Previously, Dan wrote on the current internal culture dynamics that we have observed across firms, specifically on the effort and engagement required, from one Baby Boomer to another. Today, I continue the conversation with the first of two invitations to people my age and career stage.
I often wonder why the Baby Boomers smear paint on us Millennials for being “the Trophy Generation.” Of course kindergarden-me loved getting trophies. But I didn’t ask for them or buy them. What’s up with this older generation blaming us, when they bought the trophies in the first place?
There is deep frustration between generations in many places of employment. In return for quality work, employees in my generation (and younger) want a shifting set of intangible workplace attributes, including more inclusive practices. It often seems like the older generations running our organizations are (1) slow to hear and believe that the intangible qualities employees seek in a workplace are in fact evolving, and (2) slow to act on those petitions. Time passes and we wait for observable progress such as policy changes, more equitable hiring practices that yield results, and removal of toxic employees.
While we wait, we fill the void. The longer silence and avoidance persist in the workplace, the more stories we assume and tell about the leaders who are not responding to our petitions. This is a common human response, but it is not productive. Knowing that my generation is already impressively focused on advocacy, my invitation in this situation that we face is two-fold. Today I’ll explore the first step.
Increasingly our generation and the one behind us is putting forth a compelling vision of how a workplace could be for a more diverse set of people. The wait can be frustrating to the point of disillusionment. While we learn and advocate and initiate and suggest, I invite us to find ways to keep ourselves curious.
A friend and I were recently looking at the website of an innovative venture capital firm. Based on the website, it was unclear how gender inclusive the firm was, specifically of people who identify as non-binary. I saw disappointment move across her face as she assumed a disappointing current reality: ignorance, apathy, maybe even mindsets built on top of resistance or hostility. We could have disengaged, or gone in ready to tell them what they should already know.
Instead, we spotted our assumption and planned to ask them in our meeting: “We’d like to be aligned with you in how you interact with current and potential founders. Could you share how you encourage gender inclusion, especially of people who identify as non-binary?”
What advantage comes through this curiosity?
We are already clear about where we want to go. Our curiosity, and our openness to asking and hearing the answer to our question, will add to our understanding of reality. In short, we’ll get more data. We will more accurately see the gap between our vision and current reality, feel the tension between the two, and begin the push-pull of progress from the right starting point.
By beginning with a question, ideally we can learn where they are and create from there. People support what they help to create. Sharing their current thinking and hearing ours could be a launching point on a shared journey.
But who knows what response we will hear. It is possible that they will be defensive, which is unnecessary; after all, they have the power in this situation (see Dan’s post on this topic here). The external return on curiosity varies; conversations are still mutual endeavors. The internal return on curiosity is limitless. Through curiosity we give ourselves a tremendous advantage in learning, adapting, and observing, whether those around us follow suit or not.
Stay curious. Ask open-ended questions. And let your observations guide the way you seek change as you…
Lead with your best self.