In the Human Resource world the saying goes that people do not quit companies, they quit managers/bosses/leaders. When I take this concept, and frame it for a conversation on diversity and inclusion, a person is not leaving or choosing to stay with a company due to the overall enterprise environment. Rather they are leaving or choosing to stay due to the environment and culture that an individual leader has created.
For those of us in the Central Illinois area, Peoria was recently voted as one of the worst cities for black Americans to reside. Which for me, as someone who was born and raised here, stings quite a bit. But, let’s be quite honest with ourselves - when it comes to prejudice in our community it still exists in subtle forms, many times in our unconscious mind of familiarity bias. This indicates that the biases that people possess are significantly less overt as they were in the "deep south" 50 years ago, but that they still exist. Therefore, to say that there is no prejudice in this world is just as misguided as saying that everything can be attributed to prejudice.
As it relates to my career, I have found that there are two distinct types of roadblocks. There is the roadblock that has been placed in my way as a means of character development, wisdom, experience, and knowledge. The true testament of a persons’ character can be seen when the roadblocks they face are overcome with tenacity, resilience, focus, and, most importantly, with intent. We ALL have them; it is in our perception and reaction to those roadblocks that we choose to live. In hindsight this roadblock is a beautiful and serendipitous form of learning in life; in many ways weeding out those who do not really want the high level of achievement. But also becoming the driving force those who do, developing their skills that will be useful later in life.
Then there are the roadblocks that have been placed there that are more systematic. When we dive deep into the second roadblock, we find that it has been placed there by someone else. More than likely not intentionally, but due to their inability to be self-reflective, possess strong interpersonal skills, gauge emotional intelligence, and not to actively seek out new perspectives. What makes this second form of a roadblock so dangerous is that there is no amount of tenacity or resilience that will overcome this individuals inability to see me as more than my superficial characteristics - a young black female. I am not capable of changing or controlling another individual’s behavior, and any efforts to do such are futile.
So I thought that I should share my personal approach to these roadblocks. If at any point in time I am not reaching my maximum potential, and fulfilling my purpose, I first evaluate if it is something that I can address (i.e. performance, attitude, etc.). For me this is done through much self-reflection and honest internal dialogue. However, if I find that I am not reaching my maximum potential, and fulfilling my purpose, and this is due to a characteristic I possess and cannot change (i.e. race, gender, age, etc.) than it is time for me to re-evaluate my current role and leader within the organization.
My goal is to always give the benefit of the doubt before concluding that I am not where I want to be due to an external characteristic that I hold no control over. So when we talk about diversity and inclusion, and leadership, our focus should be on individual development, personal understanding, and accountability, because this is where roadblocks are alleviated or elevated.
The assumption that everything can be attributed to my race, gender, religion, and age will eventually become a self-limiting obstacle, because the assumptions will intrinsically change my approach to success, thus attributing the control that I posses over my own life to an external entity, who has no stake in the outcome of it. Whenever I have this conversation with anyone, I always find myself back at the same point. We are granted a God given level of influence in the course of our own lives; therefore, I refuse to allow myself to become a passive participant in my own life.