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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XII – Authenticity

For an organization to reap the benefits of diverse members, everyone must bring their authentic selves, and the organization must maintain an inclusive environment where people are involved, respected, and connected, a place where the range of human differences can be harnessed to pull in one direction.

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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XI – Talent: The Business Case

But which self should one bring?  The self is complicated.  It is a product of the past, present, and future.  It is comprised of your unique personality tendencies and internal factors over which you have no control:  age, gender, sex, race, size.  It is molded by external factors such as geography, income, education, religion, family, appearance, work.  It is affected by your professional and community affiliations:  status, organizations, function, seniority.  Authenticity is dynamic.  Which of your selves do you want to show up in a given situation?  How do you want to manage others’ impressions of you?  Those decisions require self-awareness, social awareness, and intentionality.

It is best when the identity we project aligns with our organization’s mission and culture.  When we look or feel different from the norm, we can choose strategies to stand out or fit in.  I had such choices to make when I lived and worked outside the U.S.  I am 6’5” tall, and when I lived in Iran for a year I had a beard.  There was no mistaking me for a local.  Once when I entered a mosque someone who looked like a caretaker yelled at me angrily and shooed me away.  I felt angry because my intention was to appreciate his sacred space, not to disrespect it.  I felt resentful, thinking that in my country we would not treat a visitor like that.  I did not like those feelings and developed a coping strategy.  We chose not to buy a car there, so I walked a lot.  Locals sometimes called out to tease or disparage a foreigner.  In the heavy traffic congestion, cars were ceaselessly honking at other vehicles.  I purchased a bicycle horn and attached it to my belt.  When I wanted to cross a busy street I honked, and the traffic gave way for me.  The presence of the horn on my belt gave locals something to laugh at that I did not take personally.

In Iran I was a temporary outsider.  Other people have visible differences that aren’t temporary—race, sex, or disability, for example.  Those people have multiple strategies to choose from whether their intention is to fit in or stand out.  To fit in, one strategy is to distance yourself from others who share your difference:  “I’m an engineer, not a woman.”  Another strategy is to assimilate by emphasizing things you possess that are valued in your environment:  your analytical or technical skills, for instance.  To stand out, one strategy is confirmation:  play up a positive stereotype perceived as valuable such as “women’s intuition” in decision-making.  Another stand-out strategy is addition: showcase skills that are valued in the organization as well as unique skills based on your difference.  With a horn, I could fit into traffic and call attention to my difference in a neutral way.

Adopting coping strategies when your social identity does not match the norms of an organization you are part of is wasteful.

It leads to excessive situational monitoring, masking, and covering to hide your true self, “code-switching” in which, figuratively and literally, you speak a language other than your day-to-day language, frustration and cynicism, and, ultimately, isolation, withdrawal, and turnover.  Your energy is better directed to serve the mission and goals of your organization.

In the next Reflection, I will deal with what can be done to encourage alignment of different selves with organizational mission and culture without losing authenticity.  Individuals can be self-aware about how they show up and how important that is to them.  Leaders can provide a diverse group of people with an environment that leverages their differences and discourages middle-of-the-night departures.

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Frank Lloyd
Frank Lloyd
Dr. Frank Lloyd is a board member and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Chair for Literacy Achieves, a Dallas, Texas-based non-profit that teaches English as a second language to adult immigrants to facilitate their employment, parenting, and other life skills. He is the producer of Literacy Achieves’ podcast, When I Got Here: Untold Immigrant Stories where immigrants share inspiring personal stories of why they left their homelands, how they got to the U.S., and the lives they are making here. Dr. Lloyd is the former Associate Dean of Executive Education at Southern Methodist University's (SMU) Edwin L. Cox School of Business, where he led the development and delivery of award-winning executive leadership programs and established a national center of excellence on Latino leadership. Dr. Lloyd joined SMU’s Cox School from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, where he was Vice President of Executive Education. Prior to joining Thunderbird, Dr. Lloyd was a human resources executive with General Motors. Among the highlights of his career, he was responsible for organization development and leadership training for GM Europe during its transition from mass to lean production, and he was the first GM Human Resources manager at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), the historic joint venture between GM and Toyota noted for its innovative labor-management relations and the introduction of the Toyota production system. Dr. Lloyd is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of UNICON, the Global Consortium for University-based Executive Education. He is the former board chair of Daystar US which mobilizes resources to support Daystar, a non-denominational Christian university in Nairobi, Kenya whose mission is to prepare servant leaders for Africa. He also served on the national board of Inroads, an organization with the mission to develop and place talented underserved youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. Dr. Lloyd was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Isfahan in Iran. He also served as a U.S. Information Agency curriculum consultant for Germany. He earned a master’s degree at Purdue University and a Ph. D. at the University of Iowa. His undergraduate degree is from Occidental College.

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CONVERSATIONS

  1. You mention an interesting phenomenon, Frank, that I observed in another context recently. I was in a group that was very diverse ethnically. From that point of view the outsider would have been the sole white American. But although the sole male in the group was one of many immigrants, it was his gender that was most salient for him.

    This made me wonder if it is a default of the human condition to look at what could make us feel alone instead of looking for what would make us feel we belong. Or perhaps it is guided by context: that when people are generally strangers we look for differences but among people we know better we look for similarities? I don’t know the answer but it does make me reflect how I feel and why.

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