Whether you are white, black, brown, yellow, tall, short, fat, thin, gay, straight, blonde, brunette, male, or female, you are in some way, shape or form discussing or dealing with diversity and inclusion. Schools are ramping up programs to address it. Corporate America has expanded the c-suite to act on it. Police and military recognize the need to fix it. Social media is capturing it, spinning it, and spreading it.
You can’t escape it, ignore it, or hide from it. So, how do we deal with it?
What if in order to heal bias in our lifetime, we have to not only understand it, we have to get radically honest about it first? What if we even called our inherent discomfort with each other’s differences something else altogether?
How about calling it, “AWKWARD.”
Come on, you know what I mean. Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation and wanted to reference a specific ethnic group and then paused and questioned yourself, “Oh sh-t, what’s the politically correct way to say it?”
Go ahead, admit it.
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Okay, I’ll go first…I am Black and even I have paused and questioned myself: do I say Black or African American?” Truth be told, I flip flop. For me, “African American” is such a mouthful. Most times, I just prefer to say, “Black.”
(And, hell, even the two white women who are graciously helping me edit this blog are both wondering at this very moment if the word “Black” is capitalized, BUT they were too awkward to ask me, so they asked SIRI instead!)
Can’t make this shift up, right?!
The good news is we no longer have to. We can understand it’s not our personal plight, but humanity’s. We can jointly cringe about it, cop to it, and chuckle about our own awkwardness. We can understand that the issue isn’t the issue itself so much as the way we keep quiet about it instead of dealing with it head-on, with humor and heart.
For 15 years, I worked on a trading floor for a major investment bank. As one of the few senior women on the trading desk, I was often tapped to assist with the recruiting efforts. As I reflect on it now, I can recall the conversations that I had with potential new employees who were women. I would emphasize the need to have “thick skin” to work on Wall Street, especially on the trading floor. But when I spoke to the men, I didn’t emphasize this personality trait as much. Why? Because I had an unconscious bias that ALL men already have “thick skin.” That men rib one another and can take a beating, but women are like the kid sister, who better gear up. In hindsight, I recognize how wrong this was, but in the moment, I didn’t see it or recognize I was even making the distinctions in my conversations.
And, no surprise here, our awkwardness doesn’t just happen at work.
Last year, my daughter was in first grade at a private school in Connecticut and she came home upset. When I asked her what was the matter, she explained that in school that day they had made self-portraits out of construction paper, yarn, and buttons. Then, the students had to go around to see if they could guess who was who. My daughter was upset because the game wasn’t fair. Hers was the only portrait with brown paper, so everyone guessed her right away. So, naturally, as her Mom, I took the opportunity to pounce and talk about the other ways that she is different from the other girls in her class, and how she should celebrate the things that make her unique. It was amazing to hear all of things that she noticed about herself as a six-year old. And then we went through all of the girls in her class and found how each one of them are unique in their own way too. Even more important, we found out that, “they all don’t look alike.”
While this turned out to be a lot of fun, it also made me realize that we all have been collecting this type of evidence to prove our beliefs and build up our unconscious biases since childhood. If my daughter had not mentioned anything to me, she might have continued to build a case for why being different is a bad thing instead of a good thing or just a thing. No two people are alike. Not even the identical twin girls in her class, who were of peach construction paper descent.
The first step to any real change is admitting that there is something that needs to be changed. Despite the fact that more people are embracing the topic and more diversity officer roles are being created, I’m not sure everyone is on board with owning their part of the problem, let alone with finding our sense of humor about it.
Yes. It’s gone missing.
At HG, we teach people how to speak openly and honestly about how we are AWKWARD. We teach you how to bring that very openness and honesty into your office and we give you the tools to modify your behavior now that we have brought your unconscious behavior to the conscious.
My name is Carmen, I’m Black with an uppercase B, African American if time allots, thick-skinned, and awkwardly human.
P.S. Ready to get awkwardly human? Join Coach and Diversity Training Principal Carmen Hughes this summer for her workshop Moving from Awkward to Honest About Bias at the Mulitcultural Women’s National Conference in NYC on July 13th.
Interested in an AWKWARD workshop for your team or company? We have tailored solutions for you and your group. Get the conversation started with an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.