Once upon a time during my university days in Cardiff, I had the fun time of serving behind the bar in a nightclub frequented by Gothic Punks. Their make up and way of dressing frightened me and I kept my distance even though I had to serve them with a smile when they came and ordered their drinks.
Over time, I soon discovered that these were some of the nicest, kindest persons I had ever met and I became great friends with many of them. It was possible to get to know, appreciate and have something in common with someone who didn’t look like me, sound like me, dress like me or moved in the same social circles as me.
When I look back over my life to date, I have so many recollections of people whom I came across and did not at first like and/or whom I daresay I probably took a dislike to (and they quite possibly with me) that with the passage of time, have become great friends and allies now.
I remember too, the times when I have gone to conferences, round table discussions, book signings – all kinds of events – that in walking through the door of those events, I have made a beeline for those people who looked and seemed as close to the type of persons I would get along with. But then I would find that as the conversation progressed and quite some time spent in their company, I or one of them would say something and in a way that challenges that presupposition of them being my type.
Likewise the opposite has happened. At similar events, I have been approached or joined by a person from whom I would ordinarily run a mile but have stood still and greeted them with a smile under the glare of public scrutiny and/or peer pressure, only to find that with the passage of time and the gentle aid of a glass of wine, they actually are quite superb company.
It is interesting and intriguing how with the passage of time, our opinions and judgements of others, and sometimes, even of ourselves change and for the positive. Imagine if this were to translate into the working environment. What would happen there? How much time does a leader genuinely give him or herself in determining whether a person who is different to them in looks, sounds, social circles, education, interests outside of work etc. is their type or not? Many attempts over the years have been made to crack the diversity and inclusion agenda. The challenge however is not about diversity on the surface but diversity beneath the surface. You have a board that look different and even sound different but in truth are no different from being in the image of the CEO or the Chair or a perfect ‘fit” with the team.
It takes a quite deliberate and conscious choice to check out and challenge one’s own paradigms to truly make room for a diamond, a precious talent, or member of the team who may not at first talk or present themselves in an ideal light - subjectively speaking of course!