Many of us grow up with people who, on the surface, appear to be much the same as we are. This shapes our thinking, our approach to problems and our inherent unconscious bias.
These biases are perfectly normal, but they can stifle us unknowingly if we’re unaware of them.
I grew up in a small town in the UK where there was very little outward diversity. I had a good childhood and loving parents, but I soon realised I wasn’t the same as many of the children I knew – I was gay!
By the age of thirteen, I struggled mentally and emotionally to reconcile how I felt with what I saw around me. As a result, I learned to ‘fit in’ and make myself act and think like everyone else.
The real person was still there, but I had created a filter between myself and the real world, which felt like it muted the colour.
After my school years, I moved to London and the difference was immense. Living in a cosmopolitan city, I met people from a multitude of backgrounds, with vastly different views from the people I grew up with.
These experiences challenged my view of the world and my thoughts, helping me develop the confidence to be myself. I started to ‘speak up’.1
In fact, social diversity is a proven benefit for everyone. A recent BBC News article 1 explains that it forces our brains to process complex and unexpected information, encouraging us to look beyond the obvious and think more creatively. Other studies have found we are happier and more engaged in a diverse workplace.2
At Elanco, we want to build a company where our culture is a differentiator. Encouraging every element of diversity will deliver unique ways of thinking that our competitors will find hard to beat.
I would challenge you to think of diversity as anything that makes us different, including how we understand and process information – think beyond the obvious!
The next time you are socialising, or working in the office, make the effort to do one of these things:
- Challenge your thinking – speak to someone you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with
- Speak up – all our ideas matter, don’t hesitate to put your opinion across
- Embrace our differences – be open to perspectives different from your own and help people feel comfortable when they share their ideas
To this day, I still have times when I need to fight that filter I created as a child, but at Elanco I can speak up and feel proud to be myself.
1. BBC News, “Crossing Divides: The friends who are good for your brain”, accessed June 2019: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47369648 2. Corporate Leadership Council, Corporate Executive Board - Creating Competitive Advantage Through Workforce Diversity 2012 3. O’Brien et al. (2015) “How to Break the Cycle of Low Workforce Diversity: A Model for Change”. PLoS One 10(7).
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