Working Together

from Duncan Smith, ADC Associates

Welcome to this monthly newsletter, in which we explore topics relating to leadership and organisational culture, global diversity and inclusion, gender, culture, bias, and more.

In this issue:

  • The Power of the Circle
  • Equality and Equity
  • People and Colo(u)r – Context Matters

I hope you find these sharings interesting and useful – and whether they are new to you or reminders, that they stimulate your thinking and your practice. If there are topics you would like to see explored here, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,
Duncan Smith

Leadership and Teams

The Power of the Circle

I recently had the privilege of participating as a guest panellist in a leadership development program, “Belonging from the Inside Out”, facilitated by Margareth Thomas, Monique Longhurst, and Wesa Chau.

Picture a small group – perhaps 14 people, sitting in a circle: chairs, no tables, no data projector, and by unspoken, voluntary agreement no phones, tablets, or laptops. This simple arrangement allowed and supported a dynamic of deep listening and connection, in which people attended to and engaged with each other in a way rarely if ever seen in most meetings.

I was reminded of being asked “what would success look like in terms of Diversity and Inclusion?” My initial thought was that I would see far greater diversity around the decision making table; then I recalled the excellent work on decolonising the mind being done by Natasha Aruliah [], and remembered the limits of my typical white western perspective.  As Natasha reminds us, in traditional cultures there is no table. We sit. We connect. We listen. We engage.

Are you looking to reach a deeper level of communication with others? Are you looking to be a more facilitative and inclusive leader, with a more engaged team? Try getting rid of the table – and getting rid of distracting technology — and just be there. You don’t need a formal agenda – just work with whatever is most important to the people in the group, at that moment. Listen, connect and engage with what emerges.

It’s said that leadership takes courage; we use both vulnerability and strength when we practice having the courage to not know – to simply be fully present with what is, in each moment.


Equality and Equity

Working in cultures that value equality (egalitarian countries including the Anglo, Nordic, and Germanic-European cultural clusters), we sometimes find there is resistance or push-back against the idea of treating certain demographic groups differently – surely everyone is fundamentally equal so treating everyone the same is the right thing to do?

A participant in a workshop recently shared a quote: ”Nothing is more unequal than giving equal treatment to people who are unequal.” While this is apparently not from Thomas Jefferson as has often been said (it’s more likely adapted from Plato) it’s still a useful reminder of the difference between Equality and Equity.

While we may have a deep belief that all people are fundamentally equal, the reality is that structural inequities exist in all societies – powerful dynamics of exclusion and unequal privilege. Equality means giving everyone identical inputs; but because all people are different, the results of those inputs will naturally and automatically be different. If we want an equitable outcome, we need to provide different inputs that take the needs of each individual into account. You may have seen the widely distributed (and widely critiqued) image of three people of different heights trying to watch a baseball game over a wooden fence. I prefer the image above as having more resonance across a wider range of cultures:

These simple reminders can help bring people who resist the idea of differential treatment to understand that if we want an equitable society, we need to notice and respond to differences in ways that will being positive outcomes to all.

Global Diversity and Inclusion

People and Colour - Context Matters

One of the most challenging areas of diversity to work with is that of race, and as always, when working globally, context matters.

Sociologists remind us that race is a social construction. In other words, while physical differences exist (“if you are visually abled, you can tell that people are different based on their skin colour and other physical signs,” — Zuleyka Zavallos, — the meanings that we attach to these differences vary widely according to country and culture.  As a reminder of how arbitrary these constructions are, we tend to consider that differences in eye color are not significant, while differences in skin color are (thanks to the Winters Group for this example —

Given that in many countries skin colour (color in the US) is considered a significant aspect of racial diversity, as a global practitioner, it’s important to be able to understand the local language of race. Do you know when to use the term BAME? BIPOC? People of Color? Coloured? ATSI? Pakeha? Culture rather than Race? Colourism rather than Racism? None of the above?

Please bear in mind that this is not an exhaustive list – all of us have blind spots and gaps in our knowledge, myself very much included. For example, I note how many of these terms originate in white English speaking majority countries of the Anglo diaspora. And that some of these terms can be considered offensive in some countries. What’s important as a global practitioner is to understand not only local terminology, but the structural, social, political, and — critically — emotional impacts of how race or colour is constructed, defined, and discussed.

I believe that we are all one people on this earth, and that the essence of diversity and inclusion work is to enable us all to work together well, to respond to the many issues facing us on this planet, in all of our colours. I am inspired in this by Brazilian photographer Angélica Dass’ Humanae project; I encourage you to watch her TED talk and explore her images of humanity: As she reminds us, we all have a skin colour.

And, as in all diversity work, race and colour is a both/and topic: we are all one, and the differences matter.

Answers: BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic.): UK – and note that Asian refers primarily to people from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc.);  BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color): Canada;   People of Color: USA;   Coloured: South Africa (one of the racial groups acknowledged in the Constitution);   ATSI (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander): Australia;   Pakeha: New Zealand (a Maori word used for white Europeans);   Colourism rather than racism: India and many others including African cultures, where colourism is a significant, if not always publicly acknowledged distinction;  Culture rather than race: many countries

Upcoming Events

New Conversations about Race – 24 and 25 August, Melbourne, Australia

Virtual HR Roundtable – September 17, online

The Story Conference – 27-29 November, Melbourne Australia

Many of the ideas discussed above are addressed in the book Foundations of Diversity, available online or at

If you have any questions or comments relating to this newsletter, please feel free to contact me directly. Please note that I will not be responding to online comments.

We’ll be back next month with more.

All the best,


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