Weaving our Human Tapestry

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry. And we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” – Maya Angelou

Frayed and Tattered

The fabric of our society feels threadbare. A tattered cloth with gaping holes, it barely drapes us nor does it display its full beauty. We wish it were different but we seem to have lost our ability to weave that tapestry. But in truth, we’ve never really mastered that craft in the first place nor has our tapestry ever truly been complete.

This frayed fabric often stretches thin at work too. Some dominate, often unaware of their privileged place, while others work under the strain of exclusion rarely if ever sensing they belong, that they are trusted, that they are understood. Their contributions from different perspectives don’t seem welcome. Their threads aren’t woven in. But point this out to the privileged and there’s more fraying and fear.

We know that organizations who create diverse and inclusive cultures, where no one is afraid to be who they are and bring their authentic contributions, we know that those workplaces perform better. Their fabric is stronger. And we know it’s the right thing to do. But where to begin?

Learning to Weave

We need to learn to weave. We need to learn to bring together all our vibrant threads in to rich textures, hues, and patterns, to craft a fabric that is strong and resilient, innovative and creative, that serves us all well.

Every tapestry is woven of threads running two directions, the warp and the weft, old terms from old technology still used today. A loom holds the vertical warp threads firmly in place, while horizontal weft threads move back and forth, in and out interchanging colors and in various patterns.

If we are to have a strong and beautiful social tapestry including at work, we must strengthen both our warp, that is, our common human threads, and our weft, that is, our diversity. It can’t just be one set of threads or the other, because then there’s no weave.

In other words, we can’t just comfortably turn to focus on what we hold in common, and not understand and value our differences. Nor should we exclusively focus on what sets us apart and not find our shared human experience. We must have both, woven tightly together to create the tapestry we seek. This weaving means learning new skills and new habits.

Imperfect Practice

When learning to paint, play an instrument, cook, work with wood, brew, weave, whatever, as beginners our early efforts will usually be pretty feeble, and by no means a master piece. Because we are learning. But the only way to get good at something is through imperfect practice. This means being uncomfortable with not getting it quite right until we build more skill. But if we are going to become skilled at anything, we have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

So it is with building the skills and habits that create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We have to get comfortable learning to have new conversations, having our assumptions challenged, discovering our implicit biases, learning to honor other perspectives and experiences different from our own.

We are going to make some mistakes with each other. We may say thing offensive unaware or ask questions that miss the point. We are going to "hit the wrong note, brew a bad batch, bake something unappetizing, take a blurry image." You get the idea. We will be learning, which is important because we have a lot to learn.

But hold onto this vision too: As we get better at this, one at a time, and then collectively, can come a more inclusive, dynamic, innovative, human-centered way of working. We will expand who collaborates, how we collaborate, and what we actually talk about and work on. What we produce together will be even better than ever before. So let's learn. 

A first basic skill for social weaving is learning to listen to understand so we can discover and appreciate both our common humanity and our rich diversity.

A First Step for A Human Workplace: Olympia

In June, A Human Workplace: Olympia focused on taking this first step. A primary skill for social weaving is learning to listen to understand so that we can discover and appreciate both our common humanity and our rich diversity. To prepare for this session, the design team grappled with questions like:

·        What is an effective way to introduce listening practices to this gathering?

·        How should we, in this very first step, balance discovering how we are the same with how we are different?

·        How should we balance creating some discomfort without pushing people too far too soon?

·        But how do we also respond to the urgency of others who’ve been asked to be patient for far too long?

In tomorrow’s post, we will take a look at what happened as we learned to listen and weave our commonality with our diversity and also what seems essential for creating this kind of conversation in A Human Workplace community.