Brene Brown’s Take on Privilege, Inclusion & Diversity
Meeting celebrities does not change your life. 99% of the time. I haven’t seen any actual science backing this, but with social media flooding us with every single celebrity sighting, I’ve contributed my most recent (annoying selfie) meetup.
Except meeting Brene Brown was 100% life changing. She broke her rule of not traveling in January to come to a special Bay Area company, and I opened for her. (If you ignore that the opening talk was given to a smaller breakout group. And in a different building).
Brene was asked about the risks and difficulty of having conversations about fairness in the workplace, which includes a long list of “diversity” attributes, and she answered it so clearly:
AVOIDING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS IS THE DEFINITION OF PRIVILEGE.
That sentence changed me. Maybe not my whole life, but her clarity is worth amplifying.
I realized that even on my team, we stumble over our words with earnest respect for all the ways diversity is discussed. I often have to pause to find the right words (and still screw up). But by trying, we’re at least engaging in the uncomfortable feelings and risks that come with getting some of it wrong.
Other times to have these frank conversations, there have to be rules around what’s shared and not shared outside of the room. I was asked to privately speak with an executive team of a bank where it’s mostly white male (they did have one female leader and one male non-white in a group of about 15). They wanted to engage and understand the data on diversity and inclusion, the potential solutions, and someone finally asked the terrifying question – “so you’re basically saying 50% of us shouldn’t be at this table right now?”. Okay, shit just got real and now we can address the fear straight on. Avoiding it solves nothing. Discussing it opens us up.
The short answer is inclusion is not a zero-sum game. But to create the virtuous cycle, we have to engage and be willing to ask the scary questions and get some of it wrong, while working to make it right. I’m going to keep making mistakes, but what worthy pursuit doesn’t involve some failure?