Why are we so reluctant to accept ‘difference’?
You probably don’t need me to tell you that we aren’t quite there yet with an inclusive society that values and welcomes everyone.
Football ‘fans’ booing as players take a knee, stories of appalling casual racism, blatant misogyny directed at women, toxic online abuse aimed at anyone who is outside the supposed ‘norms’ of society. It is a sign of lazy thinking, or no thinking at all, a sign of immaturity in our society and a sign of fear.
Every time I see yet another beneficiary of white privilege, private education and the automatic doors of opportunity being appointed to a position of power and influence – it tells me that we still don’t really ‘get it’ and that, despite significant progress in the last while, we have still only reached the foothills of a very big mountain.
So what’s that got to do with managers & leaders? Many things, but I just want to highlight a few:
Inclusion attracts talent. There are millions of talented, innovative individuals out there who don’t quite ‘fit’ what some see as ‘normal society’. If we want to make progress, create new ideas and solve our problems, we need the help and support of those ‘others’, who have different life-experiences, different perspectives and the ideas we need to move forwards, together.
Inclusion solves difficult problems. As Einstein once said: ‘We cannot solve our problems with the thinking we used when we created them’. If we think like we always did, we’ll get what we have now. To make breakthroughs we need difference.
Inclusion creates collaboration. For those at the ‘top’ who might be older and from a different time, the idea of sharing, working with others and collaborating can be uncomfortable. We were taught that it was up to us and that we should be the one to come up with all the answers. For those raised and trained in the age of a digital, connected world and online communities, that idea must seem ridiculous. We have new generations who can do things most older leaders can’t even imagine. We need that capability.
Inclusion is the new normal. There is no point fighting against the shift to a society and workplace that includes women, every ethnic and religious denomination, the able bodied and the disabled, LGBTQ+, the neurodiverse and every other group. It’s already happened or is happening. It’s also morally right and a contemporary viewpoint. Anyone or any organisation that fails to recognise or embrace that fact will fall behind. It really is that simple.
So what should a leader do? The simple answer is this – learn. Understand and recognise those differences. Engage with everyone, include everyone and bring everyone together.
Be a leader for tomorrow, not for yesterday.
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