If there’s a lesson we corporate professionals can learn from social dancing, it must be one about embracing diversity and being inclusive. In my two years of learning social dancing (yes that includes Salsa, Bachata, Jive etc), I have developed a deep sense of belonging for the dancing community and one of the reasons why I feel “I belong here” is the absence of judgement from my dancing partners and instructors. The bottom line is – everyone is welcome, with open arms!
Corporates position themselves as champions of diversity, but one has to look deep within the cultural ethos of the organization to understand if the company truly embraces talent of all kinds, agnostic of ethnicity, religion, caste, language, appearance, gender, sexuality etc or it is merely a branding strategy. We in HR, as people ambassadors must build an atmosphere where everyone does feel included, and for that the biggest journey is again for us to look inwards and challenge our own deeply help stereotypes and biases.
To simplify, let me give you four simple ways social dancing teaches us inclusion:
- Letting go of barriers of religion/age/nationality – The construct of social dancing is such that one could be dancing with a variety of people, without filters, such as - senior citizens, adolescents, minorities, immigrants of different nationalities, beginners trying to hone their basics, and sometimes even differently abled! The only currency that matters on the dance floor is the dexterity of both the partners as a dancing couple. Likewise, in an organization, the only currency of excellence should be the talent one brings, leaders must therefore focus on building a culture which is purely merit oriented and recognizes talent beyond boundaries of gender/ community/ faith etc.
- Looking beyond stereotypes – We all get implicitly socially conditioned into believing some stereotypes, it becomes a natural part of our mindset and therefore behavior. Social dancing helped me bust some of my own such myths, for eg. Dancing is predominantly a Catholic way of entertainment or that senior citizens cannot excel at dancing. In similar fashion, we could be carrying deeply held stereotypes at workplace that help us slot people. Being the custodians of culture, leaders must discourage generic stereotypical comments or casual chat about people’s backgrounds or offensive jokes targeting certain communities or innuendos at workplace. If we have to build a culture of inclusion, that has to first start by being respectful to all diversity (communities and minorities around us) and walk the talk.
- Gender equality at its truest – While conventionally most social dances have a “lead & follow” method wherein the man leads the lady, however, if one goes beneath what is obvious, both partners are in it for the thrill of dancing! Which means, there’s no one-upmanship between the two genders, no power plays or any sort of chauvinism. The lady could be dressed glamorously and that in no way undermines her dancing potential or is misconstrued as an “invitation” beyond the dance floor. Similarly, leadership has the ownership of creating a safe and harassment free workplace for women and champion equitable rewards for women commensurate with their capability, be it promotions or compensation.
- Going beyond the appearances – In social dancing, there’s no judgement on the superficial, people look beyond one’s looks or shape or size or colour. If you have to stun your audience, the number one thing that matters is how proficient a dancer you are, and that both the partners dance in a certain symphony to create some magic. Likewise as people leaders, it is upon us to really comprehend true potential of an individual beyond their external attributes. For eg., have you connected with that introverted, silent, yet strong worker who may not always be actively be promoting themselves or the impact their work creates, yet they are the dependable pillars of their team and deserving of recognition. External personality attributes often colour our perception and it takes a bit of rewiring our conscious minds to be able to see people for the value they bring the organization.
Just like how social dancing can be a source of tremendous joy, a workplace that’s fair and promotes inclusion can be a lever of employee engagement. So put your best foot forward and embrace the diversity of talent!