How We Show Up
by Mia Birdsong
If you haven't read this book, please consider adding it to your list - it's also great on Audible. Mia provides a well crafted narrative, but every reader will take a little something different away from this work. We always recommend going to the source material for insight and clarity.
As women in construction, we face our share of inequity and exclusion. We aren't invited to the table as often. There is implicit bias that works against us in this industry that is male-dominated, with the vast majority of leadership positions held by men (typically white, typically over the age of 40). When I started down the path of a construction-focused career with a fairly niche focus one the most common question I got was "so, is your father in roofing?" because that was the only way people could make my career choice make sense. Why would a young woman, fresh out of college, want to get into construction? My next favorite phrase that I heard regularly after telling an older gentleman what I did for a living was "Oh - good for you." A well intentioned response, but ultimately oozed the you-don't-really-belong-here-but-you're-trying vibe. I might be projecting my Imposter Syndrome. Regardless. It's nearly 15 years later, and the questions have largely dissipated, but the bias that spawned those questions and comments hasn't gone anywhere.
Now. I recognize that being a woman in a male-dominated industry is only one tiny sliver of the inclusion and equity discussion. This goes for all of us. You have lived through a specific series of life events that makes your experience as it relates to equity and inclusion different than mine. And that, right there, is a huge topic woven through How We Show Up.
How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong has been a great step in widening my perspective. This book dives into the nuance of the biases we hold, how equity is built on a foundation of empathy, and that to develop empathy we have to be able to open up to one another. Building empathy within a community allows us to see events from the perspective of our neighbors. We have to ask for help, to break down the curated images we portray on social media, and get real with our families (biological, chosen, or otherwise). Simplistically, we have to give people the opportunity to help us when we are in times of need in order to build empathy and therefore community. We have to be open to receiving care. This requires us to step away from needing to be heard, to being the fixer, to being 'right', and feeling scarce (which Mia points out as byproduct of trying to achieve the narrowly define American Dream - its nuclear, its man and woman, its biological children, its owning a home in a good neighborhood. All other ways of living are 'alternatives' to this defined dream - they are all back-up or secondary or tertiary plans if the big A.D. doesn't pan out).
Mia helps to frame our current (and hopefully changing) perspective on what racism looks like by going back to the Civil Rights movement when racism was solely depicted as violence, aggression, un-contained hate, and wild hostility. There was no discussion about micro-aggressions. There was no depiction of the underlying bias that manifests in day-to-day life as subtle exclusion. 'Doing the work' (as it has been coined) helps us better understand what we say and do in our daily lives that negatively impacts others...doing the work helps us better empathize. People who are white have benefitted from some level of privilege in this country (as a very generalized, overarching statement) over those of color. This doesn't mean, or truly imply, that white people are bad people at all. I grew up as a white kid in a predominately white, middle class suburb in America, and that provides you to certain levels of socio-economic privilege. That doesn't mean you are inherently classist or racist because of it. It means you don't know what you don't know. You likely have a limited perspective because of the bubble you grew up in. And that's ok. It just means that there is a lot to better understand in order to build broader and deeper empathy.
It doesn't mean you have to agree on every point point that is made, but it does mean that you need to understand where others are coming from and respect them as another person in this world that has lived through specific life events, just like you have, and that those events have molded them, just like they have you. This is empathy, and this is what a strong community is built upon.
This is applicable across our companies, families, communities, children's soccer teams, interactions at the grocery store. This concept of listening and understanding (or even just considering that there is more to that other person that you don't know or understand yet) rather than just fixing problems applies on so many levels. How many times do we hear one spouse say that they just want their partner to listen to what they are saying instead of immediately trying to fix the problem? How many times are policies implemented that are meant to solve a systemic issue, only to fizzle out because the underlying problem wasn't fully understood? How many times is there someone who is just an unintentional jerk, and your knee-jerk response is to be a jerk back?
This post summarizes only the very beginning of How We Show Up. Like I said at the top, I highly recommend that you check out Mia and other authors/creators that discuss this topic. Mia's narrative is coming from a place of someone that has built a better understanding of what it takes to build a better community, and acknowledges that we are all in different places along our path.
Please visit miabirdsong.com for more information and ways to order your copy.
What other books have your read that helped broaden your perspectives? Let us know below.
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