This past month I had the privilege to attend the Out and Equal workplace summit hosted in Philadelphia PA. The organization is dedicated to fostering workplace equality. This was my first time attending and I came into the conference without any assumptions or expectations. My only goal, was to learn more, ask questions and to take back with me learnings, ideas, and practical tools that I could leverage locally where I live in Atlanta to enhance the diversity and inclusion programs at SAP.
There is a lot of diversity inclusion (D&I) conversations happening in the industry today and companies are realizing that D&I programs enhance not only the well-being of employees but they can inspire employees to perform even better at their job. Over the last 10 years at SAP I have felt open about my place in the company and I can honestly say that it feels inspiring to be #outatwork.
Although I feel comfortable and open, I believe SAP can do more. I must do more. Over my years at various roles within SAP, although I felt open and comfortable with others about being honest about my life, my family, and who I am it has been difficult to see programs that provide support for people like me. This isn’t a criticism of SAP. I wasn’t specifically looking for or needing any type of support. However, looking back over the years, if more D&I programs and groups had a larger presence locally to connect individuals and showcase how much SAP embraces various diversity groups, I know this would have certainly elevated my passion for working at such an amazing company like SAP.
I am not looking to make any justifications or rationalize what I’ve felt in the past, but I can only look toward the future. I think the responsibility is on employees like myself to do more and drive D&I programs at a more personal. I need to help foster a larger platform for more of these programs that may exist at the global level global within a company but may get filtered or lost in the weeds filtering down to individual office location or regions. I need to do more to help build experiences and events to support my colleagues at SAP to showcase that there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of support available across all aspects of diversity inclusion.
To do this, I need to step up as a leader. One of the sessions at the conference touched on this exact topic and I would like to share with you some of the things that I learned from this amazing session.
This session was focused around the art of inclusive leadership. You might ask yourself what is inclusive leadership? Ash really illustrated five specific points about what it means to be an inclusive leader and I would like to share them with you.
The first area of inclusive leadership is around compassion. Compassion represents that no matter how a person expresses to you their understanding of who you are, we can’t judge others for how they show support for who you are. If you want others to be accepting of you, you need to do the same of them. Ash gave an example where she was at her sister’s wedding and talked about how she brought her wife to this wedding. At this wedding were family members she’d known all her life. What ended up happening was that as she came to this table to see her family members, her family ended up saying things that were awkward sounding and references to various topics to make it seem that they knew about her life and how she had a wife (catch the TED talk for a lively story for more details). What the story illustrated is that no matter what people say, or how they say it, some things just may come out awkward. But we need to let them know that we get them and we understand where they are coming from. We need to give them a safe space to tell us how they feel and tell you things in their own way without judgement. People do their best to try and we need to let people try even though these tries and situations may feel very uncomfortable.
The second area of inclusive leadership is taking responsibility. Ash gave an example of when she was at a tradeshow and provided some accidental activism. Ash has done various TED talks, she randomly ran into an individual that saw her on one of these TED talks on a YouTube video. And instead of explaining the topic or area of her conversation she assumed that this individual wouldn’t be interested in the topic or video. What Ash let us know is that sometimes we get into situations where we may be uncomfortable and maybe assuming things about others and not giving them the benefit of the doubt that they might be interested in our life. And so, the point is that we need to have responsibility to not assume how others feel and what others believe and take ownership around our thoughts, ideas and perspectives on life and most importantly, don’t be afraid to share them.
The third area of inclusive leadership is around individuality. What Ash wanted us to know is that we all must embrace individuality and who we are. And sometimes being close enough is not good enough and it’s not going to cut it. Ash gave an example when she was younger dressing up for Halloween she really wanted to be a football player. But instead of dressing up as a football player she dressed up as a cheerleader in order to fit in. Ash explained that this is an example of how she was trying to get as close as possible to who she really wanted to be, but instead ended up being something that she wasn’t. And what we all need to do is really think about our individual life and who we are and making sure that we go about our lives and truly be ourselves and not anything else because close enough isn’t going to cut it.
The fourth areas is around courage. Courage is letting people know what it’s like to be me. We want our colleagues in the workplace to support us in every way possible and we cannot get angry or explode at difficult situations. Ash give example of when she goes into bathrooms when she travels. Ash personally does not identify with one bathroom gender and so when she travels she has great difficulty in going to the bathroom because of that reason. She gave an example of when she walked into the women’s bathroom and a woman that saw her said that “she doesn’t belong here”. Instead of taking this opportunity to explain to the person who she is Ash justifiably “exploded” and made a comment that made the other person feel the same awful way that Ash felt inside. And although this might feel good in the moment letting somebody else feel our pain it doesn’t do any further good and it doesn’t help the other person understand where we might be coming from. An inclusive leader needs to own our next explosion and be courageous enough to not give into the temptation and instead to really speak what’s on our mind but find other ways to communicate what we truly want to say.
The fifth area is around grace. Ash gave an example when she worked in a Colorado restaurant and she was a server and this was a restaurant that let’s everyone wear what they want and be their complete authentic selves. Ash gave an example of how one day when she was serving a family a little girl came up to her and asked, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Ash said that instead of blowing up and going into fighting mode and taking the opportunity to really let this little girl know how she felt she gave a very simple example and had a conversation with her. She said, “do you know how sometimes you want to wear your cheer leader outfit and hold pom-poms and some days you just want to wear comfy PJs?” Ash said, “I’m a comfy PJs kind of girl.” And this girl just brushed it off like it was no big deal and said “my favorite PJ’s are purple ones; can I have a pancake now?” What this story illustrates is that that we must have a grace and not always be ready for “battle” when someone says something that give us a fight or flight response. We need to be gentle and soft with people because at the end of the day we are all human beings.
I truly loved this session around the art of inclusive leadership because no matter which diversity and inclusion group you may be part of it’s important to be inclusive of everyone in all moments of our life. To be inclusive of everyone we cannot make assumptions about how others think and feel. We can’t assume that people know that they know us and we can’t assume that people would not be comfortable with who we are. We can’t assume that people would not be interested in what we have going on in our personal life just because we feel that we are “different”.
We need to assume that the people around us do genuinely want to learn about who we are and get to know us even better. Take a moment and really get to know your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to ask personal questions and talk about yourself and your life. Give everyone space and the comfort to do this and others will do the same for you. We are all different, we are all diverse. Let’s celebrate diversity and be inclusive leaders!
Thank you to the D&I office at SAP for sponsoring my attendance at this amazing event and for all of the things that you do across SAP. If you are in Atlanta, GA and want to connect about your experiences being an inclusive leader, feel free to reach out to me directly.