Forget about Satya, what about you?

Dust settles (as it always does), the PR horror-show of Satya Nadella’s faux pas retreats into the shadows and we focus our attention to flavor of the week – Tim Cook’s homosexuality. We tore down a CEO 3 weeks ago, now we lift one up. In all of this, I can’t help but turn around and reflect on us, the audience that votes with its feet and in doing so creates and destroys personas within minutes.

Demonize, Externalize, Move On

What Satya said was silly, but not any sillier than half the shit any of us says on any given day. He took responsibility for it the next day in a public apology. But we can’t find empathy in our hearts to understand, forgive and let it go. Instead, we demonize and get more holier-than-thou by the minute. I have to believe that this mindset serves a purpose. If we make Satya the face of the problem and crucify him for it, it gives us a false sense of “making it right”. Focusing on him externalizes the problem of diversity and absolves us of our role in the cluster-fuck we find ourselves in.

Could Satya have stuck to the script and lied through his teeth about career advice to women? Sure. C-levels do that every day. They’re very good at it. He’d get minor positive press for attending the Grace Hopper’s conference and supporting women. And the story would have a white-washed but quaint little happy end. One more largely inconsequential talk in the sea of inconsequential talks. But I’m really glad he spoke his mind. His words merely echo what I’ve heard from countless managers over the years, and if I’m being totally honest, I’ve heard the same message in my own voice to my reports (and not just to women).

“Do good work, and the right thing will happen”

By itself, this is not a horrible thing to say. Don’t we all want to be in a work environment where people get rewarded for their work without having to elbow their way to it? It’s only when it’s put in the context of a fundamentally biased system that this becomes an awful statement. But then is the issue with the statement or the context that taints it? And if it is the context, aren’t we a part of it and therefore shouldn’t we take responsibility just as Satya did in his apology?

Taking Responsibility
My mom loved telling us stories that were laden with purpose/morals. And so now you must suffer just as I did.
The king of a land far, far away was asked by his people to create a stream of milk and honey for them. They wanted this stream to reflect their prosperity as a nation. The king agreed and devised a great plan to tie their desires to their effort and got a stream dug up that very night. He then told every subject in his kingdom to pour a bucket of milk and honey in the stream during the night and promised that the people of the kingdom would have what they wanted by the next dawn. Every person thought about it and came the conclusion that other people would do the right thing and therefore they could just put in a bucket of water. No one would notice one bucket of water in a stream of milk and honey. Not surprisingly, the next morning the town woke to a stream of water. And they got exactly what they deserved and what they were willing to put into it.

Diversity is the stream of milk and honey that eludes us. It’s the ideal we all claim we want, yet none of us are willing to do much about. We are quick to accuse others instead of reflecting on our own behavior. We pour in water and get mad at others when they do the same.

Start from the assumption that you are the problem. Period. No ifs, no buts.
Look around you. Do you see a diverse group of people? If not, don’t assume it’s a coincidence that you just find yourself in the middle of. If you’re a manager and all your reports are men or all are women, all your reports are white etc., take a hard look at your behavior and assume you MUST be doing something wrong to be in this situation. What can you do differently starting today?

Diversity is not an accident. Neither is lack of diversity. It’s purposeful in both directions. Apply your energy actively to moving the needle in your microcosm. That’s how change happens.

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