March 8 is International Women’s Day, and as an organization that has committed to continuously improving our diversity and inclusion practices, it’s a day that invites us to hold up a mirror and examine where and how we’re creating a more equitable world, along with where and how we can improve.
The Value of Presence
One area of focus that impacts the day-to-day operations of just about every professional organization is embracing the value of presence in problem-solving. In short, the principle is this: You cannot solve a problem if half of those affected by it aren’t in the room. Or worse, if no one affected by it is in the room. This principle stands when advancing gender equality, and it stands in every other aspect of business decision-making. When discussing how to improve employee morale, you’re in trouble if the only people in the room are members of the executive team. When discussing how to create a more diverse environment, you’re in trouble if your conference room is only full of people who look like you. And if you’re trying to solve problems and create new products for clients, you’re in trouble if you aren’t inviting partners and market experts to be a part of the conversation.
At Unacast, we strive to bring a well-rounded set of voices to every challenge we solve, both from a diversity and inclusion lens and from a lens of business experience and professional expertise. But as with all efforts to improve, we don’t always get it quite right, and we certainly make plenty of mistakes that we can learn from down the road. So, why can it be so hard to achieve presence in problem-solving? It comes down to unconscious bias and comfort level.
Comfort Is The Enemy Of Progress
We’re all more likely to seek out people who are like us, whether to spend time with socially or to help us solve a problem. You go to the people you get along with best or whose point of view you value most — and a majority of the time, that person is a lot like you. We also want to feel comfortable in the discussions we’re having, especially if we’re tackling a difficult topic. If you’re trying to build a new product, you want everyone in the room to be on board — bringing in an outside voice puts you in the potential position to hear the words “This won’t work. We would never buy it.” And then where are you? In spite of our best efforts, we often fall into the old trap of choosing comfort and familiarity over discomfort and challenge. It’s human nature, which is why it can be so difficult to see even when the proof of these inclinations is right in front of us. That's why it's important to give each meeting invite list or email chain an extra second of critical thought and ask yourself the simple question: Am I including the right combination of voices in this discussion, or am I missing something?
Empathy and Experience
Now let’s take a look at why presence in problem-solving can help us find greater success. At its core, this is about the intersection of empathy and experience. Your best shot at solving a problem comes from having two types of people in the room: those who have experienced the problem, and those who can empathize with that experience. Empathy is a catalyst for change, which means that genuine action is far more likely to come out of a meeting in which some attendees can speak to experiencing a problem first-hand to elicit empathy from those who also wish to solve the problem, but haven’t experienced it themselves.
Presence Accelerates Progress
On a global scale of advancing gender equality, this is why it’s vital to invite both men and women into the conversation. On a business scale, this is why careful consideration should be given to everyone who is brought in to solve a problem. If the meeting is only full of people who have experienced the problem with no one from the outside, you risk the meeting turning into a glorified group complaint session. Vice versa, if no one sitting in the room has actually experienced the problem you’re trying to solve, you may end up with a wildly off-track solution or a complete misunderstanding of the issue itself, no matter how good your intentions might be.
If your day-to-day life is anything like mine, you probably aren’t coming up against world-altering problems and decisions on a regular basis. But, you still have a responsibility to the people you work with every day and the clients you serve. You have problems you need to solve, and being more mindful of presence in problem-solving can help you get the right mix of experience and empathy in the room to encourage debate, questions, and a better, stronger solution.