Respecting Identity is the First Step to Inclusion Staying True to Yourself and Honoring Other Peoples’ Truth is a Superpower
“I think I am convinced that a lot of the societal unrest that we have–which by the way is not just in the US; it is global–is because we are going through this evolution of starting to interact across differences in a way that is unique in the history of the human population on this planet.” – Robert L. Wilson, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Culture Shift Team
What is Identity?
Identity is all the ways that we see ourselves and all the ways that we show up in the world in a particular moment.
Identity encompasses both internal and external dimensions. The internal dimensions, such as gender identity, race, and ethnicity, are inherent aspects that are challenging to alter. On the other hand, external dimensions, such as our place of residence or chosen profession, offer a degree of control and flexibility. It is crucial to acknowledge that our identity is multifaceted, and we embody various aspects simultaneously. The identity we project at work may differ from the one we express within our religious community. Therefore, the significance of different identity dimensions varies depending on the specific context or moment.
Identities can also be awakened or reawakened over time. For instance, if you grew up in a second or third generation Vietnamese household, you might not have had the same connection to the language and culture as your mother or grandmother. However, during your college years, you might feel a desire to reconnect with your Vietnamese heritage and become more attuned to your cultural roots. This process signifies the activation of your Vietnamese identity, as it becomes a more prominent and meaningful aspect of your life.
When I talk about identity (and it is true in the series that we do), I talk about how we are tribal. Humans, as a species, are tribal species, and for most of our evolution as a species, different tribe has meant danger. When we say tribal, we are speaking from a biological and sociological perspective of humans and other primates–not in disrespecting or minimizing the importance of tribal identities to indigenous communities.
Globalization has Increased our Exposure to Distinct Identities - Ones We May Not Have the Lived Experience to Relate to
Throughout the majority of our evolutionary history, people tended to remain in the places where they were born. Diversity was limited to differences in physical appearance, such as hair color, or residing on the same or different blocks. However, with the advent of technology, our interactions across differences have become more profound. The movement of people has also significantly changed. Many individuals we grew up with either relocated for college or ended up moving to different parts of the country, even if they didn't pursue higher education. Moreover, the ability to communicate freely has eliminated the sense of disconnection from our previous lives. This ongoing evolutionary process is complex and challenging, as humans struggle with significant changes occurring within a short span of time. It is my belief that this unrest stems from the rapid pace of transformation, as humans generally find it difficult to adapt to such circumstances.
So, I usually will ask people just to define some of the tribes that they encounter. Their responses typically revolve around categories such as race, religion, politics, and geography. Encouraging them to create a comprehensive list helps us realize that identity extends beyond mere aspects of race and gender. It encompasses elements such as one's place of origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, language, and more. Subsequently, I guide them in examining their identities within the framework of a workplace. It becomes evident that identity pertains to each person as a unique individual, and there is only one of each of us in existence— even twins possess distinct identities.
The Biggest Mistake We Make with Identity
We make assumptions on how other people see their identity based on how we see our own. We have these differences in identity. It is like looking at a landscape from two different peaks and seeing it differently based on where you are standing, and that creates conflict in our society and our workplaces.
The challenge we face as individuals lies in finding a way to respect our differences while still working together towards a common goal. How do we bring together individuals who have never collaborated before? Throughout most of our country's history, the workforce, particularly white-collar workers, predominantly comprised individuals who shared a specific appearance and gender. However, in the present, we are witnessing the convergence of people from diverse backgrounds and origins, which greatly enhances innovation. Numerous studies have substantiated this fact. However, when it comes to teamwork, this diversity can present its own set of challenges. It was relatively straightforward to form a team when everyone lived on the same block.
Now that we do not all live on the same block, building a cohesive team and establishing common ground has become increasingly challenging. The essence of our work in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) revolves around navigating this new dynamic and paradigm. We find ourselves in workplaces where individuals who have had limited interactions in their neighborhoods, churches, or schools are now compelled to collaborate. The question then arises: How do we foster a sense of belonging and unity from this diverse mix of individuals, enabling us to achieve our collective goals as a team? It requires a fundamental shift in how people perceive and approach identity, moving away from perceiving the other side as a constant threat. This transformation is integral to understanding the intricate connection between identity and inclusion.
That is how identity is related to inclusion.