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We don't need a melting pot - we need a salad bowl

“We don’t need a melting pot; we need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in different things. You want the vegetables, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, green peppers. You want each to maintain their identity. You appreciate their differences.” Jane Elliot

In business and coaching we speak about authentic leadership and bringing your whole self to work. This is hard to embrace as a concept if you don’t fit the cultural norm. Authenticity is a noble goal, but each of us needs to be clear about what it means for us. For organisations, there are upsides and downsides to cultural fit and authenticity; for individuals, being true to yourself is key and knowing what that means for you is crucial. Discovering that is transformative – as is being clear about the ways you’re adapting and how you feel about them: if they compromise the core of who you are or if they expand who you are.

Just as leaders adapt their style situationally – depending on the person and the context, we all adapt to a certain extent. How I relate to my teenagers (“Don’t coach me, Mum!”) is different from how I relate to my clients. As a little girl, I was teased at primary school for being posh and told off at home for not speaking properly! I learned to code-switch then. We all code-switch, though for some it’s a matter of survival.

Code-Switch: To alternate between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. "As with any social behaviour, we pick up linguistic norms and learn to code-switch according to context."

My wonderings about code-switching and my Web wanderings led me to articles and talks shared by Chandra Arthur, Harold Wallace III, Michael Whelp and to this article and challenge from The Root, which asks white people to be better in 2020 and to have a conversation about race: https://www.theroot.com/how-to-be-a-better-white-person-in-2020-1840868641

For me, watching Michael Welp’s TedX talk felt like clouds parting. He has been running white-male-only learning caucuses (his term) for twenty years and founded White Men as Full Diversity Partners. Forgive the paraphrasing, he was saying that when we want to talk about gender, we think of women and when we think of race, we think of people of colour – and white men need to join the conversation.

Over the years, and thousands of participants, he shared they usually had these blind spots: that they often felt they had got where they were solely on merit, that they were unaware they were part of a group and had a cultural norm of their own and that others have a different experience of the world to their own. He has learned that the process of becoming aware of these blind spots is life changing. I’m not doing his talk any justice; I was heartened by it and the thoughts shared by him and the others I mentioned on ways to open the conversation, especially post #MeToo and #TimesUp. You can find the talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR5zDIjUrfk What does this raise for you?