As we continue to celebrate Pride month, it is important to reflect on the milestones in LGBTQ  history.  As I took another tour myself, I was reminded of the highs and the lows…many that have planted a stain on our society.  Progress has been made, but when you see, for example, the homophobic attack on two women in London just weeks ago, it’s clear there is so much yet to be done.

At Talent Dimensions, we have the unique opportunity to drive progress through our work in organizations – work that is at the intersection of development, inclusion, engagement and retention. I recognize that’s a mouthful, but the work to create diverse, inclusive organizations where individuals feel they are safe and belong, requires an understanding of what is truly needed to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Inclusion applies to all aspects of diversity, but today I’ll focus on the LGBTQ community…a group with whom I’ve identified for more than three decades.  My journey has been one of awareness, fear, disappointment, surprise and gratitude.  As I reflected on the last 30+ years, I have my own personal experiences as well as the research we have done to better understand what it was like to go from living two completely different lives to feeling the love and acceptance of the most important people in my life…to go from hiding who I really was to feeling completely unleashed to bring my whole self to all aspects of my life.

Living and working in the south in my twenties was a scary experience and I learned quickly that I had to form a wall between my true personal life and the outside world…especially in my profession.  And I recognize I had the ability and privilege to hide this aspect of how I was different.  I became quite good at it, but I must admit, the energy it took to cover was exhausting.  The fear of people finding out could be crippling as well.  I could never bring my full self to the workplace and it was only later in life that I came to understand just how it impacted my ability to thrive both personally and professionally.

It was when I read my colleague Ancella Liver’s 2002 book, Leading in Black and White, that I began the journey of understanding the impact that covering had on my life AND that it was going to take some time and work to break down that wall.  In her book, Ancella talks about a concept called “miasma,” a low-lying cloud, surrounding those who have to bear extra burdens and exert extra energy in ways that are not directly related to the work itself.”  While in the book she talks about miasma in the context of black leaders, miasma doesn’t discriminate, it applies to any group of difference.

It was when Ancella told the following story of two men on the same journey, but having completely different experiences, that so much became clear to me.  John (black) and Walter (white) were embarking on a journey through the West Virginia mountains (of which Ancella is a native) to meet at a predetermined location on the other side of the mountains.

The two men left at the same time and took the same route.  Walter arrives at the location and notices that John is nowhere to be found.  An hour later John arrives feeling quite exacerbated and tired.  Walter asked John what caused the delay, and he shared that he had to navigate the incredibly dense fog (normal in the West Virginia mountains), which slowed him down considerably.  Walter saw no fog…quite frankly, it was one of the most beautiful days in the mountains he could remember.

John and Walter clearly had two very different experiences.  In John’s fog, he carried extra burdens and exerted additional energy in order to get to the spot where Walter arrived an hour earlier.  That fog impacted his ability to keep pace with Walter…and Walter had no idea what John was experiencing.

My understanding of Miasma exposed me to the fog surrounding my life for many years…even to this day it’s still there to some extent.  This story – this realization – commenced my journey to where we are at Talent Dimensions today.

Miasma is alive and well in organizations and its impact is devastating both to the individual and the organization.  For the individual, the energy expended navigating that metaphorical fog takes away from an individual’s feeling of safety, belongingness and his or her ability to fully and personally engage.  For the organization, that lack of ability to engage results in the inability to realize the full potential from employees and worst case see them pursue other opportunities where they can bring their full selves to the workplace.

So how do organizations get this right?  While it would be great if there was a silver bullet or magic pill to make this happen easily, there is no silver bullet or magic. There is an answer though. The answer lies in the intersection I mentioned earlier – the intersection of development, inclusion, engagement and retention.  These elements are inextricably connected. Taking this further, full potential of individuals and the organizations they make up can only be realized when these interdependent mechanisms exist within an ethos that embodies:

  • a shared vision and purpose across the organization
  • inclusive leadership enacted by all, not just formal leaders
  • systemic inclusion across all processes
  • a learning mindset is embracing both individually and organizationally

When your organization’s ready to explore the intersection of development, inclusion, diversity, employee engagement and retention, contact Talent Dimensions to learn from our decades of experience helping clients build powerful, sustainable and inclusive employee growth and development strategies.