It's that time of year, where every leader and HR professional watches Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964) and cringes at the name-calling, gender segregation, and isolation of the mis-fits, be they toy, elf, deer, or monster. And Santa as a boss - not a very positive work environment for the elves; at least there are free snacks. At the end of the movie, of course, we learn how each person contributes to the mission, and those mis-fit attributes are actually strengths that provides unique solutions to delivering Christmas (and Santa is really a caring leader) - hooray!!
I'd like to focus this reflection on another classic movie that deals with diversity and inclusion in a much different way - Muppets from Space.
Muppets from Space (or any Muppet movie, for that matter) shares with us a world where nobody - human, animal, monster, or muppet - blinks an eye at what someone looks like. Take, for example, the Doctors in the Hallway scene:
In a highly secure federal laboratory, the female doctor meets our muppet friends in the hallway, disguised as doctors. She doesn't seem concerned that these are strangers in the hallway, nor does she seem to notice that they are an unusually tall Prawn and Frog (on the shoulders of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear). She only notices the lab coats and is cordial as they address her - Doctor [nod], Doctor [nod]. What a statement of acceptance and inclusion; perhaps not so great from a security perspective, but that's another article!
As the movie continues, there are a number of scenes where creatures are mixed together, and we are focused on the content of the individual's character, capabilities, and intentions rather than their biological makeup. Miss Piggy is an aspiring newscaster who, through her own resourcefulness and ambition, seizes the opportunity to move from coffee-getting-intern to on-air talent, without the blink of an eye that she is a pig. The various followers on the beach, awaiting the alien landing, are a mixture of hippies, musicians, protestors, friends - each openly expressing their style, celebrating being individuals having a shared experience, regardless of species. It's refreshing and so casually executed, the viewer forgets that it's unusual!
To realize such an inclusive culture, it would take years of experiences wherein frog and pig models of excellence were seen in roles typically held by humans, and each would need to add value - and then additional frogs and pigs could follow into similar and then broader roles. It's a lifetime of experiences, and the resistance would be substantial. After all, look how many years we've had women in STEM roles, some in pivotal and influential roles (think human computers in early days of NASA), yet it's still noteworthy when we see women in high level scientific and leadership roles, as visible on the LinkedIn newsfeed. It sure seems like engineering degree programs should be 50% women by now. Hmmmm.
Perhaps we need to leverage Hollywood; the focus on under-represented groups is at the forefront of funding. Okay, so perhaps super-heroes aren't the type of under-represented group we're concerned with in the workforce, but certainly the number of moving stories about strong leaders/ leading characters who are women, who are minorities, who are in same-sex relationships, who are from very different social and economic backgrounds - these are the movies that present alternative perspectives we can all understand, relate to, and accept into our own set of experiences, even if only in the confines of the movies. Art has long been a vehicle for cultural progression, with access to visual media presenting a prolific and purposeful channel for building inclusive experiences.
The challenge - how do we get to Doctors in the Hallway acceptance, focused on what someone can do, where he/she adds value, rather than looks or pedigree; and how do we accelerate the change curve towards inclusive, strength-based organizations. Experiences are the building blocks, and presenting those experiences broadly through communication channels is key: sharing stories, tweeting, texting, blog posts by influencers across the organization. It is essential that there is a structure, organized plan, and deliberate execution to drive the change, rather than continuing to wait for change to happen because it should. Change is a journey; as a leader, you must chart the course and drive - don't take your foot off of the gas! The race is long, and the value of an inclusive and collaborative culture is the reward.