Insiders are members of social identity groups that set the norms and rules in cultures and organizations without knowing they do so. While not necessarily the majority group, Insiders define what is normal and expected behavior for everyone in a system/organization in order to fit in. Insiders, by nature of being the group that everyone conforms and molds to, are often the least aware of these dynamics and what their Outsider colleagues, as well as they and other Insiders, are having to personally navigate.
No one chooses to become an Insider. However, Insiders, who often are disproportionally in leadership roles, are unaware of the difference between their experience and that of Outsiders. Many Outsiders have to work harder in order to feel that they belong and/or their work and talent is acknowledged and valued. The constant work of noticing these systemic dynamics is important for every leader—particularly for leaders from Insider groups.
This list of common diversity myths to dispel is important for Insiders to learn to see and interrupt both in their personal mindsets and behaviors. Beyond this, leaders are also charged with removing barriers in their team and in organizational practices and policies that often unconsciously install Insider behavior as the only path to contribution and success.
- MYTH 1: Thinking that the end goal is not seeing difference. As a result, treating everyone the same becomes the goal.
Instead, inclusive leaders need to learn to more clearly see and acknowledge both difference and sameness simultaneously. Both are always present, and when you pit one against the other, it forces Outsiders to work harder to have to fit into Insider culture at their own expense. A cost to belong for Outsiders often means they can’t be fully themselves.
- MYTH 2: Greater diversity and inclusion efforts are only about Outsiders—people and groups historically marginalized and/underrepresented.
Having your D&I efforts disproportionally only focus on Outsiders can unintentionally lead to resentful backlash from Insiders while making Outsiders feel like tokens. Greater D&I progress should benefit everyone.
- MYTH 3: Seeing greater inclusion as some form of philanthropy/charity for people and groups marginalized by the system.
Avoid any mindset that takes a “sympathetic or feeling so sorry for another” stance. These inequality issues are systemic and embedded. They affect how all of us think, Outsiders as well as Insiders. Be empathetic instead. Learn to hear and validate your Outsider colleagues’ experience. It may look very different from your own. Work instead to consistently remove old patterns and practices, while molding new ways of thinking and behaving.
- MYTH 4: I don’t want to offend someone or say the wrong thing, so it’s better just to remain silent.
Don’t lose your voice. Spend more time noticing patterns within yourself, within you and others, within your team, and within your system. Speak up. Learn to become more curious and less judgmental. Balance inquiry with advocacy.
- MYTH 5: Thinking we just need more diverse representation.
While it is critical that everyone see themselves represented in all levels of leadership, merely shifting the numbers without addressing the cultural impediments will not be enough.
- MYTH 6: Insiders should feel bad or guilty about what they are often not aware of.
Remember the inequality between Insiders and Outsiders is not anyone’s personal fault. You did not create it. As you become more conscious of these Insider/Outsider dynamics, you get be become more responsible for contributing to the change needed so all people can feel more valued, seen and heard.
- MYTH 7: Thinking you are not part of the solution. Getting stuck in your own “good guyness or good galness,” “I am a good, well-intended person; I don’t have any bias towards others. Therefore, I don’t need to change.”
Your own personal work is pivotal and foundational to how the system will evolve. Practice what Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see.”
- MYTH 8: Operating in an either/or mindset that pits losing your unique individualism in order to acknowledge your social group identity.
Many Insiders don’t see the Insider/Outsider dynamics because they get stuck viewing these dynamics only through an individual lens. Doing this can make the Insider feel that they personally are being accused of marginalizing Outsiders. Learn to see how group membership (yours as an Insider and others as Outsiders) impacts belonging, engagement, morale and self-confidence. Operate in an “and/both” learning stance by acknowledging your Insider group membership without having to renounce you unique individually. You are both a unique individual and, as an Insider, you are also part of a social identity group that sets the norms for everyone without often realizing it sets the norms and defines what is acceptable.
These myths are deeply embedded in insiderness and how Insiders view themselves, others and the system, so expect to continue to have to dispel these for quite some time. See your work as an evolving, awakening Insider as a long-term, never-ending journey.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
- Which myth do you most need to work on in order to be a more effective partner across difference?
- How does the myth still impact you and what is the work you need to do to shift your mindset and change your behavior?