Develop, support, promote disability leaders

Tag Archive: assimilation

  1. Not Like You

    A row of small white bowls on a wooden surface, each bowl has a different spice or liquid in it.

    By Christina Ryan DLI CEO


    Diversity means not like you.


    “Not like you” means people who approach problems differently, achieve outcomes differently, and who might look and sound different.


    Disability Leadership Institute members regularly report on ways that their workplaces insist they look the same, sound the same, approach problems the same, and work to achieve outcomes the same way as their manager or other team members. Sometimes this seems to be about “fitting in” and sometimes it seems to be generated by the manager’s discomfort with being around a disabled person, or in approaching work in a way that the manager isn’t familiar with.


    This is a form of discrimination and harassment. It is also an effective way to prevent the disabled person from working freely and productively. It is a very effective way of obliterating the diversity in the room.


    Somebody who stops being who they are and “fits in,” who works to change the way they work, is assimilating. Assimilation is not diversity, it is sameness.


    The point of diversity is to embrace difference and acknowledge its contribution to innovation and problem solving. When we put two heads together, we get a different outcome. When we put many heads together, we get a very different outcome.


    Why then do we have so much trouble embracing diversity in our workplaces? Difference, people who are not like you, makes for better decisions, better outcomes and faster problem solving.


    Many disability leaders report leaving their jobs because someone new comes into the team or into management. The most common reason is that the new person expects them to be someone they cannot be. They are expected to lose their difference, to become the person that the new person wants. To be just like the new person. To be not disabled. This is assimilation; you are welcome here so long as you look, work, and behave like me.


    Everyone is different. Every human is different. Yet, for some reason, disabled people are expected to not be different. We are expected to twist ourselves into being the same as other people so that we fit in.


    This is damaging, it is reducing the effectiveness and productivity of highly qualified staff, and it is preventing the realisation of inclusive and diverse workplaces where all are welcome.


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    Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.