The moment arrived.
120 of us sat in the conference room, waiting for Brene Brown to arrive.
And then she did.
She walked into the room, with a big grin on her face, and an even bigger “How are y’all” coming out of her mouth.
We were all trying to keep it together, to be professional, but I imagine that everyone felt as giddy as I did on the inside.
She stood up on stage, looked at us all and asked again ‘How are ya’ll?” We responded in union with “great, awesome, excited”.
Then she said, “This is a very white room”. For a split second, I thought she meant the paintwork, I honestly did. Then she said, “I know that every single person of colour in this room knows exactly how many other people of colour are in this room.”
I was at the front of the room, and I shouted out, “YES’’. I knew that there were five other women of colour in the room and one man. I had counted them, I always do.
Brene said, “This is something we as an organisation are very aware of and something we are actively working on”.
She then went onto to read the draft of the ‘Inclusivity, Equity and Diversity statement’ that underpins the work of the Brene Brown Education and Research Group.
It was a profound document, and she asked the room to comment. A woman of colour who was in the Navy and worked with veterans responded and began talking about what this document meant to her.
If you asked me what she said, I would have no idea; I wasn’t listening. I was listening to the sensation building up in my body. It started at my feet, rose up in me like a wave, and then sat in my heart for a few breaths.
I remember thinking “If someone asked me to speak right now, I couldn’t do it. I have no words.” I was overcome. Speechless in a way I have never been.
I am not sure when the wave made it past my heart, but I do remember noticing there were tears running down my face and thinking, what is happening?
And then it came to me, “I feel seen. I am seen”.
I am turning 45 next month, and I have NEVER felt seen like that in a white majority in my entire life.
One of my favourite quotes from the Dare to Lead book is “Daring leaders who live into their values are not silent about hard things.”
I eventually came back to the room and noticed that one of the other women of colour was speaking: five of the seven of us spoke, and the input was consistent through the training.
The next day a woman spoke, and her opening sentence was, “As a gay woman…”
This also continued through the training. The ‘minority’ in the room felt safe enough to be seen, because the leader in front of us had dared to not be silent about hard things, and that bought inclusivity, equity and diversity into the room.
I wish I could share the organisation’s diversity statement with you, but it is confidential. What I will say is that every single organisation needs one, not just the words but a statement that is actually living within teams and organisational culture.
Of course, this is not the only resource needed, but from personal experience and speaking to the other people who identified as a minority in the training, I know that the statement gave us safety to speak.
Unless we create safety for everyone, we miss out on the types of human connection that allow us all to live and work better, together.
I wish you a weekend of not being silent about hard things. xxx