I was recently dining with a colleague and noticed that he is left handed.  We had a discussion about this characteristic and how challenging it was for him growing up left-handed.  Then, he explained to me, there were no left-handed scissors or left-handed spiral notebooks for example.  One simply had to make do and learn to adjust to the “Right Handed World.”  We talked more and made silly jokes about the biases that exist in a right-handed world and how even though more items are being created for left-handed people, it’s hard out there for a leftie.  My colleague then proudly informed me that he had developed “certain compensatory skills that more than made up for his left handed existence in this right handed world.”  Although he made this comment tongue-in-cheek, I have no doubt that it was rooted in an element of truth that as a right-handed person, was difficult for me to completely comprehend. He discussed having to learn to write a certain way and learned to work harder to cut paper cleanly often leaving his hands in pain.  I can only imagine the other things he learned to do.

I have always enjoyed learning about others’ unique experiences growing up and in their adult professional lives.  Being a sociologist academically and a psychotherapist by training, I am fascinated with how group affiliations shape peoples’ thoughts and behaviors and how individual experiences further refine or change them.  However, my colleague’s statement regarding “compensatory skills” made me think about how groups of individuals develop certain compensatory skills based on their particular environment.  For example, women traditionally have learned to manage quite well home and workplace because for years society has demanded that women create a nurturing home for their families while also accomplishing “equal” achievements in their careers.  I’ve heard compliments about the multi-tasking abilities of professional women – certain compensatory skills are a necessity to meet gender traditional societal demands while also challenging those traditional roles. 

Let’s dig deeper.  In my role as an admissions diversity officer, sometimes I am challenged to provide explanations for why certain individuals are admitted and others are not; more specifically, “why race and ethnicity remain diversity factors when diversity of thought is our aim.”  I argue that one does not replace the other and would further argue that one enhances the other.  I feel the utmost comfort and assurance with the assumption that for the most part, certain compensatory skills are developed by those who grow up minority in a majority world.  I believe those compensatory skills are valuable and even desirable on a team, in a classroom, in the workplace and in our global society.  I counter-challenge that learning from these individuals’ unique experiences can provide insight, perspective and if leveraged properly, beneficial position in a shifting global economy.  My colleague sharing with me his left-handed story has already had an impact on my own thoughts and views.

Maybe if we all think really hard, we will remember a time when we were challenged by the status quo, when we felt a little different from the pack or when we had to try harder to compensate for something that seemed to be geared toward others’ natural abilities or positions. Perhaps if we do that, we can find something that we have in common even in our own diverse experiences.

By  Kellie Sauls
Associate Director of Admissions
Darden School of Business