We are all different, our lives, our backgrounds, our upbringing and our journeys, so much so that no one is alike and that’s what makes us diverse and in a diverse world, the only sustainable path of comfort is inclusion and acceptance of who we are.
Despite this, the world is always seeking common ground and is also seeking ways to discriminate basis differences. In a world that is constantly drawn apart, we should be aiming to use empathy and compassion and driving a more tolerant future.
The impact that we have on the people around us and the way we treat them, isn’t often something that we consider when we measure ourselves or map our strengths. We are all driven by both conscious and unconscious bias in our interactions and this limits our own growth in many ways and the growth of those around us.
As leaders or as we build ourselves up for leadership roles in the future, we should remember that discrimination of any kind and behaviour related to this will be the biggest Achilles heel holding us back from gaining our full potential. With discrimination and bias, comes judgment and this can only lead to fractured relationships.
I am today, sharing with you an old story but a personal one. It was my first job, at least my first full-time job and I was enamoured by my role and what I was chosen to do. I had a small team reporting to me when I was 21 and I was chosen to handle the department when my boss then quit. His replacement was never hired, and I was playing the role of the head of the department. My leaders saw something in me, and I was given opportunities way ahead of my age and I enjoyed privileges that people far senior to me were privileged to.
I rose in the ranks and in the locus of influence I had in the company and I had mentors who kept egging me on. A year plus into this role, I was invited to the senior leadership offsite and not only was I given the responsibility of representing my department and presenting to the team, but I was also tasked with running the whole event and the training program.
I was thrilled and excited mostly because I was looking forward to the event and running it and I spent a lot of time, energy and effort into the planning and execution of it. We went away for two days of brainstorming and team building and I was doing my thing with my usual enthusiasm.
At the end of day one, after the presentations, the training programs and all of that, we had a leadership huddle and then one to one break away sessions to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each leader and the department. I went into this too with an open mind, but I was not prepared for what was coming my way.
I came face-to-face with blatant animosity and I was told I was too young to be there at that forum, that I was to young for my role and that I should be grateful to have been invited and I should be on listen only mode. This, from 90% of the leaders in the room. I remember distinctly being told that I should not give any feedback to anyone because I am too junior to be doing so. I also saw envy although back then I didn’t recognise it for what it was.
Later that evening, I requested to speak with my boss, the COO and invited him for a walk. It’s a walk the talk I will remember for life. I shared with him what had transpired, and he empathised first and then told me that I shouldn’t sweat it and this would not be the last time I would have to deal with discrimination. He called out the hierarchy that is built into the system and told them that the behaviour of the leaders reflected their mindsets. He also went on to say how I was called there to do my job, play the role of the head of the department and he congratulated me on doing that in a fine way and going over and above my job to organise the event and training. He said that I did deliver on what he expected from me as a leader and that I should focus on the positives and negate the rest.
That conversation changed me, the way I looked at work and people and behaviour and it taught me a few lessons, on how I should never discriminate or be driven by bias of any form and if I was subject to it, what I should do to deal with it. I owe a thank you to him for giving me life lessons that I will carry with me forever.
Honesty and sincerity will always trump discrimination and will let you find your strength even amidst great chaos. Don’t discriminate and when you are discriminated against, don’t let it change you or bring you down.
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