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In Pursuit of Belonging through Innovation

Setting the Stage

In our efforts to be inclusive, we sometimes inadvertently exclude those who don’t seem to “get in” in the ways that most people seem to “get it.” Case in point are those wonderful people who tend to lead with logic rather than the heart. When having discussions about Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, they may seem aloof and out of the loop, which isn’t always so.

Background Information

While working with a remarkably diverse group of executive leaders, there was one member, a white male, that just wasn’t tracking with the emotional aspects of this work to the satisfaction of his peers, two of whom were non-white, and one of whom was a white female with a diverse religious background. As his Executive Coach, even I was wondering if I was getting through. Then one day, light bulbs were going off over his head at an alarming rate: DIB was finally resonating with him!

The Challenge

Having a strong technical background, he had shared with me in our first 1:1 coaching session that he tended to prioritize projects over people, while being fully aware that it was through people that projects were completed successfully. This was always a struggle for him, despite having the opportunity to work with diverse teams at other organizations where he had always served in executive leadership positions quite effectively. How to pursue belonging through innovation seemed to be the challenge, which also presented a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate diversity and inclusion in a variety of ways that are equally as important as the traditional aspects we think of in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identification, and ableness.

The Approach

Though not an engineer, as an Executive Coach I refer to the organizational system-of-systems as appropriate to remind leaders of the fact that within the dominate organizational culture, there are sub-cultures found within the organizational system-of-systems. For example, the sub-cultures of office professionals, engineers, team leaders, mangers, executives, etc. And within each of these sub-cultures, there are norms and traditions that are strongly embedded in methods to problem solving. That being the case, I began making comparisons to pursuing DIB with project management by asking about his last successful initiative that spanned two years, suffered through “fits and starts”, engaged a team of engineers and other professionals from diverse backgrounds and experiences that enhanced brainstorming sessions resulting in diverse pathways to success that didn’t always turn out as expected, but that didn’t mean abject failure either. It required dedication to continuing the journey and reframing temporary setbacks as valuable lessons learned toward an expected successful end.

Similarly, I said that DIB is a journey that must be engaged in over time, like his last project. At times, the journey of DIB will mean 3 steps forward and 2 steps back, like his last project. The journey of DIB required engaging people from diverse backgrounds and frames of reference that enhances the organizational culture. And that plans for attaining belonging may not always turn out right the first time, which required dedication to DIB for the long-term health and well being of the company, its employees, vendors, and customers. With this comparison came an epiphany about how to leverage the strengths of his technical mind and that of his employees, in support of DIB across the company.

The Outcomes

With a renewed excitement around the work of DIB, and with a deeper sense of belonging for himself as a valuable member of the executive leadership team serving as DIB Champions, we discussed what a project would look like for him and his entire organization. The goal would be to collaborate on a project that would allow everyone to show up authentically in support of DIB that honored their diverse perspective as innovators within the company.

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