INSIDERS are members of social identity groups that set the norms and make the rules in cultures and organizations without knowing they do so. While not always the “majority” group, INSIDERS define what is normal and expected behavior for everyone in a system or organization in order to fit in. By nature of being the group that everyone conforms and molds to, INSIDERS are the least aware of these dynamics in general. More specifically, they are least aware of what their OUTSIDER colleagues are having to personally navigate and how it impacts their sense of belonging.
No one chooses to become an INSIDER or OUTSIDER. It just happens, often as a byproduct of the family one was born into, the color of their skin, the gender assigned at birth, etc. INSIDERS, who disproportionally occupy senior leadership roles, are often unaware of the difference between their experiences and those of OUTSIDERS. Typically, OUTSIDERS have to work harder in order to fit in. One of the direct costs to OUTSIDERS for belonging is they must often sacrifice or submerge their uniqueness. Consistent attention to and acknowledgment of these systemic dynamics is important for every leader and especially for INSIDER leaders in order to interrupt personal mindsets and change behavior and that helps remove institutional barriers to engagement.
Leaders are charged with removing these barriers in their teams and in organizational practices and policies. Maintaining the status quo of INSIDER culture makes permissible, conscious or not, INSIDER norms as the only path to contribution and success. Here is the list of common diversity myths for many INSIDER leaders to learn to better notice and then dispel:
MYTH 1: The end goal is not seeing difference. And hence, as a result, treating everyone the same is the objective.
Instead, inclusive leaders need to learn to more clearly see and then acknowledge both difference and sameness simultaneously. Both are always present. When you pit one against the other, it forces OUTSIDERS to work harder to have to fit into INSIDER culture, which comes 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 should focus only on OUTSIDERS—the people and groups historically marginalized and/underrepresented.
Having your D&I efforts disproportionally focus only 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). Instead, be empathetic. 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 yourself and others, within your team and then within your system. Speak up. Learn to become more curious and less judgmental. Balance inquiry with advocacy.
MYTH 5: If we just add more diverse representation, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will take care of itself.
While it is critical that everyone see themselves represented in all levels of leadership, merely shifting the numbers, without addressing the cultural impediments that limit engagement from everyone will not be enough. The long-term, never-ending journey is about creating and sustaining an inclusive culture. To do this, INSIDERS must relentlessly continue to examine and remove the systemic barriers that support inequity.
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. No one personally created it. As you become more conscious of these INSIDER/OUTSIDER dynamics, you become a catalyst to fostering a work culture where all people feel valued, seen and heard.
MYTH 7: I am not part of the problem. Getting stuck in your own “good guyness” or “good galness” by thinking “I am a good, well-intended person; I don’t have any bias towards others. Therefore, I don’t need to change, but others do.”
Many INSIDERS who see themselves as already supportive of DEI often do not see themselves as part of the problem and often view others as their main focus of change efforts. Everyone has their own work to do, especially self-proclaimed “woke” INSIDERS.
Your own personal work is pivotal and foundational to how the system will evolve. Practice what Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you wish to see.”
MYTH 8: I will lose my personal uniqueness if I acknowledge my INSIDER group memberships (based on my gender, race, sexual orientation or other memberships).
Don’t simplify the INSIDER/ OUTSIDER dynamics into a binary of this or that. It is more complex than that. Each of us has multiple group memberships; some as an INSIDER, some as an OUTSIDER. However, many INSIDERS, particularly those in leadership, don’t see the INSIDER/OUTSIDER dynamics because they are viewing these dynamics through an individual lens as opposed to seeing the systemic patterns that result from multiple, intersecting group memberships. Learn to see how these INSIDER/ OUTSIDER memberships impact everyone’s sense of belonging, engagement, morale and self-confidence. Learn to more easily operate in an “and/both” learning stance by acknowledging your INSIDER group memberships without feeling you are being asked to renounce your uniqueness or dismiss your individuality.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
These myths above are often deeply embedded in how INSIDERS view themselves, others and what the assumed “right way” is to get things done at work. This one “right way” excludes people and the multiple ways others can contribute and do their best work. Consider your work dispelling these myths as an INSIDER as ever-evolving on your long-term, continuous DEI journey.
Consider the following questions to unpack your own assumptions around DEI work:
1. Which myth do you most need to work on presently in order to be a more effective inclusive leader?
2. Why did you select this myth to dispel?
3. What makes this myth challenging for you to dispel?
4. What is the work you need to do now to shift your current mindset and change your behavior?