For the past few months, I have been a part of a few diversity and leadership events and I’ve left all of them with a common feeling: wanting more! There is a lot of curiosity about the role and impact diversity has on business and leadership with regards to work, culture and community. It is great that more effort is being directed to understanding diversity during the times we live in. However, I’d like to propose that if we are going to talk about diversity, then really, let’s talk about diversity. It’s like having sensitive conversations with your spouse or significant other and you’re thinking “hey, are we going to talk about this, or are we really going to talk about this?” I’d like to encourage everyone to be bold and lead through these pressing times. After all, true leadership is having courage to go where others are too fearful. Take the helm and guide the participants through these challenging conversations. Let’s not just hint from the sidelines without being true to what’s on our mind, yet give ourselves a round of applause.
At one event I wasn’t even aware that the focus was specifically about diversity in entrepreneurship: to understand the challenges faced by entrepreneurs who were women and minorities. Some of the questions asked tried to probe a discussion on gender, minority and socio-economic challenges that many of us face, but it wasn’t even direct enough. After one interview, I realized just how compartmentalized I lead my life. If you ask me about business and needs/wants for my business, I’ll speak to you directly about business, data, numbers, strategy, etc. I didn’t realize until much later that the probing questions such as, “what else do you need? What social support is necessary to make you successful? What other challenges do you face? What’s missing?” was trying to understand what it is like being a minority in business. It was a hidden way of asking “hey, what other factors are intersecting with your entrepreneurial endeavors that might be a challenge? Where can others lend a hand in support to helping you overcome, remove, or just guide you through those challenges?” After a discussion with another female entrepreneur at lunch, I had a moment of: “That’s what they were asking about?! Why don’t they just come out and say that?!” If that was the intention then just be direct and ask-don’t dance around the conversation.
We need to be vulnerable, empathetic, and honest from where we are coming from. We need to meet the other from where we are at, and where they are at: somewhere in the middle to have a powerful and insightful conversation about diversity in business. That’s how conversations will move towards positive outcomes—having direct, meaningful, honest, vulnerable conversations starting with clear intentions set from the outset. So, if we are going to talk about diversity in entrepreneurship, then let’s really have this conversation. Where does race, gender, politics, biases (conscious and unconscious) intersect with business. How do we provide services and support outside of just the technical business sense to foster entrepreneurship? How can we even break the barriers of conversation to push the needle and create a flourishing environment for all?