Let’s think about how to tell diversity stories at work without creating tokens. Oooh, and then you’ll put headphones on and watch your new favorite talk show host brickity-break it down to a sick beat. But let’s be mullet about this and start with the business up front.
Diversity is good for business and for stories
Lots of future-facing companies talk about how a diverse workforce gives them an edge and there is proof that it does. And let’s be clear we’re talking about influence, not headcount. But while we can regale the concept of diversity at a company level, it’s tough as a little ol’ employee to demonstrate how your unique background is an asset. When you think about how to tell diversity stories at work, where do you start?
Tell your diversity story from your unique perspective
I’m a woman, immigrant, Semite, former social worker (read luddite), consulting in tech…WHO LET ME PAST SECURITY?!? I made it this far because of all that stuff, not in spite of it. Perhaps that is true for you, too? Diversity is not limited to origin, ethnicity, religion, body abilities, sexuality, socio-economic status, etc. The list keeps growing and the intersections matter. Let’s explore how to leverage your own stories beyond making friends at happy hour.
How to know if it’s a diversity story
When we share stories to advocate for ourselves we come to the fork in the road.
Should I talk about how I am like everyone else despite my uniqueness or should I double-down on it?
You can do both. Talk about that time when you were able to figure out, prevent, repair, etc. something because of your unique perspective. For example, was there something you deciphered because English is your third language? Did you see something others missed because you use a wheelchair? Did you uncover something because you’re the one brown person on a white team? Show how you helped your team become stronger, smarter, or better because of your unique characteristics.
You don’t have to feel like a token in your diversity story
If you’re telling a story of how your unique perspective was central to your approach, you’re good to go. Like we talked about, if you achieved something because of that uniqueness, it’s not tokenism; it’s influence. But, if anyone else could’ve done it and you just happen to [insert some diversity demographic term here], then you might step into token territory. It might still be a fabulous story; just not one about diversity. Here is more on how to keep your protagonist from being a token. I’m still educating myself on diversity and inclusion, and how to help clients be aware of tokenism. The real risk of tokenism isn’t when we talk about ourselves though…
Employers should beware of telling diversity stories starring tokens
The people who need to know the most about how to tell diversity stories at work are the ones telling stories about other people—whether employees, clients, or anyone else—to demonstrate the organization’s diversity. It’s not a bad thing; it’s a nuanced thing. Being conscious about tokenism and inclusion is especially important for employers highlighting their diverse employee population as part of the organization’s brand.
Telling a true diversity story can help humanize your brand. If you’re the author, then co-create the story with the person the story is about. Show the whole person, even if the story has a branding angle. The story will need to demonstrate how that employee’s unique perspective and experience influenced the organization. Otherwise, it’s a regular story, which serves a different end.
Telling a diversity story can define your personal brand
So here is my former social-worker coming out…think about the words you use to describe the collection of all that you are, especially in your origin story. If you’re feeling a little more uhhh *cough*….diverse than your colleagues, do you think everyone else sees you as as an odd-man out or an imposter? Reframe all self-doubt. Maybe you are a fighter, a diplomat, or a life-long learner. It’s not bullshit if you deliver. And that is what diversity is about—the reality of how companies, nonprofits, government, and the world are better because of including more perspectives rather than assimilating them. Stories are the proof.
Get your headphones on…or let your cube mate listen too
So let’s listen to what Lilly Singh has to say about it all. And fun fact: that thermostat quip is real. Thermostats are set for men’s metabolic rates or at least that is what science says. Hit it, Lilly…