The Power of Possibility: Why Representation Matters
I started my coming out process during my junior year in college. At the time, I was working at a movie theatre and the General Manager was gay – though he worked hard to keep it a secret. He was someone that I truly admired as a person and as a leader. That subtle message – that being ‘out’ isn’t safe – even though he never said it out loud – stuck with me.
After college, I continued my work in movie theaters for several years. I continued my coming out journey though my early 20s which was embraced and accepted by the people in my life – both professionally and personally..
When I stepped into my first corporate human resources role at 24, I went back into the closet. No one told me I couldn’t be out, but I innately knew it was best to fly under the radar. Maybe it was my former general manager’s influence or maybe it was something else.
Fortunately, in that first role, I worked with Kimberly John Schave, a manager who was an out gay man at work and on the fast track to executive leadership in the company. He helped me know that it was okay to be ‘me,’ and he also told me about other senior leaders at the company who were out and successful. I will forever be grateful to him for helping me to understand that I could be ‘me’ at that company..
I struggle with the ‘if you can see it, you can be it’ message – because I also believe in ‘if you can dream it, you can be it.’ However, seeing ‘it’ makes a difference when the world tells you to hide who you really are.
The Oscars this year included so many historic firsts that were overshadowed by an unfortunate incident. Several significant representation matters moments got lost in the coverage, such as:
- The first film to center on Deaf characters and receive wide distribution, CODA, won Best Picture.
- Troy Kotsur became the first Deaf man to win an acting Oscar for his role in CODA.
- The first openly queer woman of color, Ariana Debose, won an acting Oscar for her rendition of Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.
- Encanto’s Yvett Merino became the first Latina producer to win an Oscar.
- Riz Ahmed was the first Muslim person to win an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film.
While I am not a woman of color, a queer woman, Deaf, or a Muslim man, these stories resonated with me because they are the manifestation of the power of possibility. They represent marginalized lived experiences that are too often disregarded, misrepresented, or entirely left out of the lexicon of stories told. I imagine that this year’s Oscars was an evening filled with inspiration and representation for those who share in the winners’ lived experiences.
The ‘dream’ can now be ‘seen,’ and I look forward to celebrating future successes inspired by these historic firsts. These moments are a reminder that leaders and organizations have an opportunity to create moments that showcase the power and possibility of representation for their employees.
The 4 Lenses of Representation serves as a framework for companies to explore making their commitment to representation tangible throughout their ecosystem:
- People: What is the make-up of your employee population? Are both visible and invisible identities part of the conversation? What is the make-up of your leadership team? Do your employees see people like themselves in leadership roles?
- Culture: Does the culture of your company embrace diversity? What are the cues and messages that demonstrate your commitment to inclusion? What stories are being told – both internally and externally? Do you create a psychologically safe environment where employees can voice their opinions?
- Community: What are you doing to give back to the communities that support your company and support the people who work there? Do you support volunteerism? Are you giving back financially? How are your employees’ voices considered in your social impact efforts?
- Customers: How are you meeting the needs of your diverse customers? Are your products and online tools accessible? Are you considering the specific needs of your customers based on their lived experiences? What messages are sent in your marketing materials?
These lenses, along with the ‘getting started’ questions, above are just a starting point. I encourage you to keep asking questions, to keep engaging your employees in conversation, and to keep exploring each of these 4 lenses.
Oh, by the way, a commitment to representation is both good for humanity and good for business. Check out our thought leadership paper (click here) on representation matters for some of the statistics and additional detail on our 4 Lenses of Representation framework.
I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on the questions above. It would be even better to engage in conversation with colleagues who have different lived experiences than you. Share your stories, perspectives, and experiences. These conversations, and shared understanding, are how change happens.
Until next time, stay safe and be well.
Founder | CEO
he / him | LGBTQ+
Brian McComak is a consultant, speaker, author, and facilitator with over 25 years of experience in DEI, HR, culture, change management, internal communications, and employee experience. He is an openly gay man and a person with a disability who shares his lived experiences in service of fostering workplaces where humans thrive.
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