Last month I started sharing my long-time thoughts on diversity. Today and next week I want to continue sharing my thoughts about what I believe is an important topic if West Michigan is to become the Silicon Valley of leadership.

As I mentioned in my first posting on this topic, I’ve wrestled deeply for fifty years with the realities of racial diversity issues. When I say I’ve wrestled, this means I’ve tried to figure out what is true and real about the claims made by people that have an opinion about it.

Here are some of my beliefs (those things I can’t prove but believe are true), which I’ve formed over the past fifty years.

  1. People of all colors and walks of life are basically the same. Yes our skin color is different and there are a few other physical differences, but once you know anyone as an individual, you find that there rarely is a difference in anyone’s basic wants and needs: we want to love and be loved; we want to provide a good life for ourselves and our family; we want to be respected and be able to respect others; and the list goes on and on.
  2. Most people have the same values, but we prioritize them differently. And even when we have the same priority of a key value, like showing others respect, different cultures can demonstrate them differently. For instance, in some cultures, showing respect to another person means looking them in the eye with a friendly facial expression while they are talking. In other cultures, respect is shown by looking down and keeping your head lower than the person being respected. These are two very different behaviors—almost opposites—that bth attempt to demonstrate the same core value of respect. Because of our different ways of demonstrating our values and the way each individual prioritizes their own values, understanding others can be very challenging.
  3. Most people can be trusted to treat you right, and if they don’t, there’s usually some deeper-level reason that makes sense once you learn more about that person. About ten percent of people, regardless of ethnicity or background, shouldn’t be trusted because they play by different rules and are willing to take advantage of people. There’s no easy way to recognize who these 10 percent are because they look just like everyone else. There is no correlation to a person’s ethnicity or background that will tell you who is trustworthy and who is not.
  4. When there is a dominant ethnicity in a community, like we have here in West Michigan, people who aren’t part of that group have to overcome hurdles—often very significant onesthat the people in the dominant group don’t need to overcome simply because they are in the majority. Those outside of the dominant group have an uphill journey because of those extra hurdles. It’s important to acknowledge that some people have more hurdles than others. Having to overcome extra hurdles has also been a significant issue for women over the ages.
  5. For me, a white man who doesn’t have any extra obstacles that women and people of color have, but who is aware of the unfairness of it, I can’t help but try to make a difference in West Michigan so it won’t be that way for the next generation.

In fact I see three important reasons for engaging this tough challenge:

One, it’s the right thing to do—it’s as simple as that!

Two, during a time when we can’t find enough talent to fill the roles needed to grow our companies, we are missing a large number of people right in front of us because we aren’t connected with them and we have systems and paradigms that prevent them from getting a shot at showing us what they can do.

And three, I believe (and studies show) that more diverse teams are often more effective teams, especially in a market place that is becoming markedly more diverse.

The bottom line for me is that we must figure out a way to be among the best at our diverse population if we truly expect to be the Silicon Valley of leadership. Improving this will make for better teams and better organizations.

Next week I’ll share my thoughts about one practical thing I am doing in 2019 that I believe will make a positive difference. My hope is that this change will not only start to make a real difference, but also enrich my life. Another hope I have is that maybe you’ll be inspired to join me and together we can start a movement to change West Michigan for the better. I hope you’ll check it out.

Until then, be amazing this week as you lead!

Image by PhilWolff. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.