What a Giraffe and an Elephant Teach About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Equity and inclusion require change and cooperation from different perspectives to work.
There is a fable about a giraffe and an elephant that depicts an interesting reality when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In a small suburban community, a giraffe had a new home built to his family’s specifications. It was a wonderful house for giraffes, with soaring ceilings and tall doorways. High windows ensured maximum light and good views while protecting the family’s privacy.
Narrow hallways saved valuable space without compromising convenience. So well done was the house that it won the National Giraffe Home of the Year Award. The homeowners were very proud.
One day the giraffe, working in his state-of-the-art woodshop in the basement, happened to look out of the window. Coming down the street was an elephant. “I know him,” he thought. “We worked together on a PTA committee. He’s an excellent woodworker, too.
I think I’ll invite him in to see my new shop. Maybe we can even work on some projects.” So the giraffe poked his head out the window and invited the elephant in.
The elephant was delighted; he had liked working with the giraffe and looked forward to knowing him better. Besides, he knew about the woodshop and wanted to see it. So he walked up to the basement door and waited for it to open.
“Come in; come in,” the giraffe said. But immediately they encountered a problem. While the elephant could get his head in the door, he could go no farther.
“It’s a good thing we made this door expandable to accommodate my woodshop equipment,” the giraffe said. “Give me a minute while I take care of our problem.” He removed some bolts and panels to let the elephant in.
The two acquaintances were happily exchanging woodworking stories when the giraffe’s wife leaned her head down the basement stairs and called her husband:
“Telephone, dear; it’s your boss.” “I’d better take that upstairs in the den,” the giraffe told the elephant. “Please make yourself at home; this may take a while.”
The elephant looked around, saw a half-finished piece of work on the lathe table in the far corner, and decided to explore it further. As he moved through the doorway that led to the shop, he heard an ominous scrunch. He backed out, scratching his head.
“Maybe I’ll join the giraffe upstairs,” he thought. But as he started up the stairs, he heard the stairs begin to crack. He jumped off and fell back against the wall. It too began to crumble. As he sat there disheveled and dismayed, the giraffe came down the stairs.
“What on earth is happening here?” the giraffe asked in amazement. “I was trying to make myself at home,” the elephant said. The giraffe looked around. “Okay, I see the problem. The doorway is too narrow.
We’ll have to make you smaller. There’s an aerobics studio near here. If you’d take some classes there, we could get you down to size.”
“Maybe,” the elephant said, not looking very convinced.
“And the stairs are too weak to carry your weight,” the giraffe continued. “If you took a ballet class at night, I’m sure we could get you light on your feet. I really hope you’ll do it. I like having you here.”
“Perhaps,” the elephant said. “But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure a house designed for a giraffe will ever really work for an elephant, not unless there are some major changes.”
The moral of the story
This fable was taken from R. Roosevelt Thomas, (1999) Building a House for Diversity.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a topic of much interest and is on the cutting edge of shaping every aspect of not only American society but globally. As I write this article, it is one of the crucial and pivotal points that will determine the peace and prosperity of people on a global scale. It is just that important.
The giraffe and elephant story depicts the way diversity, equity, and inclusion are often approached within organizations. They are built for a particular group or culture of people who think, act, and make decisions alike to the exclusion of others who aren’t from the same background, culture, and experiences. These are the giraffes.
They are usually white male-dominated groups, with similar education, cultural upbringing, have had the same or similar experiences, and usually see things from the same overall standpoint.
Like the giraffe, they recognize others who are different from them and may want to work with them and include them in what they do because they like them or know that it would be good to include them for business purposes. The others are the elephants.
They look different, have a different cultural background, and different points of view, but are valuable and can contribute. However, similar to the elephant in this story who could get his head in the door but not enter totally because he built different, too often when they are invited into the organization, they often don’t fit because the door of opportunity is too small and they are made to feel they must not rock the boat if they want to blend in and then stumble trying to fit.
The giraffes ( a white male-dominated group usually) of the organization can see they are having difficulty and the approach is to advise the elephants (diverse persons) to change without any clue that the house or organization they’ve built needs to undergo changes in order for the diverse person to fit in.
Without this recognition, the organization or company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion program will be doomed to fail.
Significant change must come from within as well as sincere efforts from the diverse person to fit in and contribute before the mission of DEI will be accomplished.
The thoughts, concepts, and opinions voiced in this article is my small contribution to help sort out where we are, what we should do, and how we can make the world a better place to live in togetherness. The dream I have is that the world comes to a place where diversity, equality, and inclusion among people become as common and driven like the wind.
I hope in some small measure the contents of this article will help to bring this dream to reality. The time for rhetoric has passed. Reality must come forth and take its place