Women in Business

It is clear that there is an issue, that is taking too long to correct, with women in the workplace.  The disparity in pay, access to senior positions, and how they are viewed is a very serious issue.  When so little is done about it quickly, you begin to wonder where our genetic coding comes into it.  How much impact does our past, and I am referring to days when humans were nomads and gender roles were more about survival than anything else, have on us currently?

Surely our history has created this challenge that must be addressed, but why can’t we correct our course faster?  We can build a new and amazing iPhone every other year, but we can’t figure out how to level the playing, and pay, field for all!

Some Facts About the World

It is always alarming to see the global disparities that exist around us every day.  While education is so important, and access to the internet is an amazing tool to advance learning, the most important pieces that caught my eye were the disparities in those to have a home vs. those without, and those without access to water.

Before anyone can climb Maslow’s Pyramid they must solve the the lower levels, our basic needs.  Feeling safe, having food and water, go a long way to enabling us to find jobs, talk about social issues, and grow.  This is why I feel poverty is the root cause of so many social justice issues, which is tied to socioeconomic challenges.  If someone cannot focus on their job, because they know at the end of the day they don’t have a home, or a safe place to return to, they will likely not be as successful as they could be at that job.  When my daughter was born, or my wife and I bought a home, I would find those stressors challenged my work.  I can only imagine the exponentially more intense impact not having home can put on a person.

Why Don’t People Know this Stuff?

I found it refreshing to see someone being critical of statistics, and do some digging on their own to understand the real information.  Too often we take what we are told at face value.  I read frequently throughout my life, until I graduated from college.  I quickly became one of those “one book a year” people.  I don’t know if I was burned out from education, but it wasn’t until I was promoted a couple times at my first job that I found myself woefully falling behind my peers, and even those I was tasked with managing and leading.  I reengaged with reading the news daily, I found topics in society that interested me, and read some of my favorite books in my late 20’s.  I found myself enjoying the act of learning more when it stopped being forced on me.

That might be my biggest take away from this reading: individuals learn best when they are invested and engaged, and not forced to learn like they are told. That is why it was surprising to see him be critical of the individual who was reading the Bible.  He seemed to imply that it did not have as much value as reading Homer.  While they are different reads, doesn’t the Bible have intellectual value?  While I have not read the Bible religiously, I swear that pun was not intended, it has historical insights and life lessons on how to be a good person.

Encouraging people to read more, to learn more, is important.  I feel that any exercise for your brain is important, not just the kind I think is most important.

Moral High Ground

It was the end of the statement from the young man that stood out the most.  We are collectively what makes up humanity, the good the bad and the ugly.  No matter what our past decisions and actions have been, everyone has something to contribute to society.  My work in the non-profit had a core value of Ubuntu, or humanity, and how it is tied to every person in the world.  While it feels easy to focus on how the best parts of the world unite us, it should be just as important to understand that every part of society unites us, both the good and the bad.

Ubuntu takes on a few variations of humanity across the African continent.  There is a Zulu proverb that states Umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu, or, I am a person through other people.  My humanity is tied to yours.  I feel this is at the core of the young man’s statement.  The comment section got sidetracked by the technicality of what true moral absolutism is, which is a moot point.  It wasn’t the term he used that demonstrated his point, but his entire statement.  Can we discount anyone because of their actions, or, as one commenter put it, should we focus on learning lessons from everyone?  I personally feel as though in everyday life we are quick to discount someone because they have a different view point, they don’t vote like us, or they don’t understand our experiences.  But just like the young man states, “is that humanity?  Is that me?”.  Our humanity it too intertwined, even with those we differ from so greatly, to not hear someone else out, help another person, or seek to improve the lot of those around us.

Leadership Inspiring Action

It was surprising to hear that so few companies understand their why, until I thought about it and realized how long it took me to even partially understand my personal why and how I am still shaping it.  But the piece in his talk that caught my attention was later on.  As he talked about the diffusion of innovation theory I could only think about how this might have changed as time, and technology, hurtle forward at a faster rate.

Does social media, and going viral, shrink the distance for companies or NPOs to cross when they cross the chasm?  Even in the short time from 2009 to today, I feel as though I am hearing about more esoteric products, learning about smaller niche NPOs, and being exposed to more information everyday.

Telling a Compelling Story

I have been familiar with the journey of a hero, and how nearly every hero/heroine shares a similar story.  Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins faced a similar story arc, so it was easy to understand how that arc relates to the audience, and how a speaker can guide you through that.  The most fascinating part for me was the sparkline.  This put the importance of proposing a possible and brighter future in a presentation.  Even in my current role I can find examples where I talk briefly about the current state of how we engage alumni remote from campus, and then shift the main focus on how it can be better in the future.  Pushing the possible future often encourages alumni to share their thoughts more, to become more creative, and has left them inspired after a meeting.

Changing the World Reading

This was a short and sweet reading that had five points that Bryan Stevenson identifies as the five things needed to change the world.  The thread that united them all was that they were internally focused.  Being proximate to an issue is a personal act you take to get closer and understand a challenge or injustice.  Changing the narrative, being hopeful, and doing uncomfortable things are all personal changes that one must make when looking to make a difference.  Getting broken was the most interesting one, and so far, the one that I understand the least  I feel as everyone is broken in one way or another.  It might simply be understanding that you are broken, or not perfect, and knowing yourself before you can seek real change.  We need to recalibrate ourselves if we want to have an impact in the world beyond ourselves.

MLK Article

Throughout my entire life I have learned about Dr. King, read his famous quotes, and listened to his speeches.  It was impossible to take a political science class that involved American history and not discuss MLK and his impact on the Civil Rights Movement.  Oddly enough, with continued exposure to MLK and his work, I never really considered one his core lessons to be empathy.

The article made empathy seem like an easy choice, although for some it is a very focused and deliberate act.  I have always admired others to whom it comes easily.  In my past roles I have often needed to make a note on my meeting agendas and to do lists to slow down and be open to others.  Being hyper focused on my own work, and the details of that work, is what came naturally to me.  After much practice I would find myself proactively asking clarifying questions, probing the needs and desires of others.  It helped to have my wife as an example, she is a naturally caring person who is able to endear herself to others through being inquisitive about a person, and makes a concentrated effort to get to know them.  It is a process, although becoming easier, to make sure to ask others to talk about themselves.  When I worked for an education reform non-profit I would often write at the top of each page of meeting notes to ask “What is your most pressing need?”, or “If you could pick one thing you would want us to help improve, what would it be?”.

On the last point of walking “ten miles in their shoes”, it sounds as simple as placing yourself in someone else’s situation.  From my perspective, there is more to it than that. To understand an urban youths educational  experience I could observe a class, or teach a lesson, but that would only be scratching the surface.  To really walk in someone’s shoes, you need to understand their “shoes”.  I could never really put myself in the shoes of an inner city youth from Chicago who was going to be mentored by a 22 year old from South Florida.  The complexities of that dynamic involve so many different aspects other than simply asking people to share their thoughts.  After delivering trainings about literacy tutoring, or behavior management sessions, I would create situations and ask our mentors to teach me a literacy lesson, or handle a real life situation involving a student acting up that I had personally encountered.  Not only could I see what the mentor had learned, I would see what the student would be exposed to, how an adult they were supposed to trust would treat them.  While it helped me gain insight to the experience we provided for our students, it did give me some insights to how difficult it was for others to be patient and open.

It was through this work that I developed my empathy muscle.  Listening to others, and striving to understand their perspective and experience is something that is crucial when you want to have an impact in any setting, and something I am constantly working on.