Six years ago, I got a chance to work with a leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). We were in a group workshop talking about the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), which measures cross cultural agility on a scale from Denial to Adaptation. One of the group participants asked, “What is adaptation?”

My white woman privilege reared its head. “Is it when a Black person changes their speech to adapt to the people around them? Like saying ‘ask’ instead of ‘ax’?” Because, of course, adaptation had to be about adapting to me.

This moment and the conversations that followed were eye opening.

I grew up on Army bases, served in the Army myself, and have worked in the non-profit world for over a decade. I thought I understood the challenges that people of other races had to overcome. I knew about red lining and the impact of segregation on schools. I saw discrimination in hiring. I mean, I was the only white girl on my high school basketball team! But like many white people, I centered my understanding on myself.

I look back and I’m embarrassed. I thought I was further along. I had lobbied on Capitol Hill to end discrimination against the LGBT community. I had a diverse group of friends. My wife educated me about Chicago’s terrible history of racism. I worked in a diverse city. On and on and on.

But the moment triggered change in me. Adaptation is about shifting one’s cultural perspective and changing behavior in authentic and culturally appropriate ways.

I had spent so much time finding common ground that I had neglected to see the beauty in difference. More importantly, I had neglected to be an authentic leader. I had neglected to adapt my leadership to my team. Diverse teams don’t outperform non-diverse teams. Diverse teams managed well outperform non-diverse teams. It hurt to realize I was failing. However, that realization was part of what would become National Able Network’s equity journey. I’m looking forward to sharing more about our journey through this Equity Blog Series.


About: This Equity Blog Series is authored by National Able Network’s President and CEO, Bridget Altenburg, to share insights about National Able Network’s equity journey.