Embracing Creative Differences

Too often we promote diversity in our organisations, but shy away from what makes us personally unique.

Abstract images of people connected with an underlying tie.

by Suzanne Steele

posted on 02-26-2020

It’s a fact: diverse teams are more successful, more innovative, and more profitable than their homogenous counterparts. But, while it’s easy to tout the benefits of diverse teams and even promote differences within our organisations, embracing our own uniqueness can be a challenge.

It’s true of my own career path. I didn’t graduate from university. Instead, I worked, I honed my life skills, and I fueled early-career passions. Ultimately, I discovered a path that I likely wouldn’t have found if I’d taken a more traditional path.

I was the second hire at a dynamic startup in the UK, and spent five years building that company from the ground up. I worked for consultancies, financial services companies, and major enterprises, each time enhancing my skills and helping me determine what was next. And, eight years ago, I took the biggest leap of my career. I moved from the UK to Singapore and then to Australia. With those moves I shifted into executive leadership roles I never would have imagined achieving in my 20s.

Embracing differences — except my own

In my 20s I was embarrassed about my non-traditional background. Everyone, it seemed, went to university and followed a prescribed track — except me. When even casually questioned about my academic background, I bobbed and weaved as best I could, changing the subject back to something — anything — more comfortable.

Looking back, I recognise the fear. In my mind, there was a clear-cut class system that I didn’t fit into by skipping university. I was afraid that, if people knew, I’d be judged, falling victim to unconscious bias at the hands of my more traditionally-educated peers and colleagues.

I now have the gift of time and clarity. I see that my background has actually been my greatest differentiator — what truly pushed me forward and inspired me to excel.

Why my greatest difference is my greatest strength

When I think back on my career path I see how much I overcompensated. In not graduating from university, I believed I had something to prove to myself and to the world. I believed without that piece of paper I would be seen as less than, and that I needed to work 10 times harder to be considered on-par with everyone else.

Again, it wasn’t the case — but in my all-out sprint to keep pace, I discovered a career path I couldn’t have anticipated. More importantly, I discovered people who not only didn’t judge me, but propped me up, pushed me forward, and challenged me to think differently. From there, I felt confident taking risks and, even, making mistakes. And no matter what happened, my mentors and cheerleaders lit the way.

Today, I’m still very conscious of my background and my differences — differences that now inform one of my greatest passions: helping others realise their full potential, regardless of background. I recognise I’m in a position to help steer the future of work and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I want to ensure Adobe employees can truly flourish through diverse recruiting practices, mentorships, career training, and more. And I’m thrilled to do this in a market that’s known for punching above its weight — something I know all too well.

The Adobe for All experience

As we head into Mardi Gras, there couldn’t be a better time to reflect on our differences — what we’re coining as “Creative Differences.” A term that typically describes why people part ways, we’re flipping Creative Differences on its head, to highlight what makes us special and how, together, our diverse backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyles foster creativity and innovation.

That’s the foundation of Adobe for All, our global initiative to promote diversity, inclusion, and the value every single employee brings to the table. As an organisation, we know we’re better together — and we’re better because of our differences, our struggles, our passions, and our individual and collective learnings. We’re better because we aren’t the same cookie-cutter workers. We’re better because we have — and do — challenge convention and consistently break molds.

This year, we’re going to promote differences — and their unique benefits — from an organisational perspective, as well as the individual attributes.

Diverse teams are innovation machines. They make better decisions and produce more revenue. With millennials poised to take over workforce leadership, I can only hope they bring their pro-diversity mentality to our offices so no 20-something has to hide their background — or beliefs, lifestyle, or experiences — from others. Because once I was free to be me, my career truly took off — and I never looked back.

Learn more about Adobe for All and its diversity and inclusion initiatives. Then check back on The Blog for more stories about the differences that made our leadership great.

Topics: Digital Transformation, Leadership, Diversity & Inclusion

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