When we were on the school playground I always played the part of Lando Calrissian.
It did not take me long to notice that my other friends would swap between Solo, Bobba Fet and Luke at will, occasionally during the same play session but I was always Lando … always.
After a while I learned to do the Chewie ululate just to have some variation, but I quickly grew bored of being regulated to a nonspeaking role. It seemed that no matter what I did I always ended up the sidekick, I was there because I could fill a supporting role in a plot that in reality did not need me. We never even bothered inviting the girls to play, we eagerly created stories that never included Princess Leah, and so we could avoid the negotiating with girls completely. The role they could have played was important but having fun without them at that time seemed to be more important.
This kind of simple pattern matching is what children are taught and crudely employ when playing out fictional roles, however, I have noticed that as gainfully employed adults we can fall into similar traps in professional environments. So how does this type of behavior reveal itself in our work environments?
Consider when your diversity numbers look good in aggregate but somehow upon closer inspection underrepresented groups cannot be found in management, technical leadership, or senior management. I have also noticed patterns where underrepresented groups get into companies and never stay and certainly never see advancement.
As observers of this charade we need to be a bit more critical of the kind of pattern matching that limits progress. We have to challenge it all the way from our HR teams down to hiring managers and the staff used to interview people. We have to ask whether our advocates can genuinely transform the narrative of the company in a way that improves diversity and inclusion. To completely wear out this analogy, when your company introduce lead characters like Rey and Finn it forces you to reconsider the possibilities, for example:
- The solution should involve completely reimagining who your protagonists are allowed to be.
- I am interested in stories (companies and teams) where everyone has a genuine opportunity to be the lead.
- The existence of an underrepresented individuals has to go beyond checking boxes for diversity to genuine inclusion.
- Overcome our desire to employ immature pattern matching as a solution.
It kind of reminds me of that old saying "If you only think with your eyes, you become easy to fool"!