I had a whole other topic planned and written for this week, but Harry and Meghan’s announcement has given me pause.
When I heard the news that they would be stepping down from Royal duties (and that the Queen hadn’t been consulted first) I was with my daughter. As I explained it so she could relate it to her 7 year old context, she said “They can do that?!” It made me think of the many spoken and unspoken rules that keep us locked in “the way it is” rather than the way it could be.
The next day I read a post about leadership in regard to their decision, and then I read an article in The New Yorker and I had to pause and consider the parallels to D&I work.
“Really?!” You may be saying. “How could this relate?”
1. Harry and Meghan are part of a centuries old institution. Many of the organizations people work for have been around for a long time. And the systems that uphold inequity are also old…
2. Royalty seems to come with a lot of rules. As do organizations, and systemic isms – both spoken and unspoken.
3. Some of those rules seem to uphold the institution at personal cost. Here’s where we go a bit deeper. Ready? Some organizations do very well if you look at the numbers, but if you dig a little deeper and look at the culture, the cost is employee satisfaction, health, and wellness. Also, societies built on systemic isms benefit some, and disadvantage others.
And here’s where it gets fun:
4. Harry and Meghan don’t like the rules so they are changing the game. Well. If you are serious about your D&I commitment, then you have to be ready to do things differently. D&I work, by its nature (and if done well) will shake things up. It will require that we see things differently. It will ask us to take another look at ourselves and the impact of our actions and inactions. It will demand that we act. Sometimes action means doing things differently. Sometimes it means stopping something we have “always done” or starting something we have never tried before.
5. The Queen didn’t think of this herself. Harry and Meghan decided and told her what they wanted. Organizations and companies have hierarchies. And sometimes leadership doesn’t “get it”. They can’t see beyond the way things always have been and the way things seem to be working..often because they work for them or they can’t imagine anything different. Change doesn’t always start at the top.
6. The Queen gave permission and said she “gets it”. I’m paraphrasing, obviously. But Leadership has to get on board or the change doesn’t occur.
We won’t know what would have happened if the Queen had said no. But we do know that Harry and Meghan have the opportunity for a new life that they will create on their terms (or at least partly). And that took courage. And will continue to take courage.
7. Harry and Meghan had the guts to say “this doesn’t work for us”. Out loud. Publicly. They took a stand. D&I work is the same. We need courage to say that things aren’t working out loud. Of course whether or not this happens will largely be determined by the organizational culture. But the fact remains that it’s by people’s courage – to share their experience, to tell their stories, to say “enough” that change occurs. And let’s not forget that privilege gives us the opportunity to speak up. So not all of us can use our voices in the same way with the same results. That could be #8.
The next part of Meghan and Harry’s story remains to be seen.
Will there be rocky parts? Absolutely. Just like the D&I journey.
Will there be amazing “wins”? You bet. Just like the D&I journey.
Will they ever wish they hadn’t “upset the apple cart”? Maybe. As do we, when we forge a new path and things get hard. Sometimes it’s easier to stay with what we know, even though it’s crummy, than deal with the unknown. And sometimes the unknown feels worse before it gets better.
But change requires vision.
And vision without action is just a dream.
Someone has to act. Speak up. Step out.
Forge a new path.
That’s what Diversity and Inclusion work is all about.
So we can create more and more spaces where everyone feels a sense of belonging, is valued, and can be all of who they are. Sometimes that means we have to throw out what we know and start again.
What new path are you forging?
(c) 2020 Annemarie Shrouder