Dr Amy Climer

Episode 44: How Diversity in Teams Can Increase Creativity

Diverse teams can be more creative, yet team members’ diverse backgrounds and identity can also lead to unwanted conflict. In this episode, Dr. Tanya Williams shares her insights about diversity, difference, power, and privilege and how to move past that uncomfortable conflict into a place of authenticity and possibility. Possibility is a precursor to creativity. This episode will help you tap into the power of diversity within your team and bring out their true creativity.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why diversity matters in teams
  • The types of conflict diversity can cause
  • Why diversity can be difficult to talk about
  • Three steps to help you build inclusion in your team
  • What is means to “create space”

About Tanya Williams

Tanya O. Williams, Ed.D is a self defined Social Justice Educator, Life Lover, Possibility Creator, Liberation Seeker and Hope Giver.   In her over 20 years as an administrator and educator in higher education working at institutions such as the University of Illinois, Southwestern University, Mount Holyoke College, Union Theological Seminary and University of Massachusetts Amherst, she has been able to maintain her mission to provide and create spaces in relationships, conversations, communities for all people to feel seen and appreciated for their authentic selves.   She comes to her work from a belief that humans are capable of greatness, that our world is beautiful, and that the world can be better for everyone. She sees the work that she does through Authentic Coaching and Consulting  – helping organizations and individuals align to their values and visions for a socially just world – as part of a contribution to a larger plan, and believes that if we all can live in authenticity, oppression and discrimination won’t stand a chance.

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

The Weekly Challenge

Notice and reflect. 1. Do an internet search on Social Identity. What do you learn? 2. Notice who is on your team or in your workplace. Who do you see? What do you notice? 3. Work to understand power and oppression and how it shows up in your daily life, particularly in your work teams.


Feel like reading instead of listening? You can read it below. Enjoy!

Amy Climer: Welcome to The Deliberate Creative Podcast Episode 44. Today I am talking with Dr. Tanya Williams. Tanya and I are going to talk about diversity and difference within teams and how diversity can lead to creativity, but it can also stifle it. We are going to explore that together. Tanya Williams is an amazing facilitator and speaker. She also has a coaching and consulting company called Authentic Coaching & Consulting. Tanya and I first met each other because we are both co-lead facilitators for LeaderShape.

LeaderShape is an amazing program that teaches college students about leadership and leading with integrity. The LeaderShape Institute happens at somewhere between 80 and 100 universities around the world! I was going to say around the U.S. but there are a few of them that are outside of the U.S. About 6,000 students or so attend a year and it is so awesome. In fact, whenever I am together with the other LeaderShape facilitators — there are probably 150 – 200 around the country — and whenever I am in that room I sometimes experience the imposter syndrome because it is an amazing group of people. Sometimes I think, “Wait, how did I get here?” In fact, if you want to know all about the imposter syndrome, you can listen to Episode 26.

Today’s episode is in some ways building on Episode 23, which was about conflict. There are different types of conflicts, some of which can be very helpful for creativity and some are not so helpful. Tanya and I are going to talk about that and specifically the role that diversity and inclusion play in either fostering or diminishing creativity. I think you are really going to enjoy this conversation because Tanya is so awesome. So, here is Tanya.

Tanya, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Tanya Williams: It is my pleasure, truly.

Amy Climer: Awesome. To start out, can you tell us a little about yourself, who you are and what you do?

Tanya Williams: Sure thing. My name is Tanya Williams and I have worked in higher education, specifically in diversity and social justice work for 20 plus years in large institutions, smaller institutions, tiny institutions, but the focus of my work has been social justice education. Probably about six years ago, I started doing specific coaching and consulting of teams and working with departments and organizations in institutions to strengthen their vision of social justice in their organization, and have more recently added coaching of individuals, executives and teams to think about how to really bring this more to the work that we do on a daily basis.

I always – because I think it is really important and this is the way that I think we live social justice every day – like to name some of my social identities. I am an African American, black, female, cisgender woman, raised in the south. I am a Christian. I consider myself a middle class straddler as I was raised working class but live a middle class life now, and I am able-bodied. So I am working with both identities in the system of oppression that are subordinate as well as privileged and I am sure that will enter in our conversation today.

Amy Climer: Nice. That just makes me think, can you say a little bit about why do you think that is important to state your identities right upfront?

Tanya Williams: Part of it is that we are in a medium that is audio and so people cannot see me. I think it helps us all recognize that those identities can be important to the ways that we move about the world, and that everyone’s experience of their identities and experiences in the world end up being different. So the more that we can be comfortable in talking about them, the more that we can start to see the ways in which we are all impacted by them. So I think it is a part of my authentic expression to say that it is okay to talk about identity and it is inevitable for us to talk about it. And the sooner that we do and the sooner that we get comfortable with it, I think the better off it will be.

Amy Climer: That just makes me think, maybe I should share some of my identities for the sake of this conversation and for the whole podcast I suppose. I share many of the same identities that you expressed except that I am white but raised in the south, in Florida, middle class, female, cisgender.

Tanya Williams: Thank you for doing that Amy. I think it becomes one of those things that people might look and say oh, they are different, but at the same time it gives us a place to have a more authentic conversation.

Amy Climer: Yeah, absolutely.

Tanya Williams: And I think about the ways in which in workplaces teams are so nervous and walking on egg shells around some of this stuff, because we do not know how to have a more authentic conversation around our identities and the ways that we were raised and I think it is important.

Amy Climer: And I think there can be a lot of fear around it — some identities are more obvious than others. When you look at someone you might be able to tell their race or maybe even their gender, although not always.

Tanya Williams: Yeah, not on either of those actually. We make some assumptions.

Amy Climer: Exactly. Maybe you are right 80 percent of the time but sometimes, especially if you are not in the majority, it can be a little intimidating, a little scary to share those identities because you do not know what the repercussions will be.

Tanya Williams: Right. On the flipside, I think we are living in a day and age now that sometimes folks in the majority feel afraid to have these conversations because they either think that they will be attacked or that they do not know enough. I guess I am asking all of us to just move a little bit further beyond our fear.

What Identities and Diversity Means for Teams [07:53]

Amy Climer: I definitely felt that on both sides, both with my majority identities and minority identities have felt fear for either reason. Let’s talk about identities and diversity, how that shows up in teams and what that means for teams. I want to specifically talk about creativity in teams, as you know that is the main focus of this podcast. One of the things that the research literature has revealed about creativity in teams is that generally teams who are more diverse are also more creative, but they also experience more conflict. So I am curious if you can share what your experience has been? Have you seen this in action, and if so, how have you seen it play out?

Tanya Williams: It is funny because I actually believe that to be true and conflict probably shows up in a variety of ways. When I think about teams who have a nice mix of a diversity across identity, the conflict actually might show up in the way that people get silenced or do not have their voices completely heard. The conflict also might show up in a way that there are places where there just is a difference of not only opinion, but a difference of perspective. So the conflict might look different and it does not mean that the conflict is a reason not to have diversity.

Thinking about it from a leadership perspective, (1), conflict is part of community and so the reality is if we are really going to do community in an authentic and useful way, we should expect conflict to be part of what we are doing. And (2), if we really have created spaces for people’s voices to be present in our team and in our workplace, it is okay for conflict to show up because we actually may be moving the organization to a new and more creative place. But we have to first create the space for people to fully be present and seen and heard and valued. I think that more often than not, teams, workplaces, communities say that they are doing diversity, but actually have shut down some of the voices that are the diverse voices.

Amy Climer: You just said so much that I want to see if you can touch on a few of those pieces a little bit more. One of the things you mentioned was the conflict shows up in so many different ways. And I was thinking of yeah, sometimes there is the full yelling, screaming, knock-out conversation, argument.

Tanya Williams: No one wants that.

Amy Climer: Right. Maybe that is really not the most common.

Tanya Williams: No.

Amy Climer: But sometimes I think it is just silence and people are not saying anything because they do not feel valued or heard or their opinion is not asked. Is that what you were thinking when you said it shows up in different ways?

Tanya Williams: Definitely. I think most people probably would not consider that conflict because it is not the yelling and the loud voices, but it completely is conflict. There is such thing as conflict avoiding and that is what maybe that looks like, but there is a conflict of ideas and a conflict of identities that is happening there. And (1), sometimes based on the culture and climate that has been created in the space, one idea or perspective is getting more voice. And the other perspective or perspectives, just decide my voice is not valued here so I am just going to be in silence.

The Types of Conflict Diversity Can Cause in Teams [12:29]

Amy Climer: Can you talk a little about — you kind of touched on this — but the different types of conflict? You mentioned identity conflict, personality conflict. What other kinds do you see, in addition to this conflict avoidance which is a type of conflict?

Tanya Williams: And you named them. Obviously there is a personality conflict that goes on, but sometimes our personalities are going to not — it is going to be like oil and water. We were just talking about having siblings, sometimes my sister and I were like oil and water and we were just not going to blend very well. And that can be personality differences. Then you also talked about earlier that there is cognitive conflict that happens. Sometimes our ideas and our thinking about a particular situation is going to differ. So we can have different knowledge of a situation and come at that in different ways.

And then, of course, what I am really mainly focusing on is the identity conflict and the fact that we, from our different social identities around race and gender and class and sexual orientation and ability, are going to come in with different upbringing, different belief systems, different experiences. And I would add to that in a system of oppression and when we talk about social justice we come in with different levels of power and privilege.

So yes, when we think about diverse teams and having personalities, identities, cognitive ideas and knowledge, added to that with power privilege in the ways and things that work out, of course, people are nervous to have diverse teams because conflict is going to show up. And again it does not mean that it is something to shy away from because you actually want the diversity because you are going to get more creativity.

Amy Climer: Right. And the creativity comes from, in part, that cognitive conflict. We want to disagree around ideas because if we just always go with the first idea, well, that could be disastrous.

Tanya Williams: Exactly.

How Power and Privilege Shows Up in Teams [15:10]

Amy Climer: Can you touch a little bit more on — you mentioned power and privilege and those are really important, but I am not sure everyone knows what that means. Can you explain how that shows up in a team and that relates to identity?

Tanya Williams: I think one of the places to start is — and I am having one of those moments of like, “Oh my gosh, you have just opened a can of worms.” Because we can talk about this stuff all day, we only have a certain amount of time. But I think a place to start is understanding –before we get to power and privilege — I talk about the ways in which we understand diversity. Diversity is really just about difference. We have talked in our society, specifically in higher education sometimes, that we move to a conversation about inclusion. And it is about creating space for that diversity to be part of our teams. But it does not necessarily mean that that diversity gets a voice in our teams.

Amy Climer: And that is the power.

Tanya Williams: That is the power and the privilege piece. You will hear people talk about social justice in the definition that I was taught and that I adopt wholeheartedly in my life, is that you are acknowledging the ways in which power and privilege, power and some people talk about it as mattering and marginality, who matters and who is marginalized. But you are acknowledging that sometimes specific identities are set up in a place of power.

And thinking more broadly in our U.S. society, it is clear that around race, around gender, around class, around ability, we could go down the list, there are some identities that have more power in the system than other identities. Some identities are really given space to be dominant and some identities are considered subordinate. So thinking about that in reference to teams, having knowledge of identities of your team members, understanding the ways in which those identities interact with each other in a larger society and how that might actually end up living out itself in your work group or your team is hugely important because it is always at work. We have learned it well.

Amy Climer: Yeah, and we have learned it so well that we do not even realize it. It is like air. It feels normal, even though it is just a learned behavior.

Tanya Williams: Exactly. And that actually is the metaphor that Beverly Daniel Tatum uses. It is like it is the air that we breathe. It is like a fish in a fishbowl, they do not even know that they are in the water. We do not even know that we are in systems of mattering and marginality or dominance and subordinate. And until we bring our awareness to it and have an understanding of the ways in which those systems work, we can be acting out things in our teams, in our communities, in our individual relationships that we do not even know about. And that could be impacting people’s creativity.

Three Steps to Help You Build Inclusion in Your Team [18:56]

Stop Avoiding the Conversations

Amy Climer: Let’s talk about that, about the relationships and things we may be acting out that we are not aware of. So someone who is listening to this, they are a part of a team, perhaps there are some diverse identities on the team, they want to be creative. How can they help their team get to that point of minimizing those identity conflicts, not avoiding them, but getting to a place where everyone’s voice is heard, yet also allowing that cognitive conflict? What advice do you have for that?

Tanya Williams: Million dollar question.

Amy Climer: Right, we basically could solve all world problems if we can answer that.

Tanya Williams: I think you actually started to answer it, by not avoiding. I think that is a huge place where folks turn down the wrong path. And I think it is interesting in higher education. I went to school and went to college in early 1990s and so I was part of the students who really — I talk about it as holding space. So I was a black student at a predominantly white institution. I came in and was there and was often told you are only here because of affirmative action, and so I took it on as my responsible, I am supposed to hold this space.

And we are now living in a time in higher education where that space is being held and voices are being shared — if we stay on race — in ways that people are not as comfortable with. So I think a lot of times teams, much like in higher education, are sort of like, “We will bring the diversity in and we will make it look really good. Look at our team”. If you put us up on a panel or take a picture of us, we look really good, but we avoid having the conversations about diversity, identity and power and privilege. So my first recommendation is stop avoiding it. Be very open and honest.

Take Your Team through Exercises to Explore Their Identities [21:11]

Take your team through some exercises that helps them explore identity and explore the ways in which identity impacts the work that they do together. I think that that will uncover a wealth of information because it will actually, at times, help people feel like they are seen. So when I feel seen, my mind is not taken up with frustration or anger or invisibility, so much so that my mind, all of a sudden, is open to possibility. And I believe when possibility is present, creativity is present.

Amy Climer: Absolutely. It is hard to be creative if you cannot imagine that there is another possibility.

Tanya Williams: Exactly. And I will say, and I have been thinking about this a lot, oppression is the enemy of possibility.

Amy Climer: I love that. It is so true.

Tanya Williams: It is one of those tools we talk about — Audre Lorde has a quote “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.” It is one of those tools. Oppression is a tool that will keep the house of limited thinking and limited belief in place. Possibility is actually one of those tools that will destroy the master’s house and destroy us having unlimited perspective and unlimited voices at the table.

Amy Climer: That is so true, I love that. You mentioned two things so far of how to recognize and encourage that diversity and the voices at the table; (1), not avoiding the conversations, (2), to take the team through some exercises where they have the opportunity to share their identities and share who they are. Is there anything more or are those two are the main ones?

Helping Team Members Reflect on Their Own Situations [23:16]

Tanya Williams: I think going deeper into helping folks reflect on their own situations or situated space in a system, much like we did at the beginning of the podcast. Taking the time to name identities, but also okay, so if I only focus on being a black female, I am coming only from my subordinated identities and not taken the time to notice the ways in which I am privileged as a middle class person or as an able-bodied person. But really encouraging, and I would go as far to say expecting, people to use those lenses to instruct the actions that they do on a daily basis. How am I showing up in meetings, how am I showing up in conversations. Am I creating space for others? Am I shutting others down because not only I do not like what they say but I actually do not feel very comfortable around folks who look like them? So doing that self-reflection and I think leaders of teams setting up the expectation that that is part of our competencies, that we will not be competent leaders or competent team members if we are not using those lenses as part of the work that we do.

Amy Climer: Yeah, being aware of those lenses. You mentioned a couple of phrases that I want to ask you to define just so that everyone understands. You mentioned creating space and holding space. I think those are phrases that get used a lot in the world of higher education. Can you define those so others know what those mean?

Defining “Creating Space” [25:16]

Tanya Williams: When I say creating space I think of it as in the way that I do it; it is paying attention to who is speaking, whose voice gets heard and either silencing myself and taking a step back and literally creating space in a conversation, creating an opportunity for someone else’s voice to get in, or someone else’s perspectives to be heard, or even inviting that person in. And this is another recommendation that I would have, is really creating dialogic spaces. That I want to be in dialogue with someone else or with the team as opposed to always saying this is my perspective only, but really opening it up and saying I want to hear what you have to say. So actually inviting someone into the conversation.

Amy Climer: Right, and it could be as simple as, “Hey Tanya, what do you think?”

Tanya Williams: Exactly. It is that simple.

Defining “Holding Space” [26:35]

Amy Climer: When you say holding space, do you mean the same thing or are you thinking of that a little bit differently?

Tanya Williams: In holding space, and this most definitely as a facilitator, I am constantly thinking about how can I hold space better for people. It is truly about the atmosphere that is created in the room, it is about the — I am realizing how jargony my language is sometimes.

Amy Climer: Right? I know. I get that way.

Tanya Williams: But it is really the climate that we have created. I did a workshop earlier this morning and I started the workshop, our warm up was turning and talking to someone about what is new and good going on in your life since we last talked. That creates a particular atmosphere and climate in a room. And it starts the conversation at a place of hope and possibility, and it kind of gives a clue like this is the space that I want to create, and this is the space that I am going to hold for you as we move through these two hours together. So holding space, for me as a facilitator, is really creating the atmosphere and the climate and then working to hold that container in every interaction that I have that keeps us focused in that mindset. Thank you for that opportunity because I am like I do not think I have ever gotten a chance to define that.

Amy Climer: Oh really? I mean, I know. I, like you, work in the world of higher education and that is common phrases but not everyone knows.

Tanya Williams: That is true.

Amy Climer: Tanya, I feel like we could go on and on.

Tanya Williams: Definitely.

The Weekly Challenge [28:36]

Amy Climer: But you have given some really good insights and even some specific ideas for teams who want to really increase that diversity in a positive way. In every episode I end with a weekly challenge. This is something that listeners can do based on the conversation that we have had. And I wanted to invite you, if you have a weekly challenge you would like to pose to listeners, to do that.

Tanya Williams: I love that because in my coaching I often offer my clients challenges from week to week and it is meant to really push people to step outside of their comfort zone and to do something a little bit different. So I love that you have this set up as part of the podcast. I am thinking about our conversation and realizing that people are going to enter into a conversation about diversity, about diversity in teams, at different places. So I think I was originally thinking of one challenge and now I am recognizing that for some people their challenge will be doing the work to even understand what I mean by social justice, or doing a simple Google search on what I mean by social identity.

For some people it will be noticing the room at your workplace or in your team, noticing the difference that is actually there. Because I think a lot of people from our own lens, it is like I am supposed to see everyone as the same. We are not all the same and our diversity is a benefit. So how do you begin to notice the diversity that is around you? For some people the challenge will be really getting a clear understanding of the way that oppression and power and privilege work. And then for some folks it will be about thinking about how we have actually taken in systems of power and privilege and really internalize those. So I know I have totally messed up the one challenge, but we are talking about diversity and so I want to recognize that people are coming in different ways, so I want to offer a diversity of challenges.

Amy Climer: I love it. Differentiate it based on where you are at.

Tanya Williams: Yes, totally.

Amy Climer: Awesome, that is great. And all the challenges you mentioned just now, they are all about reflection and noticing.

Tanya Williams: Yes, totally.

Amy Climer: So Tanya, if people wanted to contact you or learn more about the work you do, where can they go?

Tanya Williams: They can go to my website. I am at Authentic Coaching & Consulting. As again, I said that I did social justice education and consulting, as well, as individual and executive coaching, but I am at www.tanyawilliams.org.

Amy Climer: Awesome. And I will link that in shownotes so people can find that. And if you have any other resources you want me to link, I can do that as well.

Tanya Williams: I will definitely send some your way.

Amy Climer: Awesome, cool. Tanya, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I really appreciate it. This is a great conversation.

Tanya Williams: Thank you, Amy for giving me the opportunity. I have loved it.

Amy Climer: Awesome. I just loved that conversation with Tanya. It was so great. I feel like we could have kept talking for another couple of hours easily. In fact, if you are interested in more on this topic, let me know. I was talking to Tanya after we stopped recording and I said, “Oh my gosh, maybe we should have a part two.” So if you want a part two on this topic, let me know and I will make that happen.

The other thing that Tanya and I were talking about after I stopped recording were our identities. She shared at the very beginning her identities, which I did not know she was going to do, and so then I decided, “Oh, I better share as well.” And I started sharing and there is one identity that I did not share because I was nervous and that is that I am gay. And I was talking to somebody recently about the fact that I have never said that on this podcast, and I have never alluded to that, at least I do not think I have, and they noticed it. They are someone that knows me well and they are also a listener of the podcast and they noticed that.

And I think that as a gay person, there is definitely discrimination that exists and so that made me nervous. But then at the same time, I feel like no, it is my responsibility to share this with you all so you know who I am because that is authentic and that is my identity and that is the lens I am coming from. So I was talking to Tanya about that afterwards and saying like, “Hey, I think I am going to say that at the end of the podcast.” And she said, “Oh, I forgot to share that as well. Can you tell them that I am a lesbian too?” So that is another piece of Tanya’s identity that she wanted me to share with you. I thought that was pretty funny and pretty awesome. Anyway, that is who I am.

I hope that you will take the comments that Tanya shared and take up the weekly challenge that she mentioned. Pay attention. Whatever your identity is and wherever you are at in thinking about diversity and social justice and inclusion, I hope that you will take up her challenge and pay attention this week and maybe initiate some conversations with some of your colleagues and co-workers and see what happens. That could be really powerful if you feel like that is where you are at or if you are ready for that. I think one of the great things of living in our day and age is that we can find so much online. So that is a great resource of just — like Tanya said, Google “social justice” and see what you come up with and see what you learn. So I challenge you to dig in a little bit this week and pay attention and notice and reflect and learn more about diversity within teams and how your identity might impact the work you do.

If you would like to reach out to Tanya, I will put her website in the shownotes as well as some other resources and references that we mentioned on the episode. You can access the shownotes at www.climerconsulting.com/044 and I would love to get your feedback on this episode. The topic was a little deeper, a little heavier in some ways than some of the other episodes, so let me know what you think. You can leave a comment in the shownotes or you can send me an email directly. My email address is amy@climerconsulting.com.

I hope you all have a fabulous week. I hope it is a reflective week full of learning and noticing. I will see you next time. Bye.

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