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When It Comes to Inclusion, Be The Tortoise

In the fable of the tortoise and the hare, we see the patient, consistent, tortoise wins a race against the faster hare. Literally, the tortoise caught the hare sleeping.

And while we can debate whether this fable could actually net out to be true in the real world (I'd argue yes — I present this one YouTube video above as proof), the power of the lesson can be applied to many aspects of our lives.

Consistency always wins in the end.

This is just as true for improving diversity and inclusion within organizations. Too often, we opt for expediency and sacrifice substance and longevity in the process. Either because there is a difficult decision to make between increasing capacity immediately and developing inclusion over time, or because all values are not treated equally.

Maybe you've heard or seen these sentiments expressed before...

  • We need to hire someone now and we don't have time to expand our search.

  • We have a number of qualified candidates already.

  • Diversity is one of our important values, and we must balance that with other equally important values (.i.e. speed, efficiency, culture fit).

Whether recruiting or retaining talent or having difficult conversations about developing policies or practices that address difficult and complex diversity challenges, it's easy to default to solutions that don't limit our sprint. If an idea to address workforce complaints about lack of diversity can be implemented with relatively few barriers, that becomes more attractive than slowing down or stopping to feel each bump in the road, because we aren't being forced to break our stride.

And it feels good. We see companies mistake their speed for progress, and like the hare, rest on the laurels of their accomplishments, while the real challenge laps them. But this shouldn't be about speed; building inclusion is about consistency.

Building inclusion is also about confronting difficult challenges. Realizing that a potential solution is complicated or not straightforward is not an excuse for inaction. Yet, it sometimes becomes one. Rather than seeing the finish line and figuring out how to get there and confront the obstacles on the way, we sometimes start running with no clear end in sight, and see obstacles as a sign to quit while we are ahead.

Except we aren't ahead. Inclusion suffers when we focus on fast and easy solutions to real concerns people have about diversity, inclusion, or culture. And when we do that, it sends the message that inclusion actually doesn't matter all that much.

How many times have we seen people, organizations, or companies confront seemingly intractable problems with fervor, passion, and resilience? I have no doubt that some of our widely celebrated innovations today began with someone saying "it can't be done" and still others never conceiving a world where that innovation could exist. When we see a tangible benefit or a clear value, we mobilize all our resources to realize the potential there. While speed can be a competitive advantage, it doesn't come at the expense of vision and commitment.

Think of building inclusion the same way — as a complex problem where the solution has tangible benefits and clear value. Over indexing on speed without a clear vision or commitment to the race to get there is not how we innovate and create the solution we want to see.

Before "hopping" in (see what I did there?) :

  1. Identify where the finish line is. We can always improve, so I'm not advocating for a cliff where we stop addressing our gaps and working to address our blind spots. What I am advocating for is developing a clear goal you'd like to achieve. Something that feels tangible and concrete.

  2. Know what victory looks like. There is finishing, and then there is the victory lap. For Olympic runners, they get to take a lap with their country's flag. For racecar drivers at the Indy500, it's a glass of milk. The vision of sharing in that tradition fuels the motivation to keep pushing when the race gets hard, or to not stop when it seems like victory is close at hand. Building inclusion requires that same vision. It's not enough to want to cross the finish line because it's there — without some vision of the future and real connection to it, any real commitment will fade when the task becomes hard or there is no one behind you pushing you to keep going.

  3. Run a consistent race. The one sport I pretended I was committed to in middle and high school was track & field. I may have been mediocre at best at the running part, but conceptually, I understood what it took to win. We were always told by our coach to "run our race". It meant being really clear on what your pace was, what your plan for each 200m of that race would be, and not be easily deterred from executing that plan by other people doing different things around you. Start running too fast, too soon, and you will burn out. Run too slow in the beginning and try to catch up in the end, and you will lose a lot of momentum. Run your inclusion race, not someone else's. What does your organization need? What can you actually give in this race, and are you willing to provide it consistently?

What this is not is me advocating for moving slow. It is me advocating for moving purposefully. When we look at the fable of the tortoise and the hare, some may see the takeaway as "slow and steady wins the race." However, I believe that undercuts the powerful imagery of the tortoise and the race it ran. I believe the true takeaway should be amended to say "deliberate and steady wins the race".

In inclusion, we must not romanticize the value of speed in problem-solving when it's not paired with consistency and resilience.



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