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Why We Should All Care About Diversity and Inclusion

My personal story


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Victoria Feldman

3 years ago | 4 min read

When people meet me for the first time, they see an ordinary white blond girl with an unusual accent. Most of them probably wonder, “Why does she care so much about #BLM, social justice, diversity, inclusion, equity, and belonging?”

Here is my answer.

I have always been different everywhere I went. Living in five countries and absorbing all those different cultures has shaped me to think and act unlike anyone else. It might seem amazing at first. However, it didn’t always feel that way. I hated being different and sometimes was even shy or tried to hide my origins.

Throughout my journey, I have realized the importance of an inclusive environment — how letting people be their authentic selves will allow them to flourish and make a positive impact. This is my story.

My Story

When people ask me where I am from, I always reply, “It’s complicated.” I was born in Soviet Russia, grew up in Israel, studied in the UK and France, married a French man, lived in Paris for seven years, and eventually moved to the U.S. four years ago.

Living, studying, and working in all those countries has given me a huge cultural richness and ability to think differently. For that, I’m grateful to my brave parents who left the USSR as political refugees with no passports and only $200 in their pockets with a four-year-old me.

Their courage and openness to the world have always inspired me to continuously learn by stepping out of my comfort zone.

That cultural richness also came with a heavy price: being an outlier everywhere you go.

Growing up in Israel, I was often bullied because I was “the Russian.” Remember how Russians were portrayed in American detective movies from the ‘90s?

The main villain, a Russian mafia man dressed in an oversized sports tracksuit stuffed in his socks, chain-smoking cigarettes while displaying his golden teeth? Many people had that strong bias towards Russians, and as the only Russian in my class, it didn’t skip me.

However, the hardest part came when I graduated from university and joined a large management consulting firm in Paris, France. Even though I was excited to dive into my first professional experience and start learning the ropes, very soon I started struggling because I couldn’t really be myself in this environment.

My colleagues often made fun of my accent, imitating with exaggerations the way I pronounced the word “bonjour.” I was often called upon by the way I was communicating explicitly that didn’t fit the French culture. I didn’t have client-facing roles and wasn’t invited to team lunches or breaks.

When I proposed new ideas, they were quickly shut down by the phrase “We don’t pay you to think.” In that culture, an entry-level consultant wasn’t considered as someone who could potentially have good ideas and was simply wasting their time. I became sad, bitter, and unmotivated, which eventually impacted my performance.

I tried to get rid of my accent by taking lessons, I started dressing and talking differently, preventing myself from speaking up — everything to fit the mold.

However, it didn’t work out for me. As Albert Einstein said:

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

And that’s exactly how I felt back then.

As an extrovert, I absolutely enjoy being around people and connecting with them. However, at that point in time, I was disengaged and actively seeking a way to escape this environment.

This experience made me truly understand the importance of an inclusive culture. The company I worked for didn’t implement organization-wide initiatives to foster diversity and inclusion.

Most of its managers were white suited Frenchmen who were risk-averse and unaware of the value a diverse workforce could bring if hired and managed well.

This is why some of my colleagues were perceiving “different’’ as something wrong when it was actually a positive thing. In fact, it is scientifically proven that performance, culture, innovation, and employee engagement are directly correlated with diverse and inclusive workplaces.

When I came to the U.S., I also went to work at a large management consulting company (Slalom). Their culture was on the other end of the spectrum. The workforce was very diverse and they had implemented high-quality ongoing programs, ERGs, and networks to foster an inclusive environment.

The leadership valued ideas over hierarchy and focused on people’s strengths and uniqueness. My “difference” was seen as an advantage. And I thrived there! I was one of the top performers and made a lot of positive impact for my team and my clients.

My personal journey has taught me why it is important to care about fostering a diverse and inclusive culture.

If I haven’t convinced you to care about this topic, here’s a reason — even if you don’t see yourself as different: It’s not just me. Everyone thrives in an inclusive environment!

All of us pay the price of inauthentic interactions, and all of us have a better chance of thriving in inclusive environments that foster authenticity. In other words, gender bias is not just a woman’s problem. Systemic racism is not just a Black or Latinx problem. Each and every one of us deserves to be our authentic selves in our workplace.

It is crucial, from a moral and an organizational perspective, to create workplaces where the burdens of being different are shouldered by all of us. After all, we will all benefit greatly from eliminating them.

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