One of my favorite shows is The Vanilla Ice Project. Robert Van Winkle, aka, Vanilla Ice, the former rapper turned home renovation expert, also wrote a song entitled “Ice, Ice Baby” about competition among rap artists. Some lines among the lyrics read like this: “Police on the scene, you know what I mean, they passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends.” In other words, he knew that being a white rapper meant he wouldn’t be suspected of the same activities common among white and black rappers alike. How does any of this relate to Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging (DIEB)? Because even in the world of rap music artists, privilege can be found if you recognize it. Insight, Credibility, and Encounters, or ICE (I just love creating meaningful acronyms), are critical aspects of the DIEB journey that will help you recognize and address privilege in your own life and in the life of your organization.
Valuing Your Ice
Though precious, diamonds are casually referred to as ice. Four characteristics, known as the 4 C’s, help to explain their value: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat. The cut, or fashioning of the diamond, has the greatest significance in determining its beauty and value. Assessing the color, or lack thereof, is known as diamond color grading. Perfectly colorless diamonds are considered the highest value, while hues ranging between yellow and brown are considered of lowest value. Diamond clarity means that the diamond has no internal or external imperfections that can be seen by the naked eye, and most importantly, under magnification. Finally, we all know that the diamond carat, or weight, determines how much of a girl’s best friend said diamond, or piece of ice, really is.
As with diamonds, the fashioning of who we are, revealed through emotional and psychological cuts related to life events, has the greatest significance in determining our beauty and value. The internal wounds in our lives that people can’t see, unless outwardly manifested as flaws, cultivates our resilience. In terms of diamonds, these inclusions, or flaws, make diamonds significantly less valuable. Yet, in the DIEB space, the word inclusion refers to the value we associate with everyone as being worthy of having a seat at the table. People from different backgrounds and walks of life bring lived experiences that shape their perceptions, thought processes, ways of being, and approaches to problem solving that make them uniquely qualified to have a seat at the table which serves to enrich organizational culture and the bottom line. Ironically, even the term “diamond in the rough” is a backhanded compliment which refers to one as having exceptional qualities or potential but lacking refinement or polish. Alas, the beauty and worth of a diamond, either in the form of ice or a soul, is in the eye of the beholder.
Colorless diamonds, or the whiteness of one’s skin, is considered to bring the highest value in the workplace while people with hues ranging between yellow and brown, or who self-identify within the range between women and non-binary, are considered of lowest value. To establish credibility as leaders who endeavor to lead the DIEB journey with their organizations means that one must “be it to see it.” In other words, one’s credibility as a leader and DIEB advocate is highly questionable if one’s personal circle fails to reflect the workplace demographic and culture a leader claims to pursue because “it’s the right thing to do” and “it just makes sense.”
Unless a leader –especially a leader operating among the highest ranks of the organizational system-of-systems— has first-hand, personally meaningful encounters with people unlike themselves, how can they possibly be prepared for the hesitations and obstructive behavior they are sure to encounter from anyone across the organization? For the population who are Black Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC), it may be the hesitation to speak up for fear that they aren’t really supported by leaders who claim to value them inside the workplace, because leaders don’t know anyone like them outside the workplace. For white people, it may be the demonstration of behaviors that obstruct progress toward inclusion and equity for all, which they may interpret as now leaving them behind. Without the benefit of personally meaningful encounters that cultivate real relationships, a leader cannot begin to decipher what persuades people unlike them, unless they try to know people unlike them, including other white people.
When considering the value of a diamond, its clarity, or whiteness in terms of people, is most highly prized. However, in the category of diamonds known as the Fancy Color market, only one thing matters – the quality of the diamond’s color. To borrow a well-known quote from Dr. King, in terms of DIEB, only one thing matters – the content of one’s character. It’s time to dispel the myth that “white is right and Black is whack.” As a leader in your organization championing the pursuit of DIEB, it’s time to prioritize the importance of insight, credibility, and encounters that are personally meaningful enough to result in real relationships. Insight. Credibility. Encounters. This is the battle cry of people who “get it” and happen to serve in leadership.
Keep It Real!