Written by: Simma Lieberman
Every organization has hidden geniuses. Often, they are the people that don’t look, act, or think like the typical leaders in the organization. They are hired for their talents but never get to contribute their skills and ideas entirely.
Companies with a desire to increase a positive bottom line are to heed the following:
- When people feel a part of an inclusive team, they do their best work. They are more innovative, take risks and participate.
- When employees don’t feel included, they may leave the organization to work for a competitor, become entrepreneurs in a similar space, or do nothing.
- Bias based on demographics, wrong assumptions, and fear of differences result in exclusion and social inequality.
Worse is a significant loss of talent upon not discovering the hidden geniuses in your organization.
To begin a positive cycle, answer the question, does your organization include the hidden geniuses? If the answer is an immediate ‘no,’ you may want to become more familiar with your employees. Should the answer be yes, encourage them with proper training. Strive to have all employees feel the inclusion and participation in meetings.
Why I Got Into This Field
I’m Jewish. When I was eight years old, I was sitting in synagogue when a group of white teenage boys attacked us. They threw things at us and called us names. I was scared, but I wondered,
“Why and how could anyone hate us so much when they don’t know us?
I decided that I wanted to get to know people different from me to eliminate our fear of one another. It would be essential to meet people who were experiencing hate and prejudice.
The era was the beginning of the civil rights movement, and I started marching against segregation. In 1963, I participated in the ‘March on Washington’ with Martin Luther King. That day changed my life. Even though I was very young, I knew that I wanted to make bringing people together across differences my life’s work. My involvement grew into community organizing and leading dialogues between people from different races, religions, and sexual orientations.
Since I was primarily an hourly employee, I didn’t know about careers or that you could do what you loved until much later. No one in my family had “actual careers.” They were also hourly employees.
When I was around forty years old, a friend who was the only salaried person I knew told me that I should be working on behalf of diversity because I was already doing it in the community. Because of her, I met my first mentor, who trained me. I began looking for a job in diversity. No one would hire me because I had no real-life experience. But one organization hired me as a contractor. Then more organizations contracted with me. I didn’t set out to own a business because I had no clue how to conduct business. But after continuing to get turned down for jobs while still receiving contract work, I realized that I was “self-employed.”
You may describe me as an accidental business owner and entrepreneur. My self-employment began thirty years ago. I had much to learn about business systems and marketing. I dove into reading many books to learn more.
My career as a DEIB consultant, speaker, and facilitator aligns with my life’s mission: Bring people together across differences and create environments where everyone feels:
- Having the necessities as individuals to excel
- Encourage employers to include hidden geniuses in their organizations
My Dedication to Include Hidden Geniuses
As a DEIB consultant, I have positively impacted people’s lives at work and in the community. My satisfaction is helping organizations grow and be more inclusive, leading them to increased revenue and success.
One of the challenges of my work is the lack of understanding of what it takes to create real inclusive cultures. Too often, leaders in organizations talk about their support for DEIB. However, they either don’t understand or don’t fully support it. They will bring in a consultant to facilitate a one-time training program. But they are unwilling to take an action, invite open conversations, or spend the necessary money to reinforce the learning.
Worse, they are unwilling to review and change systems and processes that have the potential for bias and exclusion. DEIB is a process and not a one-time training. I regard it as a long-term ongoing process. Without integrating DEIB into the organization’s DNA, there is no long-term change.
For me, working in the field of DEIB is more than just about the organization. It’s about the outside community and the world I want to live in. The Covid pandemic required that people work from home alone, changing the professional landscape. The killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other people of color, plus the rise of anti-Asian violence, have erased the line between work and homelife.
There is a heightened awareness of the effects of systemic racism in our communities, schools, and workplace. As a result, more CEOs and other senior leaders have committed to DEIB goals in their organizations and support social justice in our society.
Today my work in organizations is focused on cultural transformation-elevation at every level. I coach and train leaders to live and lead with inclusion. It is essential to include hidden geniuses and strengthen our resolve for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Teaching includes facilitating conversations across differences to help people find new ways to collaborate and support each other.
To do our best work, DEI consultants need to go beyond our backgrounds and experience and learn from each other. Three years ago, when I was looking for a group to join, a colleague introduced me to the Inclusion Allies Coalition. I was attracted to it because it was global, there were people from every dimension of diversity, and everyone I met was willing to share their knowledge and experience. The organization mirrors the essence of any business or organization’s success:
‘Be an ally for one another.’
Seek out your hidden geniuses to learn and develop an appreciation for one another. Doing so provides the support we each need. For a business to thrive, the well-being of employees, feeling of inclusion and being heard all contribute to business growth.
Simma Lieberman has been a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant www.simmalieberman.com for over thirty years. As “The Inclusionist,” Simma helps leaders build inclusive cultures from the inside-out. She has been a DEIB consultant, speaker and facilitator for over thirty years. Simma hosts the podcast www.raceconvo.com “Everyday Conversations on Race for Everyday People.” It is a cross-race conversation on race and related issues. P.S. Simma Lieberman’s compelling story above brought the award-winning movie to mind, Hidden Figures.