Why Have We Stopped Talking About Diversity At Work?

I’ll never forget attending a leadership development program at a fancy hotel in the early 1990s. The main topic was diversity. John, my well-dressed, articulate, black peer, came back from the coffee break with tears in his eyes, saying he was standing outside getting some fresh air, when some guy handed him his keys thinking he was the valet.

He looked right at me, and said, “Karin there is no way on God’s earth this will ever happen to you.”

It’s 20 years later. I’ve gotten a lot of fresh air just outside of hotel lobbies.

It hasn’t.

We clearly needed that diversity program. John’s experience was raw and real. Talking about unconscious bias wasn’t comfortable, but I know it shaped my perspective as a leader and as a human being.

Perhaps you remember the “diversity” era.

If I were running LGL in the 1990s, I’m quite sure “diversity” would be all over my website.

I just did a search. “Diversity” is nowhere to be found.

Is diversity handled?

Sure, we have the occasional debate about where our transgender colleague should go to the bathroom, but diversity has stopped being top on our list of people issues.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of course, it’s better.  Thank goodness. Many companies turned those strategies into polices. Blatant discrimination is less rampant. Ratios continue to improve. It’s better, no doubt.

At the same time, in Baltimore where I live, the city imploded this year with racial riots over injustice. That can’t be happening on the outside of our businesses without impacting our insides. These issues are touching humans inside all of our organizations.

No one forgets their concern about how black lives matter just because they’re driving to work… and yet sometimes this conversation gets stifled when folks pull into your parking lot.

Am I advocating for a return to the Diversity strategy rhetoric? No. Do I want you to hire me to help you build your diversity strategy? No.

Do I think we need to continue to have real dialogue about diversity, inclusion, and the mess we’re still in as a Nation? Yes. At work? Yes. Even if it’s uncomfortable? Yes, yes. Uncomfortable leads to progress.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I encourage each one of us to consider how we can best re-open the conversation.

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

So here we are. It’s up to us. How will we continue the conversation?

The Surprising Way To Expand Your Range

I’ve always found great joy in singing, and was voted “most likely to spontaneously burst into song” in high school.

From grade school through college, I sang in every choir available, always as an alto. My voice was so low, in a pinch, I would help out the tenors. Each time I had a new director, I would announce, “I’m an alto, I don’t sing above a third space C. I’m solid with a tight harmony, so no one argued.

I would have loved to sing higher, but accepted the range I was given. Shortly after college graduation, my friends Jeff and Catherine asked me to sing at their wedding. The music was tricky, so I used my first real paycheck to hire a voice teacher from Peabody to help me prepare. I approached my voice teacher, Laura, as I had every music teacher since Ms. Elsie, my church junior choir director. “I’m an alto…”Continue reading

Inclusion And Engagement: LGL On Webtalk Radio

To access the podcast, click on the title above or go to: Web Talk Radio. Delighted to chat with Al Gonzalez on “Leading Beyond The Status Quo”. We explore the intersection of inclusion and employee engagement. Fun to share stories.

Summary

Did you know that 71% of all workers in the US are disengaged? While many diversity efforts are providing visual evidence of success, the number of disengaged employees in the workplace remains at a very high level. Why is this Because we have a lot of work to do in the area of inclusion.

This week we are joined by Karin Hurt, an expert in the area of employee engagement and author of the award winning blog Let’s Grow Leaders. Join us as we continue our exploration of Inclusion by exploring its critical relationship and relevance to Employee Engagement.

Are You Developing Your Team's Mutant Powers?

In some organizations its standard practice to “groom” leaders to adapt to corporate norms. We teach future leaders to speak so they can be heard. We encourage rising stars to capture their ideas just right in the perfect Powerpoint template. We teach them when, where, and with whom to share their ideas. I work hard to develop these skills on my team (and in fact am writing about how to “speak to be heard” tomorrow). The corporate world does not have much appetite for “mutant” gifts.

Is there a cost to such conformity? Those with more quirky personalities and styles seldom rise to the top in favor of those who look better in a gray suit. Does all the time spent on fitting in and honing the standard leadership skills, distract us from developing the unique and more edgy gifts that could lead to creative breakthroughs?

Mutants and Leadership?

“If you are using half of your power of concentration to look normal, than you are only half paying attention to everything else you are doing.”
~Magneto (a powerful mutant)

This weekend my son, Sebastian approached me excitedly, “Mom, you’ve got to see this movie. I think it has something to do with leadership.” My mind quickly raced through all the possible movies he could be considering. I was excited to spend that brisk Saturday afternoon snuggled up watching a movie and talking about leadership. And then he revealed his selection.“X-Men: First Class.” I groaned, but settled in. Sometimes you have to meet growing leaders where they are.

It’s not a “must see,” so if you missed it, I’ll save you some time. The world is full of interesting “genetic mutants” with amazing, yet underdeveloped powers (telepathy, teleportation, shape shifting). These mutants work to disguise their mutant powers, working to fit in, to “feel normal.” When under stress, the mutant powers overtake their ability to control them and they come out in awkward in dangerous ways. Until, one day, they find each other and a fellow mutant serves as their mentor helping them to not only to reveal and embrace their gifts, but to refine them.

“Mutant” Gifts

  • What unique gifts are hidden on your team?
  • Do these “mutant” gifts come out in clumsy ways?
  • What if you could help them to refine these special powers?
  • What are we missing by honing the more commonly accepted talents?
  • How much of own developmental energy is spent on “looking normal” versus becoming exceptional?

Are You Developing Your Team’s Mutant Powers?

In some organizations its standard practice to “groom” leaders to adapt to corporate norms. We teach future leaders to speak so they can be heard. We encourage rising stars to capture their ideas just right in the perfect Powerpoint template. We teach them when, where, and with whom to share their ideas. I work hard to develop these skills on my team (and in fact am writing about how to “speak to be heard” tomorrow). The corporate world does not have much appetite for “mutant” gifts.

Is there a cost to such conformity? Those with more quirky personalities and styles seldom rise to the top in favor of those who look better in a gray suit. Does all the time spent on fitting in and honing the standard leadership skills, distract us from developing the unique and more edgy gifts that could lead to creative breakthroughs?

Mutants and Leadership?

“If you are using half of your power of concentration to look normal, than you are only half paying attention to everything else you are doing.”
~Magneto (a powerful mutant)

This weekend my son, Sebastian approached me excitedly, “Mom, you’ve got to see this movie. I think it has something to do with leadership.” My mind quickly raced through all the possible movies he could be considering. I was excited to spend that brisk Saturday afternoon snuggled up watching a movie and talking about leadership. And then he revealed his selection.“X-Men: First Class.” I groaned, but settled in. Sometimes you have to meet growing leaders where they are.

It’s not a “must see,” so if you missed it, I’ll save you some time. The world is full of interesting “genetic mutants” with amazing, yet underdeveloped powers (telepathy, teleportation, shape shifting). These mutants work to disguise their mutant powers, working to fit in, to “feel normal.” When under stress, the mutant powers overtake their ability to control them and they come out in awkward in dangerous ways. Until, one day, they find each other and a fellow mutant serves as their mentor helping them to not only to reveal and embrace their gifts, but to refine them.

“Mutant” Gifts

  • What unique gifts are hidden on your team?
  • Do these “mutant” gifts come out in clumsy ways?
  • What if you could help them to refine these special powers?
  • What are we missing by honing the more commonly accepted talents?
  • How much of own developmental energy is spent on “looking normal” versus becoming exceptional?

Disclosure in Leadership? The Benefits and Risks of Showing Up Real

If you are like most leaders, you are concerned about your image and your brand. You want to show up strong, confident, and worthy of being followed. But what happens when you’re not feeling strong? What happens when life throws you curve balls to juggle on top of your leadership? What’s the risk of disclosure? What’s the risk of keeping things hidden? In full disclosure, I share a story of disclosure and how keeping things buried can backfire or not.

A Story of Non-Disclosure

I had just been promoted to my first big leadership position in HR, concurrent with a significant merger. All the players were new, I had a new boss, a new team, and new senior leaders to impress. Because life sometimes works out messy, I also was going through a divorce and trying to pick up the pieces in a new life, in a new home, as a single mom. The job required substantial travel to Manhattan and I lived in Baltimore.

One of first tasks in my new role was to build a Diversity strategy. We gathered a fantastic team representing each business unit, and were making great progress creating strategy and programs. I felt great about the relationship I had with this team and the work we were doing was vital.

And then this happened.

One day a women from my Diversity Council burst into my office, pointed her finger at me and yelled, “you are a fraud!” I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about and I was deeply hurt by the remark from this trusted teammate. She went on “I came by your office yesterday when you weren’t here and saw the pictures. They are all of you and your son–no Dad. You lead all these meetings where we work on programs to make it easier for single moms and NOT ONE TIME do you mention that you are one. What else aren’t you sharing?”

Yikes.

The truth is, I had been very deliberate about keeping that hidden. Even my new boss did not know what I was going through. I had heard enough discussion about the concept of “single moms” needing extra care and support so they could come to work on time and not call out sick when their kids were sick. I thought, I’m not like that. I’m a different kind of single mom, I’m an executive. I’d better just keep all this to myself. Oh really?

I began checking around with some other folks on the council. One gay man said, “Karin, you work so hard to get to know us as people and we love that. But, we are starting to wonder about you. You know all about us, but we know nothing about you.”

Clearly, my lack of disclosure had backfired.

Or had it?

Would I have been promoted in the midst of a merger with all new players if my new lifestyle had been part of the conversation? Or, would someone wonder if the “timing was just not right” and the “position really needed to be in NY.”

I will never know.

Footnote: Althought that was a lifetime ago, and I am now happily married with 2 children, I learned a great deal from that experience. I now chose to lead with more transparency.

What’s the right amount of disclosure? What’s the right balance of protecting your brand and being authentic.

What disclosure is good exposure?

This week, I address the issue of trust and authenticity from various angles.. I hope you will tune in to join the conversation.