A few months ago, I was talking to a business acquaintance about how they could help people of color, especially women feel more included? One of the solutions was to connect at lunches and other social gatherings.
Listen, I won't knock it. I think that is absolutely a start, but it is only a start. Inviting someone different from you to lunch or the business table is never a bad thing - in fact, I recommend it. However, here is what I have learned as I travel this life journey. Inclusion cannot always be deepened at social gatherings or light lunches. When we grow up differently - different family cultures, educational experiences, social norms - there is very little on our natural life's journeys that would inspire or compel us to connect.
Social divides exist, and I don't believe in all instances they are sinister. Perhaps I grew up playing cricket and soccer and you grew up playing rugby or squash. Maybe I grew up eating barbecue chicken and you grew up on cheese plates. Or maybe I grew up listening to gospel, and you grew up listening to classical music or rock. I could go on, but I think the point is clear - where we were born and the families we were born into pushing us down a road that is so natural, often unconscious.
Often we are just living aiming to hurt no one, just traveling down our natural life's journey. When we are unconsciously living, we don't open ourselves up to the possibilities when we choose to stop at the intersections. One memorable stop at the intersection came during college. My vibrant college friend invited me to dinner. I thought nothing of it; it was to be "just another social gathering, a fun night out." Unbeknownst to me, it wasn't just a night out; it was a dinner invitation to her home. To meet her parents, her family. I hung out with her dad in the garage as he explained his process for making the family wine. I laughed with her mom as she prepped the homemade pasta and put the finishing touches on dessert. We left her home and then traveled back into the city to spend time with her and her childhood friends until the early hours of the morning. That night was the first of many intersecting roads for the two of us: two people, different backgrounds choosing to connect to truly see each other.
I am grateful to have many such stories, which I owe mainly to my parents, who helped us appreciate the value of openness & difference from a very young age. Embracing difference requires a choice, backed up in action. I often say it is not the one-off interactions, but it is the patterns of how people show up in our lives that tell us who they are. So, if you want others to feel the warmth of inclusion, and it could be any kind of inclusion - racial, gender, religious, professional, cultural - do more than a light wave as you pass them by on your journey of life. Allow them to see you, understand your life, and examine your patterns. As we wrap up our celebrations of Black History Month, think about how you can take a detour, make a stop, and find someone different at the intersection.
Leah JM Dean is a leadership strategist, tribe formation expert, certified strengths coach, best-selling author, facilitator, speaker, and founder of the women’s leadership program, the Tribe Advantage. She is on a mission to help women and organizations all across the globe transform their tribes in life and leadership. To learn more about Leah's work, her best-selling book Assemble the Tribe, or join The Tribe Advantage Leadership Program, visit www.leahjmdean.com. Leah lives in Bermuda with her husband and two children.