It's the early 19 seventies, a beautiful summer day in an auto a suburb, and I'm playing with my friends.
We need to decide who's going to be it for a game of hide and seek.
Has we gathered tight together in a circle and we each place one foot in the center Someone starts that familiar rhyme any meeny miney mo Catch a *** by the weight What?
I thought it was Tiger catch a tiger by the toe.
So here I am, in the middle of what's supposed to be a fun game, with this lonely sense of being in the group and at the same time not really feeling like I'm part of the group.
Fast forward now, several decades, I'm an adult, married with Children of my own.
I'm taking a course and the facilitators working with me to address a concern I have about caring too much about what others think of me.
I'm sitting there with my eyes closed, engaged individualization, and suddenly it hits me.
Mike, caring too much about what others think is linked to not feeling fully included in my circle of friends.
When I was a kid, I realize that because I always felt slightly outside of the circle.
I became hyper aware of others reactions to me and tried to find ways to fit in and be accepted fast forward again to just last year, when leaders everywhere we're focused on diversity, inclusion and belonging, I'm heads down in a diversity and inclusion project at work, and I have another realization as we try to create these inclusive cultures comprised of diverse groups of people.
The focus has been on what we can do for others.
And while that's incredibly important and encouraging, there's been a glaring omission from the conversation.
And that is, how do we become conscious, off, embrace and even develop diversity within ourselves.
This question is essential to ask, because if we can't accept all of ourselves than our ability to truly embrace others is compromised.
This is diversity, inclusion and belonging from the inside out.
Let's use my story as an illustration.
When I realized that I cared too much about what others thought of me, I wasn't happy about it.
I knew it wasn't healthy, and I really didn't like this about myself.
The thing is, when we dislike something about ourselves, chances are.
We dislike that same trait when we see it in others, and this can lead to conscious and unconscious bias.
I've worked through that issue for the most part, But imagine for a moment that I had not learned to accept that part of myself.
If from that frame of mind I was interviewing someone and I perceived that the candidate also cared too much about what others thought, I could have allowed my bias to lead to the rejection of that candidate simply because they reminded me of a part of myself that I didn't like and the whole thing could have happened unconsciously.
This is an example of unconscious bias.
Now you might be thinking, Wait a minute.
Don't we tend to hire people who are just like us what we do with an important distinction?
We tend to include people who are similar to us in the ways we like about ourselves, not in the ways that we don't like about ourselves, and you can see how this presents a challenge in trying to achieve diversity inclusion because we all have insecurities and things that we don't like about ourselves, and these internal issues are playing out in our external interactions inside out, Being open to the diversity within requires consistent and conscious effort.
How many times have you heard yourself say things like, I'm not creative or I really want that job, but I'm not good at one of the core skills required to excel in it, So I'm not even going to apply or I want to advance my career at work.
But I'm an introvert, so I'm not comfortable highlighting my achievements to others.
We tend to create these definitions of ourselves that limit our ability to grow and raise our consciousness.
So what do we do about it?
The first step is to become conscious of the diversity within.
If we apply the metaphor of igniting a fire, think of this first step is just picking up the match.
One way to become more conscious of the diversity within is to examine our emotions.
Emotions are a window into the unconscious mind, and since research suggests that up to 95% of our thoughts are unconscious, the ability to connect deeply with our emotions can be a valuable tool.
Are you fully aware of the full range of emotions you experience in a day or a week.
Do you even allow yourself really feel and process all of your emotions, including the ones that we tend to judge is negative, such as anger or sadness?
Are you honest with yourself when you feel emotions like jealousy?
What do all these questions have to do with inclusion, diversity and belonging?
Here's the connection.
When we suppress certain thoughts and feelings, we are essentially not accepting the diversity of thoughts and emotions within ourselves.
And this internal suppression will eventually manifest in our external interactions, just like in the example I shared earlier.
Because I've done a lot of processing related to that topic, it's less likely to become a bias against other people.
So the change is happening from the inside out.
So the next step in our metaphor is to strike the match.
It's one thing to become conscious of the diversity within, but it's a whole other thing to embrace all of it, including the parts that we don't like.
But what if we could see the beauty in experiencing emotions that we tend to judge is negative, such as anger or sadness?
Think of a time when you manage to fully feel and process an uncomfortable emotion and the wonderful things that happened once that processing was complete, things that never would have happened if the feeling hadn't occurred in the first place.
And what if we could learn to embrace the parts of ourselves that we don't like?
If I hadn't learned to accept my tendency to care too much about what others thought, I might not be able to help others through the same challenge.
So if we can learn to embrace the parts of ourselves that we don't like, then we can get a lot more out of this challenge and grow.
So we picked up the match by becoming conscious of diversity within.
And then we struck the match by embracing what we found.
Now it's time to actually ignite the fire, to develop diversity within ourselves.
Some like fun.
A great way to start with this step is to learn to create a healthy separation between our sense of identity and our skills.
We tend to conflate these two and define ourselves by our capabilities, but you are still you, whether you can ride a bicycle or not right.
That's easy to accept if you don't have a strong desire to ride a bicycle.
But when it comes to the things that we really want, we tend to have a much more difficulty creating this separation.
We also tend to have difficulty making a distinction between being are authentic Selves and expanding our capabilities.
For example, I've often heard people say something like, I don't want to behave like someone else to get ahead.
Why can't the business environment just accept me for who I am and give me the same opportunities as everyone else?
Well, that's a fair statement.
Of course, we should all be accepted as we are.
So when the environment around us isn't changing fast enough, it's easy to feel stuck.
But what if we accepted that there are certain skills that we would benefit from developing, and just like learning to ride a bicycle wouldn't reflect on our authenticity one way or the other, we'd be more likely to develop those skills instead of being frustrated with ourselves for not having them and angry with the environment for expecting us to.
So you can see how inclusion and diversity are happening from the inside out here when we challenge ourselves to grow in ways that are uncomfortable.
A simple tool for doing this is what I like to call the can't won't will exercise.
Let's say that you're having difficulty highlighting your achievements at work, and you hear yourself say, I just can't promote myself effectively at work.
If we were playing through that exercise, you would write that statement down.
I can't promote myself effectively at work.
Then you would write the statement again, replacing the word can't with won't.
Ah, it's just become abundantly clear that it's not something you can do.
It's something you've chosen not to do.
Then you'd write the statement again.
Replacing the word won't with will, and this sets you on the path toward taking action.
So when we get to this point, you know we need to think about the fact that when we challenge ourselves to grow in ways that are uncomfortable, this helps to create this diversity from the inside out.
And if you do this, you successfully stepped outside of your sense of identity to develop a skill that can benefit you.
You've developed diversity within yourself by expanding your capabilities you've practiced, including with yourself by giving yourself the space to do something that you had previously defined as something that wasn't you.
The more you develop this ability to challenge your beliefs about yourself, the more open you can be to others and their way of being inside out.
I've been talking about creating these shifts from the inside, but I want to repeat.
It's still incredibly important for organizations to create inclusive cultures where everyone is welcome to bring their whole Selves toe work.
What I want to leave with you is the idea that we need to include this internal development in the conversation so that we can have better and faster results.
We need to ignite a spark of this inner consciousness to accept who we are, as we are our strengths, perceived weaknesses, imperfections and insecurities, all while challenging ourselves to grow in ways that are uncomfortable revisiting that little girl in the seventies.
I care much less now about what others think of me, but Justus importantly, I accept and embrace the part of me that still cares at times whether there's think.
As a result, I can have greater compassion when I see this trait in others I know I'm okay as I am and I want you to believe that you are too.