One of the issues of diversity is that people can suffer from diversity myopia, which I understand to be the situation where people don’t see diversity clearly. I now think that the issue is that sometimes that people from diverse backgrounds are simply not seen in the first place. Like the protagonist in the Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, you’re simply not seen in the first place.
What if this happens to you? What can you do about it? In thist post, I’m going to discuss why this happens, and what you can do about it.
Not Seeing Clearly, or not Seeing at All?
This is a key challenge in diversity. People can unthinkingly believe that they accept people regardless of backgrounds, but the reality is, they don’t always see them. This forms a confirmation bias, since we don’t measure ourselves on the data that we haven’t seen. To be really diverse, you have to see first. If someone remains ‘invisible’ and ‘unseen’, then their voices aren’t heard of their voices are ignored. This means that unthinking people are unconsciously unaware that they don’t move from ‘seeing’ to ‘understanding’ diversity. And people don’t ‘understand’ diversity if they can’t ‘see’ it, which means that they never come to value diversity.
Therefore, when dealing with people from different backgrounds, there can be instances of ‘not seeing’. For example, if someone ignores my participation in an email thread and forks a new thread that ignores my contribution, it tells me that I’m simply not being ‘seen’ in people’s inboxes. Right away, they just pass over the name, so I get dismissed right away as irrelevant.
But that was my idea…. Being Hepeated
It can also lead to instances of he-peating, where someone takes or copies your contribution and then owns it, and I think it’s probably because the idea has impinged itself upon the hepeater but you haven’t done so. Your idea has made it’s way to someone’s consciousness, but you haven’t made it. If you complain about it, then this can be interpreted as ‘unladylike’ behaviour and people only remember that you complained about something. It’s easy to ignore somoene as a complainer, than it is to really question yourself over your behaviour.
Mastering the Lizard Brain
Mastering the lizard brain really developing a harsh lens on yourself to obtain self-awareness and realize your impact on others. It’s my hunch that many adults never reach that stage of development at all, but if you are leader, then you have to be very self-honest to strive to master the lizard brain.
Ask yourself hard questions. What would you think if someone did that to you? Can you see things throug their lens? It becomes very uncomfortable to ask yourself if you are really diverse or not. We like to live in the comfort zone but that’s not where the growth takes place.
Reasons or excuses? You have to ask yourself if you are giving yourself reasons or giving yourself excuses.
Something isn’t true just because you said it. In conversation, I can hear someone give themselves an excuse for behaving in a certain way, and it can seem as if they accept it as truth simply because they said it. Our brains fool us into being directed down that path, because we said it.
Again, it’s about mastering the lizard brain and being flexible and adaptable to new data and analysis of ourselves, even if we feel uncomfortable.
What can you do to be heard?
I think that a lot of people struggle with this issue. I know that I do. Why does this happen?
I’m going to propose ways that you can try to overcome these issues.
Always add value to the meeting or conversation. Don’t use weasel words. Remove phrases from your vocabulary such as ‘I think’, ‘perhaps’, ‘in my opinion, ‘this could just be me but maybe’ and other weasel words.
Practice speaking up more, and with more confidence and power. Ask yourself; do I sound sure or do I invalidate myself with disclaimer type phrases?
Try to learn to interrupt politely. There are some great tips here. Here’s my favourite idea and I do this a lot: in a business meeting with a lot of people with big egos, pauses dont’ come often so you will have to jump in. You’ll seem less rude if you first restate (“If I hear you correctly, you’re saying XYZ’ and then follow on from there.
Learn to hold the floor when you speak. You can do this by adding some colour to what someone else has just said (e.g. ‘following on from Jane’s point) but adding new insights that add depth or breadth.
You can set up allies in the room so you can echo and support each other. I have had to do this, and it doesn’t feel good because it feels like you’ve already lost before you’ve opened your mouth. However, it does work and it will help you to network and get things done under the radar.
Learn to sell your achievements without going overboard e.g. ‘my team and I’ is a nice starter as a way of discussing your achievements.
Sit near the centre of the table or the floor. Sitting at the side or the back can mean it’s harder to grab and retain attention.
Be judicious in allowing yourself to be interrupted. If someone simply repeats what you said, pretty much, then be careful that it isn’t a potential hepeater.
Practice and improvisation. I did a course in improv, and it helped a lot. Here’s a reference if you’d like to follow this up: Leading with Applied Improv with Izzy Gesell. There’s a lot of wisdom there and I recommend that you follow it up on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/learning/leading-with-applied-improv/reflection-leadership-and-empathy
When you think about this list for yourself, keep others in mind, too. You can be the person that brings others along a journey to new heights and experiences in their career, thereby building your network and being a leader. Think about the lizard brain in yourself and others.