It might be “risqué” to suggest embracing the mindset of interdependence in a country famous for the highest score on the Individualism scale, (per Hofstede research); I also hope that my encouragement for the mindset of interdependence is not mistaken as a call for a commune-like set-up.
Let me explain.
Achievement – independent or interdependent?
How much of our success is a function of an independent effort, and a result of all the subtle or overt forms of empowerment we may encounter in our professional life? Only we can answer this for ourselves. However, every time somebody mentors us, guides us, vouches for us; invests in our development and believes we are competent and capable, it creates, in my opinion, an invaluable springboard for going to the next level.
The likelihood of such a springboard to achievement seems higher when we are surrounded by people who can relate to us, people with whom we connect and when we resemble those who are represented across the ranks of the organization. Perhaps they can see themselves in us and offering us a springboard just feels natural. When we are “inliers” or “insiders”, it often becomes easier to be heard, asked for an opinion, noticed. It is also more common to be granted a benefit of doubt and be assumed the potential and competence to succeed.
But what if we are a person from a historically underrepresented group – how common will such springboards be? Not too common, from what I have seen as a practitioner. Allow me to elaborate.
Expectation of “Outliers”’ independence and overlooking “Inliers”’ interdependence
In my diversity and inclusion (D&I) work, I often hear it’s all about merit and performance. Yes, it is. The question is – can we isolate performance, merit and effort from others’ participation in it? How much of our individual success is up to an individual effort and how much is a function of all the springboards we may take for granted or overlook? Pull yourself up by your boot straps is a common saying, after all. However, being different than the traditional organizational norm is like wearing sandals in a rain storm when the others have well-made, waterproof boots. Both are expected to walk, but if we encounter rocks or deep puddles it gets more uncomfortable and challenging to walk wearing sandals.
Let’s also clarify that being an “insider” or an “inlier” can be due to both visible and invisible factors. It can be about ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, nationality, etc. and often is about one’s style, level, function, tenure, the type of degree we have, the school we went to, or whether we are extraverted and introverted. Whether we are a business “inlier” or” outlier” is a function of the point of reference, context and the norms we encounter; often described as “company fit.” When we “fit” easily, the springboard is often common and accessible to us. When we don’t “fit,” it is as if the springboards didn’t match our size. In other words, Outliers might be expected to achieve everything without the very forms of empowerment, development and coaching that others get to experience.
Business inclusion is about intentional “springboarding,” which should not be mistaken with overprotection and rescuing.
There is a significant difference; the former recognizes systemic barriers to achievement and invites one to be an ally, while the latter assumes others are helpless and not as equipped to perform.
So, what can be done? Here are a few considerations for intentional “springboarding” so everyone can fulfill their potential:
- Recognize your own springboards to achievement to expand empathy for others. As I think about mine, I am indebted to Cindy who agreed to take me as an intern over a decade ago, Doug who hired me although I had a degree from a different country, Gary who coached me when I didn’t even ask, Erika who broke down the mechanism of American business culture, Chris who has always pushed me to stretch, Orlando who has challenged me to expand my own self-narrative and many others. The list goes on.
- Look at team members’ performance and consider organizational enablers or barriers to their success. See how you can support colleagues’ achievement and contribution efforts. It may be that you advocate for someone’s idea, point out when someone is not heard or challenge a group bias when it overlooks certain talent or contributions. It may be that you explain the rules of engagement to new hires and point out the unwritten rules for success in your company, you know, the ones that don’t make it to an employee handbook but are written invisibly on all company walls. Or simply honor the challenges a colleague faces so their lens is validated.
- Pay attention to what gets rewarded in the culture and help expand the “profile of success.” Scrutinize the profile of success for facilitating a narrow advancement of select few, those who fit that profile. If you can impact recruiting and hiring, go beyond the 3-5 typical schools. If you interview – make sure you don’t only look for things that are familiar, proven or safe (risk-averse). When you coach and develop, go beyond “like-me”. When you promote, don’t just consider your “go-to” people. Naturally they will seem ready – you have been developing them for over time with your assignments and intermittent feedback.
How about outliers – what can they do when springboards are tough to access? Here are a few things I have learned over the years from those that have succeeded:
- Perform despite barriers. Don’t let the circumstances disempower you.
- Expand others’ understanding of systemic challenges, effectively. Seek to inspire versus blame. Identify solutions, beyond concerns. Speak up about challenges experienced by other outliers without only focusing on challenges relative to your demographic. Communicate the organizational and business benefits of change. Understand what is important to others and connect change effort to that which motivates them.
- Look for advocates and champions in different or unexpected places. Your mentor or coach may have a very different background than you and be exactly the coach you need. I’m a white Eastern European woman, and most of my mentors have been African American/Black (some identify as Black and some as AA), many of them men. I couldn’t have asked for better mentorship.
I believe we are all interdependent and yes, this is my cultural bias (smile). Let’s support and uplift each other consistently – enabling all team members to fulfil their potential, not only the few.
The Kaleidoscope Group