Token Diversity

I have and will continue to be transparent about my own past and learning and that is now going to include systematic racism (and all ‘isms’).

Agile Virtual Summit released a session recording for anyone on the topic of DEI. I really appreciated their delivery of diversity as an outcome and can’t happen with token checkbox but inclusion. I’ve had the “not a token” conversation for many situations over many years (on hires, speaker selections, etc). My approach was to always highlight how amazing the underrepresented individual was – their skills, knowledge, etc. Although that was 100% true, I now can understand why I failed in that conversation in very important ways.

In order to best share the lessons, let me share how I internalized for a deeper understanding: I’ve had people ask/tell/imply that I’m only with AFA to have at least one woman (that I’m the token female trainer). Yet I’ve never felt that way because I’m completely included at the table – not only to contribute/collaborate but solicited/respected for my gendered different view in addition to my experience and skills (total inclusion).

The failures that I realized recently (and still thinking and learning):
1.) Of course, I hire/select amazing people. Yet, I have -over the top- explained skills/experience as if that was necessary. To use my example above, if I heard one of my teammates overly explaining my value – it would feel like crap because they are not simply complimenting me, they would be avoiding addressing the actual issue…that why is there person questioning my value to the team as a token.

2.) I put the primary ownership on the wrong side. There are plenty of times that I’ve not had the skills/experience and was still valuable. How? Because I have been lucky to have teams that made sure despite being frequently the only woman on the team – that my voice was heard and included in considering the results. I own that I’ve often thought this because I’m extroverted – willing to put myself out there – stubborn and won’t be ignored. And I’m sure that does have an impact (personal power) but at the end of the day – I don’t have the larger majority power (males in tech); what my teams do to truly being inclusive matters most. If I used my personal power style but they are not inclusive, I would be simply labeled as bossy, difficult, etc…which I’ve experienced and seen/heard too many times from others.

The conversation should never have been validating that someone coming into a team is not a token. The conversation needs to be focused on how the team actively learns to be intentionally inclusive thereby tokens can never happen. It’s not enough to create a space at the table for the underrepresented. To achieve diversity, we have to create spaces for the underrepresented to stay and fully engage at the table.

I have been focused on the first part (seat at the table) for a very long time. For the latter (engaged at the table), I am sorry. I believed creating empowering collaborative work spaces would be enough – that engagement would automatically occur. However given unconscious and implicit bias in combination with the power dynamic, I can now think of times I’ve failed to lead.

I’m listening. I’m learning. I will do better.

How have you focused on engaging diversity within the team?

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