Dance Lessons

Susan Dawson May 6, 2018

I recently heard a Verna Myers quote, “Diversity is inviting someone to the dance, inclusion is asking them to dance.”
As a teenager in the ‘90s I spent a fair amount of time watching TV, so when I heard this quote, my immediate visualization was the scene in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Carlton infamously breaks out ‘The Carlton’.

When I was younger, I thought he was a good dancer, but the moves themselves made me embarrassed. Looking back now, if I were to guess why watching that scene or any other awkward dance scene made me embarrassed, it was likely because the moves were different. They weren’t the dance moves I knew, that were familiar and I could pull off.

Here’s the thing: we are all in a constant dance in our workplaces.  The dance consists of meetings, project reports, performance conversations, you name it — it’s all a dance. Sometimes we are in a one-on-one dance, and sometimes it is a group dance.

We’ve spent a lot of time in organizations talking about recruiting for diversity, i.e. inviting people to the dance, but we haven’t done nearly as much about asking people to dance.

Reflecting on all this, I’ve realized just how many times we hire people because we want something different: we want innovation, breakthrough thinking, all of the amazing things that come with diversity in thought.

But when the moves look different than what we are used to, many times I think we get embarrassed, nervous, anxious, etc. We try to get those moves to fit in our construct of possible dance moves. In essence, we are killing the thought diversity that we want so badly.

As a leader, I’ve become mindful of recognizing my response to new moves and watching our organizational reactions. When I see new and different thinking or ways of being in meetings, projects, approach, or conversations, instead of responding as though the move is ‘weird’ I’ve made it something to get curious about.

I’ve started looking at our reactions and asking, “Ok, what can I/we learn from this move? How could I/we engage in the dance rather than stepping out to the side to watch? How could we dance together, incorporating the known moves and the new ones?

It’s become a way I challenge myself throughout the day with just about everyone I interact with. In doing this, I feel like my realm of ‘move’ possibilities has increased dramatically, and I have a real appreciation for learning new ones. I’ve also noticed that I’m being asked to ‘dance’ more and with different people and our dancing is FUN!

So my two questions to everyone reading this are, “How often you are asking people to dance,” and “What new and different moves have you learned lately?”

And as a challenge — just for fun — see if you can turn those awkward moves into an opportunity to learn new ones.

Susan Dawson is the Chief People Officer at Silverchair Information Systems. Susan is responsible for attracting, retaining, and developing top talent throughout the organization. She has a passion for helping people work effectively, and she is committed to inspiring, igniting, and empowering leaders.

Originally published by the Workplace Equity Project.