I read a good article by Sally Krawcheck recently that focused upon the question – Why are we still asking women to act like men at work? If you don’t know who Sally Krawcheck is go read the article and follow the links from her name that are there. She has quite an impressive resume.
Krawcheck was making the point in this article that diversity in the workplace has real value to companies, by giving them a wider perspective on the needs of the market, as well as a better knowledge base from which to make business decisions. She focused in the article upon the tendency in business to recommend (even demand) that women act more like the men in the business, in order to be successful and to be taken seriously. She makes a good case that diversity of thoughts and opinions, in this case letting women be women in business, makes more sense and leads to better decision making.
The same logic can apply to life in general. There is a tendency, based upon staying in our comfort zones, for people to surround themselves with other people who are just like them. The tendency drives them to create or join organizations that are populated by people like themselves. Many social clubs and churches are good examples of that tendency in practice. The same stagnation and self-serving, if wrongheaded, decision making that Krawcheck says can occur in businesses because of a lack of diversity also sets in at those more or less homogeneous clubs and churches over time. Due to the changing demographics in the general population, these insular organizations eventually wither and die, due to the inability to attract enough people “just like us” to sustain the organization. More successful organizations embrace diversity and thrive because of the wider pool of potential members that comes along with diversity.
At the root of the lack of diversity at work and in our lives may well be doubts or insecurity with our own role and place in life. The different opinions or points of view about things can be perceived as threats to our own view of things. We see the admission that someone else’s’ opinion about something being accepted as “right” must mean that our opinion is “wrong”. A more correct way to look at things is that both opinions or points of view have merit and should both be taken into account when making decisions. In business, to do any less is potentially to immediately discount an entire segment of the population and possibly to lose them as customers. In life, to do so is to ignore some solutions or answers and to limit the possible solutions to a problem. You may even discover that having the insight of another person’s point of view (especially someone not like you) will lead you to the conclusion that something that you saw as a threat or problem was not a problem at all, but rather an opportunity for you to grow as a person.
Back when I was in the corporate world (and the seems like a lifetime ago) I would, about once a month, join a group of women from the office who regularly went to lunch together. I told them that I was getting in touch with my feminine side, which they found amusing. I seldom got a word in edgewise on these luncheons, but it was fascinating and interesting to sit and listen to the conversations that went on over their lunches. The part that was most in contrast to lunches with the men in the office was the ability of the women to share their life experiences with one another, rather than just banter about work. Men’s lunches tended to be all about the business, whereas the women lunches tended to focus upon life and family and other “people-oriented” topics. Sure, there was also some sharing of office gossip, but mostly it was sharing at a level that invited empathy and shared concerns. The men’s groups were always very guarded about anything like that from their personal lives.
In her article Krawcheck used a great analogy for both business and life. She said that building a good team (at work) or support group (in life) can be thought of like building a good basketball team. In her words – “it’s hard to build a national championship team if your players are all point guards.” The same is true of the teams that you might be on at work. You need different skills and different points of view in order to make good decisions. I life you need a diverse set of friends around you as a support group for your life decisions and crises.
I recall watching the TV show Queer eye for the straight guy in which a group of gay men would help with the makeover of a straight guy each week. There were experts on the gay makeover team for personal grooming, clothing, cooking and home decor. Some of the members of that show are still on TV on other shows, such as Chopped. Each week some guy would be proposed for a makeover, usually recommended by friends and family. It was the totally different point of view of the gay makeover team that drove the dramatic changes that most of the participants underwent. Most of us probably don’t need to go to that extreme, but all of us could use the advice that we can only get from having a more diverse set of friends around us. Somebody has to say “yes” when we ask, “does this outfit make me look fat?” Then maybe they can help us make better choices in clothes and in life.
So, the take-away for work and life is to encourage and embrace diversity and to understand how to leverage that diversity in order to make better decisions. After you stop being amazed that anyone would see things that way that a person “different” from you might see them; you then need to make the effort to understand why and to let that understanding help you take that wider view of the decisions that you need to make. You’ll make better decisions at work and in life.