I like to think about myself as being a good ally. But I still have a lot to learn. I have relied on my own reality and experiences and made assumptions that other people's experience is similar. It's not. Not even a little.
As someone who was adopted, I have some insight into what it feels like to be 'other' and not belong. As a woman attorney, I have plenty of experience with gender bias and sexual harassment. Men and women walk through the world differently. That is also true for people of color, the disabled, the LGBTQ community, veterans, people of different religions. And have you noticed how horribly men can treat each other?
Our human brains are very good at designating things as scary or not scary, good or bad. Humans, our world, and our lives are not binary. They are complex, interesting, multi-faceted, and often wonderful. But we have to override our natural instincts to reject anything unfamiliar.
We are all living in multiple different realities. Often we don't know much about these other worlds. A simple example is parenting. My sons are 17 and 21 and white. I worry about them getting in a car wreck. My Black friends worry about their sons getting killed for doing something minor, or nothing at all. While I have the privilege to be horrified. They have to teach their sons survival skills that apply every time the young men leave the house.
And yet, even with these stark differences, we all want similar things: a sense of belonging, to be seen and appreciated for who we are, to have opportunities for education and meaningful work that pays enough to live, to connect with others as ourselves.
For those of us who have those things, it's essential to help others. It starts with opening our own minds and hearts to the experience of others and using our privilege and position to listen, learn, and open doors. It also requires understanding that what worked for me could be impossible for someone else because of a million different things. Some I may understand; others I can't even imagine.
We know that different perspectives create better insight, strategy, and decisions because we are not blinded by our limited views and assumptions. It's time to get curious and educate ourselves on the experiences of others and the barriers they face, work on ourselves to see our own privilege and biases, and learn to stand up for others in ways that are useful and effective.
Join @shrmnextchat at 3 p.m. ET on September 18 for #Nextchat: Allies in the Workplace with special guest Heather Bussing.