Excluded in workplace

Using Your Diversity Story To Connect In The Workplace

By Jennifer Brown, President & Founder

Every last one of us knows what it feels like to be excluded. We have all experienced it, albeit some of us more often and, perhaps, more intensely than others—and we all have a diversity story, even those you might not expect.

We have distinct differences, but our fundamental needs and wants as individuals are the same. We all want to be Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and HeardSM.

Just as institutions have founding stories so, too, do people: the experiences that shaped them, lessons they learned along the way, the source of their values, their passion, what makes them unique, and why they care about what they care about.

There is power in the vulnerability within these stories to inspire others; leaders can use it to model the value they place on diversity, adversity, and inclusion. And yet few leaders, while striving to present an all-knowing, strong, and certain face to the organization and to the world, recognize the power of storytelling.

It can feel counterintuitive to incorporate realness, and humanness, into our executive presence and the expectations we’ve all labored under to appear perfect, hard working, and all knowing – “in charge.” And yet your mistakes, epic failures, wrong turns, and successes – all can be unexpectedly instructive to others.

As a leader, you start to step off the pedestal, and you open yourself up to connection.

Here are some thought starters for your diversity story: 

  • When have you felt the sting of exclusion? How did adversity in any form shape you as a leader? As a human being?
  • Where are your diverse employee voices? How conscious were you of inclusiveness when hiring those individuals? Whom have you reached out of your comfort zone to nurture and guide?
  • Can you share a story that reveals a bias you’ve overcome?
  • Which rising star can you speak about who has authentically leveraged a non-majority identity to engage and impress?
  • Have you had an encounter with someone from a different culture, background, or orientation that has influenced you? This person may be a mentor, friend, manager, high-potential performer, customer, or partner. Has that experience altered your leadership style in any way?
  • Have you mentored a woman, a Hispanic/Latino employee, a transgender worker? What was the outcome?
  • Are you proud of your company’s diversity commitment? What does it mean to you?
  • How will you engage your peers in the conversation?
  • How did your intentional inclusion of someone not “of the majority”—say, a disabled woman or a service veteran—improve that employee’s experience, better their team, and better the organization?
  • How has heightened awareness of diversity of style and approach changed the assumptions you make about the ways work gets done?

It’s easy to fall into the habit of telling the stories of people that look like us, but it is important that we build trusting relationships with those people who are different from us and share stories of those experiences.

Whom we choose to tell stories about not only says something about us, but also bolsters those who don’t see their stories shared. As a leader, you can provide that platform and elevate those voices to greater visibility.

We often think our difference set us apart from everyone else—usually in a negative way. But it may be very much the opposite. Our diversity story can connect us with many other aspects people are keeping under the surface.

So take the risk to lead through being vulnerable. See how peculiar you are, or even how peculiar you’re not.

This post is adapted from an excerpt from Chapter 10 of my best-selling book Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change. You can download the first chapter free here.