uncomfortable.

Be an Inclusive Leader:

And yet diversity isn’t going anywhere. What it is, fundamentally, is differences or variety. What could be more normal? So here’s how to confront our understandable discomfort:

Be curious. Think about the way children have no self-consciousness about asking questions, and bring back that spirit of curiosity. Forget the label game or the idea that merit is all that matters at work. When you find out a coworker comes from a different background, do some research about their culture, country of origin, favorite music, or just ask them directly (Commit to this at 100kConversations.com).

Find out about times when their identity played a role in their professional life (good and bad)—when was a time you worked really hard but didn’t get rewarded? How about a time your identity helped you get rewarded?

You don’t have to go it alone, either. Working through awkwardness and discomfort was a motivator for creating my Unconscious Inclusion program. It’s a safe space to learn to be brave, both for individual leaders and teams. Learn what Unconscious Inclusion can do here.

Discomfort is part of any learning process, and learning about differences is no exception. And by asking questions and seeking to understand, we start to shed the discomfort that comes with facing new truths about ourselves and others.

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