I work closely with some of the most incredible speakers/authors within the human potential industry. One of the content provides that I have worked the longest with has had an incredible influence on me. Jamie Utt ( Director of Education and Diversity here at GAP) has raised my awareness on all things social justice. This awareness has made me a more inclusive leader, which has translated nicely for my business. If you are committed to serving your audience or the people you lead, raising your awareness to issues surrounding diversity can enhance your ability to connect with people, which is always good for business but more importantly is great for the global community.
If you do not have a friend that does social justice work, find one, because they take the fun out of everything…we all need a friend like that. They remind us how inconvenient growth can be. Paper or plastic? We all know that plastic is more harmful to our wellbeing, but it is the convenient (and more popular) choice. Creating a life of significance is never convenient, that is why so few achieve it.
One of the first things that Jamie taught me was about the concept of white privilege (white privilege is a way of conceptualizing racial inequalities that focuses as much on the advantages that white people accrue from society as on the disadvantages that people of color experience.). People with political agendas have hijacked this term; it has been labeled as a left activist’s initiative, which I think diminishes its relevance.
For the past couple of years I have been trying to observe how people who do not benefit from race and gender privilege (anyone other than a white male) are treated in this country. This awareness has taught me a lot about people, it really is amazing what you notice when you open your mind. When I try and imagine my life as a person of color, my mind goes to my baseball career. I think, “Well maybe if I was black, I would have made it further because I would have been faster, or if I was of Latin decent, I would have been able to play infield…hmmm.”
Then I realize how ignorant that thought is, which is quickly followed by wondering how I allow these stereotypical thoughts to influence my behavior towards others. Along the way I have also learned about microaggressions – The term was first coined by American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce and described as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.” My thoughts about my baseball career would not necessarily qualify as a microaggression, but saying something like “being a 5’9 white baseball player really limited my career” in response to a question about how far I made it just might. Now, I do not believe that my race limited my baseball career, but conversations like this are taking place everyday in every community. By taking the time to invest in this perspective you will be better equipped to lead a diverse team, which in a global economy, elevates your value.
Michael Scott, champion of the microaggression
On a recent trip to Southern California with my family, we experienced two overt expressions of microaggressions. The first occurred while my wife (of Hispanic decent) was returning her rental car to a high end resort in Dana Point; the male agent was dismissing her because she did not have her contract in hand and he was unable to read the serial number on the back of the key chain. He told her she would have to go get her contract and come back when she had it. When I engaged in the conversation (he thought she was alone), I asked him if he could look it up in the system using the VIN to save us the inconvenience of driving our four young children around any longer. He quickly resolved the issue and we were on our way.
Two days later on Easter Sunday we were eating at a local pancake house and had a party of eight. It was a first come, first serve restaurant, and the service and food was great up until we were finishing our meal. I took two of my children to the restroom, which left 3 Hispanic adults and two Hispanic children. Long story short, while I was away, a server very rudely asked our group to move so white customers could have our spot. When I returned from the restroom, my seat and the coffee I ordered were gone. Would the same have happened if a white man were sitting at the table? I’m not so sure, particularly since when polled, most servers say they give people of color poorer service!
Now, I do not think the rental car agent is a sexist or the server a racist. However, I do believe that each of us is raised in a system that teaches us to devalue the voices and presence of women and people of color. I know it is not a stretch for anyone to believe that women are dismissed everyday in similar situations across the country and that white people receive better service and are treated with more dignity than people of color in some restaurants.
One thing that I have learned working with as many leaders as I have worked with is that the most influential leaders lead when it is inconvenient. They do not turn it off and on, it is a badge they proudly wear 24/7/365. The same must be true for building inclusive communities.
Empathy is a great quality to have as a leader; it will increase your awareness and allow you to better serve your diverse community. My ability to look at things from somebody else’s perspective has proven to deepen my connection with my team, clients, and audience. It is easy to make these types of issues more complicated than necessary, I would love to gain your insights, in the comments below, please share some of your best practices when it comes to leading a diverse community.
Eric Thompson is the owner of Global Ascension Productions and founder of The Brilliance Project. Eric has developed a plan that helps people to synergize their inner virtues, allowing them to discover and fully utilize the hidden strengths that so many people never use – their Brilliance.
For more information about Eric visit him at