Field of Dreams came out in 1989, and became an instant classic. It’s taken on a life of its own in pop culture, and today we all recognize the line ‘if you build it they will come’. In the movie, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, is compelled to build a baseball diamond in order to attract the ghosts of old players, including Shoeless Joe Jackson and his character’s own father. Ray is willing to plow over his own cornfield, putting the family farm in jeopardy, because he believes in his dream of bringing these baseball giants to life. His dream is bigger than his own interests, and at the same time his interests will be better served by following this dream.
In our organizations, diversity is a dream, but it’s a dream that comes at a cost. Those baseball players didn’t show up on the corn field and say, ‘let’s play ball’. Ray didn’t invite them to come plow up the field and lay the baseball diamond or help build the stands. He was willing to do the hard work and take the risks himself, trusting that if he did it right, they would show up and make the place come alive.
We don’t do that in our businesses. In fact, we do the opposite. We say we value diversity, and we do all kinds of crazy gymnastics to attract a diverse workforce. But we haven’t plowed up the field or made a baseball diamond. We think we are welcoming, but when people of color, people who are disabled, people who are LGBT, women, come into our space, we say ‘we’re so glad you are here. Now, build us a baseball stadium – after all, you are the ones who want to play baseball.’ It’s the opposite of welcoming – it’s exhausting. And worse, no matter how hard they work, it will never succeed. Because we don’t really want to plow down our cherished corn field. We want them to wear a baseball uniform while they join us in farming.
There’s an HR quote we all know: ‘diversity is is being invited to the party, inclusion is being invited to the dance floor’, but there’s an additional line I love that says ‘belonging is having my music playing’. We have worked hard to invite people to our parties and onto the dance floor, but we want them to dance to our music. Look like a baseball player, but learn to farm. How can we change it up so everyone’s music is playing on that dance floor?
My granddaughters are enamored of series of children’s book about Elephant and Piggie. One particular favorite is called ‘I am Invited to a Party!’, where an exuberant Piggie is invited to a party and enlists the help of her staid friend, Gerald the elephant to prepare. Under Gerald’s guidance, the pair dresses for a fancy party, a pool party, and a costume party cumulatively. There are two important points to this story. The first is that it turns out Gerald is right. The party is a fancy pool costume party. All of their outfitting is appropriate.
Our workplaces ought to be like that – open to all kinds of ways of being. We say we want people to be their full authentic selves at work, but do we really? Are we open to different world views that might clash with our own? Are we only throwing a costume party and those who come prepared to swim are left out? Can people come in baseball uniforms and be welcomed for who they really are? What can we do differently to create a culture where differing voices not only welcomed but celebrated? We’ve all had the experience of being invited to a party where we arrive and feel totally out of place. Is that what work is like every day for some of our employees?
The second thing about this story is that Piggie has never been invited to a party and she needs a guide. Some of the workforce that we want to attract has never been invited to our parties. They aren’t all lucky enough to have an elephant around who can show them the way, and they also need a guide. We can create places that are truly welcoming and send out the invitations. But then we need to get out and meet the people we want to attract. Let’s tell them all about the party we have planned. Let’s make sure they know that our parties are fancy, pool and costume, and that they are welcome. Let’s plow up our own corn fields, because if we build it, they will come.