The central premise of the book, Mythomania: Tales of Our Times from Apple to ISIS, is that myths are something we go to to give us our bearings, to help us resolve contradictions that we find intolerable. In short, myths can help us to make meaning of things. The myths of the ancients helped peoples of that time to live by a code,
Mythologising is what brands do. In many way they help us to reconcile contradictions and give meaning to the products. Nando’s isn’t just chicken; it is an experience inspired by Portuguese explorers. The theme tune of the Champions League evokes some kind of choral divinity. Nike says all of us can find greatness, no matter what our body shape. We have to just do it. Fintech companies portray a story of disruption, Davids against the Goliaths. And Starbucks and Coca-Cola want our names on their drinks, because it makes us feel special. They want to make us the brand heroes.
Taking the same concept into the workplace, employers are keen to make heroes out of their people. And why not? Don’t we deserve it? It started with the Employee of the Month laminated to the wall in reception. Now employers celebrate the virtues of their employees through stories across social media. Some even go further.
When Anglo American was fighting off a takeover battle, it evoked the spirit of its people.
When Network Rail tells you about forthcoming travel disruption, they feature one of their engineers who will be spending the holiday period working on your line.
Today employees are often portrayed as heroes. Apprentices turning their back on the accepted route of university and succeeding against all the odds. Women rightly celebrated for achieving and succeeding in the workplace. Leaders telling their stories of what drives them.
Many of us are keen to share our achievements and gain likes and virtual pats on the back.
But what does this mean for inclusion? Of course we need the heroes to drive a path for others; as Frances McDormand said, be an inclusion rider. However, that’s not all of us. We don’t all perceive ourselves as heroes and we don’t all want to be portrayed as such.
So how can organisations recognise the difference in people and make heroes out of all of us?
Storytelling – encourage employees to tell their stories, be it about their work, their colleagues or their community.
Recognition – create a programme where employees can recognise others, maybe for the support they’ve given, the challenge they’ve overcome, not just the project they’ve completed.
Unconscious bias training and education – this is a great way for employees to put themselves in the shoes of others; to see how it may be harder for women to be heard in a meeting; or how a gay man may find supposedly innocuous ‘banter’ difficult to deal with.
More than anything else, it’s about managers and colleagues respecting the work of others, whatever their role, whatever their age, whatever their gender, whatever their race, whatever their sexuality. It’s about saying thank you to someone for the work they’ve done. It’s about appreciating difference and what makes each of us tick. Because then we start to make everyday heroes of our colleagues.