If you can’t change the dress code, you’re never going to change the culture. The truth about Diversity & Inclusion (D&I).
Whenever I’m invited to a diversity and inclusion event (after I’m done groaning, because I hate diversity and inclusion) I always wear shorts, some dope ass socks and a blazer. Anthony Johnson (at the time he was Fannie Mae’s CISO and is an always impeccably dressed man) told me to step up my sock game. So, I have. I’m partial to dri-fit footies, hearts, Hello Kitty and oddly enough, Cisco socks. Cisco, the tech company, has some pretty great socks. At any rate, I like to show up early and walk around the suit and tie offices, networking and chit chat with the employees. Why is this Black guys in shorts, pink socks and a mohawk not observing our corporate culture of not making eye contact, not smiling and not engaging in laughter between 8am and death? I do this in part for the shock factor. Mostly because only stuffy, old, good ole boy businesses ever bother to have D&I events. There is a reason for this but we’ll discuss that later. I also do it because as an anthropologist, the endless savannas of cubicles are my Serengeti. The odd cultures and tribal elements of this division, that group, and those college/high school and frat cliques that never evolved beyond sniffing each other’s pedigrees like dogs at a park, are my laboratory.
Eventually we get to the obligatory diversity and inclusion panel. Each panelist introducing ourselves and how awesome and accomplished we each are, as any cookie cutter intellect whose made it to the hallowed halls of the Fortune 50. “Hi my name is (Slim Shady reference). I’ve circumnavigated the world on a unicycle, setting up 5 non-profits focused on social impact investing and empowering butterflies; I speak 5–10 languages and am passionate about diversity and inclusion. Because as a time traveling unicorn, I want my community to be respected and represented”. Something along those lines. I must admit, I fall into that trap too. Lord knows I’m one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and if you give me a microphone, I’m either gonna drop a beat, go HAM or rewrite your corporate vetting processes for speakers. I know you’re asking yourself,
“WTF does this idiot rambling have to do with diversity and inclusion?”
Simple. If you can’t change the dress code, you’re never going to change the culture. Culture determines what is socially acceptable. When we talk about D&I, it’s actually a conversation about “social norms”. My social norms are full of biases both known and unknown. I grew up in Texas, so I naturally don’t trust vegetarians and regard vegans as modern day vampires. They simply make me feel uncomfortable and have me questioning my lifestyle and habits.
When peoples’ “natural” behavior is brought into question and they are challenged to fundamentally question things they’ve always known to be true — people tend to get defensive and feel vulnerable. Humans hate feeling vulnerable. How many vulnerable humans have you ever known to work in the C-suite? Or be fighting their way up the ladder to the C-Suite?
So I wear shorts to D&I events because “social norms” are what we’re actually talking about at these events. Shorts and funky socks in a corporate setting, in a so called “professional” setting, are how I am pushing the feeling of what is “normal”. Because how we feel about a thing is what makes it normal, socially acceptable or just down right fucking weird. Until you can change the way people feel in their own skin and clothes, you’re never going to change the way they feel and think about whatever are their own personal vegetarian and vegan demons.
So while I hate diversity and inclusion, I understand why we must talk about. Just recognize what you’re actually talking about — your workplace culture. And in that spirit, I’ve a parting question and challenge for you. My question and challenge to you is, we agree that social norms maintain the status quo. If you “know what’s right” and socially expected and acceptable in your current corporate culture, what are you doing “wrong” to move the needle on diversity and inclusion further to the right?
— — — — — -— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
My name is Samson. I’m a human and an anthropologist at Axes and Eggs, a Washington, DC based think tank who answers your blockchain questions when Google can’t. If you like what you read, share it! If you hate it, drop some knowledge in the comment section below.
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Instagram @HustleFundBaby or connect with me on LinkedIn. Finally, I would say thoughts are my own but I probably stole them from a woman. Just ask my mama, I’ve been stealing her brilliance since shortly after we first met.