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Diversity and the enneagram community

Diversity-with-border copyIt is with great excitement that I believe the Enneagram community, however large or small it is and that is hard to know, is ready to integrate issues of Diversity into its thinking and consciousness. Some may have already done so, but there has been a tendency for people in the Enneagram world to see what occurs through a personalistic lens – as in, just change yourself or simply get to the core of what it means to be a human being, our essence. Ultimately, I agree that this is true. But, we live in the real world where factors of our social context and our social identities within that context impact us in fundamental ways. My question is or was, Is the Enneagram community willing to look at factors of Diversity, particularly when some of these conversations may be very new for some people and potentially cause some discomfort?

At the IEA (International Enneagram Association) Conference, I led an interactive session on Diversity and the Enneagram, a session similar to one I did as an interactive keynote at an Enneagram conference in South Africa. In both cases, I was highly prepared and moderately anxious, my anxiety stemming from what is mentioned in the above paragraph. Having done many public and organizational programs on the topic of Diversity, but without the Enneagram, I know how sensitive the topic of Diversity can be. People can get defensive; they can say things that offend others; they can clam up or not even show up.

None of this happened in South Africa or San Francisco. In fact, it was the exact opposite. In South Africa, I had a rather captive audience in that I was the keynoter, so they had no other choices except to leave. I am not sure anyone did. In San Francisco, people had seven sessions to choose from, mine being one of them. Almost 40 people chose to come to the session and there were more people there at the end than when we started. In San Francisco, there was a great array of Diversity in the session, at least given the attendee population. 50% were men – the conference had about 30% – and the ages ranged from 19 to over 70. In both events, people kept talking about the experience throughout the conferences.

What did we do, exactly, and in both environments? In other words, what guidelines did I use to support a positive outcome instead of one where either nothing really happened or resistance got activated?

Explaining what Diversity actually is
People really don’t know or don’t consider what Diversity means and its significance in each of our lives. So I explain through pictures and story (including my own story) what the meaning of the primary dimensions of Diversity: race, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, culture/nationality, education, religion, and socio-economic class. I also add age and a few other factors.

Even more, I explain these areas as social constructs and primary determinants of one’s identity. But I also explain them as fluid constructs. This means that although people in general like to think of these groupings in dualistic terms or concrete labels, each category is much more fluid. As an example, people typically want to know what race someone is (but only if they do not appear part of what is called the “dominant” race in the particular context). Are you Black or White; are you Black or Hispanic or White? However, these groupings are, in fact, somewhat arbitrary or fluid in the sense that many people are of mixed race, even if they don’t appear visually to be of several racial backgrounds. Sexual orientation is becoming more clearly fluid; heterosexual, gay, something in between or something else entirely?

Getting people active and involved with their own stories
With this complexity, people are intrigued. Adding the Enneagram types to each of these dimensions, and the complexity and stimulating conversations are even more robust. For example, this question stimulates dialogue: Which of the primary dimensions of Diversity do you most identify with, which do you least identify with, and why? How does your Enneagram type influence both why and how you do or don’t identify with these particular two dimensions? Putting people in trios or quartets is the best configuration because there are enough people to share a variety of experiences. If the groups are too large, there is not enough “talk-time” and it is easier for some people to remain silent.

Dealing with power, rank and privilege in a straightforward, yet non-accusatory way
In both conferences, I used a power, rank and privilege line placed on the floor with colored tape. Everyone starts in the same place, but as I call out each dimension of Diversity (including your enneatype), participants either take a step forward, stay where they are, or take a step backward. Forward means that you experience some increase in your social power, rank or privilege depending on your social group within the category in question, whether it be race, gender, and so on. No step in either direction means this category is neutral for you in terms of your social identity group, whereas a back step indicates a loss of power, rank and privilege.

What is astounding in this kinesthetic experience is that there is dramatic movement where some people end up clearly at the front of the room, others at the back, and the bulk of participants are in the middle. It is rather shocking to see and experience, plus people can look around and see who is where, even though they don’t really know why individuals made the choices to move forward, stay in place or move backward. But then they do! They form groups of 4-6 people who are standing near them and discuss just that question of why. Even more, they also discuss how they feel in the position they are in – front, middle, or back of the room. And there is more. They discuss how they feel about their group placement, but also how they relate to other groups in the room – for example, groups below or above them. The last question is how do all of their responses to the prior questions relate to their Enneagram type?

People want to open their minds and hearts. They want and need to understand who they are and who others are, enneatype included. The dialogue about how your Enneagram type influences and is influenced by the dimensions of Diversity can be illuminating, helping people become more whole. And the power, rank and privilege aspects of Diversity and the Enneagram keep it real.

Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of four best-selling Enneagram-business books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs for professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications, and is past-president of the International Enneagram Association. Visit her website: The Enneagram in Business.com. ginger@theenneagraminbusiness.com

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