In case you missed it, yesterday – April 15th – the US major league baseball teams honored Jackie Robinson , who in 1947 on that date became the first player of color to play in US major league baseball. All players yesterday wore the same number – Robinson’s #42 – as a way of honoring his memory and accomplishments. More on Robinson at this ESPN video clip here .
I thought of Robinson in connection with a history-dating project we did a few years ago with the circa 1870’s house in San Francisco we call home. As background, one of the effects of the 1906 earthquake in the City is that many records got destroyed in the fire which followed the quake, so you back into dating your house by things such as water / sewer hook-ups or voter registration rolls.
As you might expect, the registered voters for our property contained male-like and female-like names – but became all male names for years earlier than 1920. Where did the women go? Easy – they didn’t have the right to vote until then.
Things that we take so easily for granted – males and females voting, people of all ethnic / racial backgrounds doing things in and out of sports – weren’t always so.
Just as it would give me pause if people on a team always had the same number (both "that’s odd" – and "what’s going on here?), I’ve found through my years that when I don’t see the appropriate communities reflected wherever I go it brings to mind that same question: "what’s going on here?
I remember Chris Matthews’ observation about Obama’s cabinet ("Looks like the the many faces of Benetton " ) and thinking, no, it actually looks mostly like the people who are my clients, work with me on boards, run the school my son attends, or who I bump into professionally and personally day in and day out.
And when I don’t see that sort of appropriate diversity, I curiously wonder why. If the answer is the community itself is less diverse (maybe Boise rather than Bakersfield, or on the gender side, maybe Alaska with a much higher percentage of males rather than Arizona, where gender is more balanced) than it makes a certain amount of sense. But when the community itself is diverse, I default to "what’s going on here?"
I think we honor people like Robinson when we expect bright smart people of all stripes to be around us when it’s appropriate, and to wonder why they’re not (e.g. why are all the CEO’s of major banks male?) – and to figure out what, if anything to do about it. Just asking that question – "What’s going on here?" – can have a profound impact.
New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work and careers. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the "About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc." sidebar.