Sometimes, even well-meaning efforts to onboard people who fit a “diversity profile” can backfire in environments that are still learning about inclusion and diversity.
Sheralyn joined a mid-sized company as a department head after leaving a larger company where she felt invisible and excluded. Tired of doing the political dance, she candidly voiced her reason for wanting to transfer her talents to a new opportunity, when asked in the job interview why she wanted to leave her then employer.
Michael, Sheralyn’s new boss, was part of the panel who had interviewed her. He had championed her recruitment and especially wanted to make her feel at home in her new workplace. Among his other efforts to roll out the welcome mat, Michael hosted a small social event on the second day of Sheralyn’s arrival. He invited employees of a similar racial background to Sheralyn from other departments to welcome her. It was a well-intentioned gesture.
When Sheralyn walked into the room and was met with showers of greetings from, mostly, people of her visible likeness it was a pleasant and confusing surprise. As she learned more about the invited guests and the positions they held in the company, Sheralyn wondered why more people in the room weren’t more closely related to her role, or to key relationships with her department.
Though Sheralyn appreciated that Michael had gone out of his way to make her feel a sense of community, she also felt resentful at being pigeonholed. Michael had assumed he could serve Sheralyn’s interest in feeling a sense of belonging by ascribing to her an identity based on her visible features and then pandering to it. Without knowing who Sheralyn was, or how she might choose to identify foremost at work, Michael missed that some people, including those categorized as “visible minorities”, may vary on how they identify, find their place, and lead their presence in different social environments.
Michael was inexperienced in working with people from backgrounds visibly different than his own. He didn’t know what he didn’t know, and his innocence affected his ability to fully comprehend the subtle nuances of self-identity in a place where you are still seen as “other”. Like many leaders who have enjoyed the long-time privilege of being the traditional majority in leadership, Michael unwittingly confused a show of diversity with the experience of inclusiveness.
Sheralyn wanted her well-meaning boss, whom she liked, to learn these three things for his next onboarding adventure:
When you consider Sheralyn’s story, are there any questions that come to mind? Which questions about leading diverse teams have been brought up by others in your organization? Please share your thoughts and questions. Perhaps we can work together to create solutions.tions.