I was recently in a meeting with six others talking through plans for an upcoming event and brainstorming some ideas on how it should work and what would be effective.

It became obvious that three of the six were much more experienced in these areas then I was. They had been there and done it before, I was new to this process, The other three I am going to be generous to myself and say that they were on the same level of experience as I was, though I am probably discounting their experience a bit because they just didn't say much in the meeting.

The meeting had the usual throwing out ideas, debating and adopting or discarding those ideas, interrupting others to get our own ideas into the mix.

But something that I noticed in the meeting that I had to process for a while afterwards was the observation of how much my input was valued and validated. When I spoke up, everyone seemed to pay more attention, nobody interrupted me as I spoke and they gave me all the time I wanted to explain my idea. Not once did they shoot down any of my ideas but instead if they weren’t good enough they would be affirmed and then modified and built on.

This wasn’t the case with other people's ideas, If they weren’t deemed good enough then they were questioned or just plain shot down. I watched as some of them interrupted or talked over others in the meeting, not in a mean way, but just a normal debating of ideas. But for some reason they didn’t do this when I talked.

Now, I would like to believe that it was the quality of my ideas, and the compelling way that I presented them that gained me such a hearing and respect. This is my natural ego centric way of thinking, but the reality is not quite that simple. For me to believe that, I would have to overlook a significant and obvious dynamic in the room.

All six of the others in the room were women.

Six women listened intently as I talked

Six women valued and validated my ideas

Six women didn't interrupt or talk over me as I talked

Six women complimented me and my ideas even as they improved them.

They didn’t have this level of deference with each others ideas and input, again not that they were mean or obnoxious in any way, they were just particularly deferential to me and my ideas.

So, Maybe I can claim a hint of credit for the quality of ideas and compelling presentation, and in the past I would have taken all the credit, but I think I would be mistaken to not understand and respect the dynamic in the room.

Understanding my own privilege is hard because it's the air I breathe.

The way I am treated or should I say not mistreated is normal for me as the air I breathe. It’s how I grew up, it’s how the world should be, right? I mean it just so normal.

I honestly don’t think I would have noticed the dynamic in the room if it wasn’t made as clear because of the six to one ratio. I’m sorry to say that if there had been just one or two women I would have probably overlooked this dynamic entirely.

Which goes to show just how much I have missed, because this dynamic has probably been in many of the meetings that I have been in, but I was oblivious to it.

Sure, understanding and coming to grips with my own privilege is hard, but not as hard as living without the privilege that I take for granted.

Business schools and books will all talk about the need for your business to have a competitive advantage-- something to give your enterprise an edge in the marketplace.

However, their examples are usually based things that are easily counted such as price, speed or quality. There are advantages that go far beyond the "norms" of the "competitive advantage."

What about taking something that is perceived as a disadvantage and turning it around into a competitive advantage?

What about Autism as a competitive advantage, for example?

Check out this video of a Dad with an Autistic son who created a business model that doesn't just allow for, but brings out the strengths of people on the Autistic scale.

People on the Autistic scale have remarkable strengths, but they are different strengths than the majority of the population and usually different strengths than the owners of businesses.

This means that business owners who want to have a competitive advantage that involves their team often need to rethink their business model. Most business owners by default look for employees who are like them. This is a fatal flaw because if they are truly like you, then they will steal your business and become your competition.

What you are looking for is people who aren't like you. People who will bring their own unique sets of skills and strengths. The problem is that your business isn't ready for anyone that isn't like you. If you could clone yourself, then everything would be fine... right?

 In reality, that would bring its own set of problems.

The problem is that your business isn't setup to handle the right employees, There are people out there who could be awesome doing what you need done, but you're still looking for a clone of you.

Step back and take another look at your business. What do you really need? If you say some variation of  "I'm looking for hard workers who are committed to their job, don't have a lot of drama, and have the skill set of  ......", then you are going to be fighting all other job opportunities available due to the commonality of that answer. You can fight to attract this limited pool of people wooing them with higher salaries, but they are so employable that anyone else who can offer more receives them. You then end up complaining that you just "can't find any good people."

What if you looked outside of that box? What if you designed your business in ways that you can not only accommodate, but thrive with people who don't fit that narrow box of perceived "perfect employee" material?

That could be as the father above did in designing the business so that people on that autism spectrum can thrive. Or how about the group of mothers with kids in school? They are a unique group with their own specific strengths and weaknesses.

They have a different set of priorities where their work comes second to their kids.

They often have a great skill set that may be academically out-of-date but is enhanced by raising children. They have great attitudes because nothing you can throw at them is as difficult as keeping up with everything they encounter on a daily basis. They need a uniquely flexible environment that allows them to drop work and be with their kids who can't go to school that day because of a fever.

I have a client who built her business around not their client's needs, but around the needs of her employees; 90% of whom were mothers of young children who wanted to work while raising her family. The workday began at 9:00 and ended at 3:00. Many did not work 5 days a week, but instead worked a self-selected number of days per week. She had a long list of these women, and when one had kids with a fever she had a list from which to call to get another one in their place for the day.

The systems were such that each day had its own projects and they didn't carry overnight. She designed the business around the needs of her employees and her employees repaid her by doing an amazing job of taking care of the clients.

What about college kids with their own set of strengths and weaknesses? Can you provide an environment where their uniqueness could be brought out, allowing them to shine?

What about recent parolees from prison? Kind of scary at first thought, but could be amazing.