One of the C-level participants in an interactive session I facilitated last week said that one of his biggest takeaways was the concept of representation. This means that this concept is quite new to him and probably to many others. This inspired me to write this blog on this important topic.
Do you recognise this?
You are ‘the only one’ in a meeting (the only person of colour, the only person wearing a hijab, the only person with a visible handicap, the only person of a certain gender, the only person of a certain generation…). You want to speak up, but you hesitate. You are not sure that your voice will be heard. You feel uncomfortable, maybe even insecure, because you expect that people will not let you speak, that your opinion will not be considered relevant, or that your dissent will be labelled as a complaint or a negative comment. You feel this way because it has happened to you before…
What do you do?
There are really only two options:
1) You decide to blend in, or
2) You decide to speak up.
Either way has consequences.
You choose to fit in
When you choose to fit in, you are hiding a part of your identity, of who you are, you are neglecting or ignoring a part of yourself. If you choose to fit in, you are hiding a part of your identity. You are neglecting or ignoring a part of yourself. Some people try so hard to fit in, to assimilate, that they become completely disconnected from who they really are.
Just one example below: Do you think of anyone in particular when you read the following? Sometimes women choose to ‘fit in’ in a male-dominated context. They can conform so much to the typical view they have of men that they become very harsh, intolerant and exaggerated. They lose themselves in the role they think they have to play in order to be taken seriously, to advance their career, or whatever motivation they have to ‘fit in’.
You choose to speak up
If you choose to speak up, you risk being involved in difficult conversations or even conflicts, with the risk of being seen as someone who is difficult, always complaining, etc.
Eg. If you are the only person of colour in a meeting and you interfere when a disrespectful comment or joke is made, you risk being the only one who really feels the disrespect, the pain and you will need to explain over and over again. Without the certainty that people will understand. Very tiring.
This is where representation comes in
What does it even mean?
To be honest, I could not find a clear definition of the word as it is being used in this debate…
For me, representation means that the people who make up our society are also represented in the places where decisions are made, for example in leadership positions, or where role models are found, for example in the media.
“We need to move away from a homogenous group of people who believe that they can represent diversity only by their thoughts. What is lacking is diversity of representation where the room is filled with people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, gender, disabilities etc. Real diversity requires us to have people who do not look like us around the table to share ideas, experiences and lessons learned. It reflects society. Diversity of thought without a diverse representation is the status quo.” (source: apm)
Why should we bother?
- For the good of the groups represented: It is not healthy to have a growing group of people with undermined self-esteem and self-worth. They constantly lose energy, but also productivity and the potential to be constantly alert and decide whether to speak up or shut up.
- For the growth of all: portraying people in a positive way helps people, in general, to get rid of the stereotypes that have been built into our brains over time. Getting rid of stereotypes helps build more inclusive and equitable workplaces and societies.
- For the creativity in the room: representation offers the opportunity to be more creative because it brings different perspectives to the table.
A piece of clear advice coming from McKinsey:
“Ensure the representation of diverse talent. This is still an essential driver of inclusion. Companies should focus on advancing diverse talent into executive, management, technical, and board roles. They should ensure that a robust I&D business case designed for individual companies is well accepted and think seriously about which forms of multivariate diversity to prioritize (for example, going beyond gender and ethnicity). They also need to set the right data-driven targets for the representation of diverse talent.” (McKinsey)
I hope you will remember this blog the next time you see a situation where representation could be the answer. If you are not a member of an under-represented group, you can still be an important ally (allyship being another important concept) in creating a culture where people feel they belong, where they can speak up, where they feel safe to be who they really are, so that their full potential can shine through and we can all learn from each other.
I wrote this blog to inspire you, decision maker, to create an inclusive and sustainable work environment that is welcoming to all and conscious of its impact on the world we live in.
What does representation mean to you?
Thank you for reading to the end and I look forward to reading your reaction in the comment section below 🙏.
Sharing is caring, so if you think this blog might be useful to others in your network, please feel free to share it with them. I appreciate it🙏.
I look forward to hearing from you soon, and please get in touch if you want to make representation a reality.
You can easily book a first meeting with me via the button below: We can discuss your challenges, what you would like to achieve and how I can support you with that.
Cheers to the representation in your business, cheers to you,