What My Dog’s Bathroom Habits Taught Me About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
I have a 2-year-old Chocolate Lab named Sora. She’s the runt of her litter; short, compact, and dense. I love her to pieces and I’ve taken about 5,000 photos of her. My wife even started her own Instagram account. But as cute and loveable as she is, there’s something different about her: she pees like a male dog.
Conventional wisdom has it that male dogs lift their hind leg while relieving themselves and female dogs will squat. Sora goes against those conventions. Whenever I observe her in our yard, or go for a walk with her, I find myself amused at the sight of her raising her leg. Noticing my own amusement got me thinking. And naturally, because I work in the field of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), I immediately drew parallels to DEI.
Challenging My Assumptions
My first thought was to wonder why I found it so funny. Why did I assume and label her behavior as traditional male behavior? Why did I even think to myself, “She pees like a male dog”? Was I proud that my dog was breaking gender barriers? Or was I projecting my hopes of gender equity onto my dog?
Assumptions can be based on empirical evidence. If you observe 1000 male dogs and 1000 female dogs, the majority of male dogs will pee with a leg raised, while the majority of female dogs will squat to do their business. Sora’s behavior is different from the statistical model and the fact that it surprised me revealed my reliance on empirical evidence. However, empirical data does not give the whole story. Just because most female dogs squat to pee, does not mean all female dogs squat to pee. The data might say that the majority of female dogs pee a certain way but I cannot take that fact and assume it applies to 100% of female dogs.
In the same way, when we talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, we might have data that shows certain tendencies for a certain demographic (for example, Asians are typically quiet), but we cannot assume it applies to 100% of people, 100% of the time.
If You See Something that Works, Try It
A second thought came to me as I reflected on Sora’s bathroom habits. My dog probably learned to raise her leg to pee because when she was growing up, most of her doggy friends were males. She learned from watching them and seeing what worked. When applied to the corporate world, one can say that just because you’ve never seen anyone like you exhibit a certain behavior, doesn’t mean you can’t try it. For me, as an Asian male, I can watch how people in the C-suite conduct themselves and adopt their behaviors.
However, we must be careful here not to adapt so much that our core selves are lost. Code-switching is a term used to describe when people “change their behaviors, including speech, dress, and mannerisms, to conform to a different cultural norm than what they might authentically do in their own homes.” In her TEDxOrlando talk called, “The Cost of Code Switching,” CEO Chandra Arthur warns, “The cost of code-switching on society is huge, because it means that those of us who belong to minority groups spend a lot more time learning the language of cultural compatibility and less time doing the things that matter to all of us like living, like spending time with friends and family, [and] like starting successful businesses.” So, I need to balance adopting new habits with proudly exhibiting my cultural norms.
Invitation to Be Myself
Perhaps what Sora exemplifies best is how she just does what she does. She isn’t aware of statistics that say most female dogs pee a certain way. She doesn’t think about gender assumptions and gender roles in the way that we do. She just does what she needs to do in the way she wants to.
Of course, in the corporate setting, this is easier said than done. However, part of our work in DEI is to examine why this is the case. Why don’t more people feel comfortable being themselves at work? The writers of Harvard Business Review’s article, “The Costs of Code-Switching,” say it well, “If leaders are truly seeking to promote inclusion and address social inequality, they must begin by understanding why a segment of their workforce believes that they cannot truly be themselves in the office. Then they should address what everyone at the company needs to do to change this.”
We would all do well to follow Sora’s
example of being herself, and of creating environments where everyone feels
safe to be themselves, too.
 Stitham, Kate, Code-Switching in the Workplace: Understanding Cultures of Power, Integrative Inquiry Consulting.