21st century. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are key elements of every bigger organization’s DNI. Recommendations on the percentage of women in leadership positions are stated in legislation and organizational rules. We are proud of women achievers, we are pleased with maximizing every aspect of diversity and we put a lot of effort to create an environment where human qualities are more important than their race or gender.
In majority of organizations the leadership acknowledge the importance of having diverse teams and put policies in place encouraging the diversity and preventing any type of discrimination. Allyship programs are created, trainings are arranged for team members on how to realise and recognize their biases in order to encourage overall tolerance and acceptance. The dedication and effort are in place and cascaded down the line.
So why isn’t it working so smoothly and efficiently? Why some rules are more difficult to accept and follow than others and why does it take so much effort to practice what we preach?
We all know that in different levels of organization we have different types of education, worldview and tolerance. We also have different backgrounds, habits, experience and… levels of consciousness and respect. This is where, in my opinion, the biggest challenge sits.
I will not get tired of repeating that respect is the key to success and that it starts from oneself. If people respected themselves in the first place, we would avoid loads of challenges in business (and personal) life. If people treated themselves with respect, they would treat others in the same way. They would also follow the rules of organization and society. Today’s reality is different. Many abide the rules not because of respect but because of negative consequences that might follow. It feels like the rules with more severe consequences seem to be more important to adhere to.
Hence here is the question – is being respectful really so difficult?
From my point of view the lack of self-esteem is one of the biggest obstacles for (self)respect. Just thing about it: when we do not feel being “enough” we feel relentless need either to prove ourselves or to focus on self-protection (or both). People get creative in finding ways to prove themselves. Some focus on becoming the best versions of themselves while others become mean bullies. Once of the worst thing one can do is to start comparing themselves with others, which, naturally., is even impossible. There is no common criteria that defines everyone. Each person is too unique. But still, we continue this game. Finding either reasons to fix ourselves or to ruin the enemy Often this all happens unconsciously. People do not realise that their constant driving force is not the fact that they do not feel being good, but the fact that they do not feel being good enough.
Another aspect of the lack of self-esteem is the people’s need to protect themselves and their worth. When people see others (colleagues, friends, partners, etc.) as better, smarter, funnier than themselves, they subconsciously treat them as the enemy to their worth. Let’s take the textbook example: an employee refuses to accept leadership and follow the orders or ideas of a colleague or even manager of an opposite sex. Unfortunately, this still happens nowadays for both: male and female. But why? Can it be that it’s not because people are bad or not smart per se? Can it be because they unconsciously see such situations as a threat to their own worth? And, if so, how easy can it be to respect the “enemy”?
It’s not that it makes their actions less reprehensible or more tolerable. It’s just that the roots of people’s behavior are somewhere deeper than they even know. Just think about it, if someone believes that acknowledging someone else’s worth reduce the one of their own? How difficult and scary should it be for such people to recognize and respect others? Every single act of respect would mean reduction of their self-esteem!
Luckily, respect is something we can cultivate regardless of the level of our self-worth. Lack of self-esteem can be an obstacle, but it is definitely not a showstopper in respecting someone. Remember, admiring abilities or achievements of other has nothing to do with who we are. By acknowledging the qualities of others, we do not diminish the ones of our own. There’s no relation between those two at all!
Another important aspect is that being different does not mean being “bad” or “wrong”. There might always be people whose uniqueness we will not be able to fully understand. Ever. Does this prevent us from respecting them? Of course not! Respect does not require in-depth understanding of everyone and everything. On the contrary! Respect says: “I see you for who you are and acknowledge that. Without the need to fix you or bring you to the path of truth”. People different from us are not broken, they’re just brave enough to be themselves.
Each and every of us is a unique set of data – character traits, emotions, talents, etc. There are no 2 sets that are the same in the entire planet. If we keep that in mind, we will be able to connect with people on a human level. If we cultivate respect, we will be able to admire their uniqueness without paying attention to their gender, race or colour. We will be able to realise how their presence compliments our organizations, countries and the entire world. Respect is the key unlocking the door to harmonious and healthy personal or organizational environment. It doesn’t require any special skills or training, just pure human acceptance… of ourselves.