Imagine a room with two animals—a mouse, and an elephant.
If you are the elephant in the room, how much do you need to know about the mouse to survive? Not much. Your massive foot can trample the mouse with one accidental step.
Yet if you are the mouse in the room, how much do you need to know about the elephant? Just about everything—you need to be able to predict its movements, know its habits, anticipate its rituals.
“The elephant knows almost nothing about the mouse,” writes Laura Liswood in her 2010 book, The Loudest Duck: Moving Beyond Diversity while Embracing Differences to Achieve Success at Work, “while the mouse survives by knowing everything about the other. Herein lies the dynamic between the dominant and nondominant groups in the workplace.”
Inspired by this metaphor, we have adopted the Mouse and the Elephant as the name of our company. This relationship sums up our work on many levels. The elephant is strong and confident, but sometimes doesn’t know its own strength, and has been known to unwittingly trample things in its path.
The mouse is tiny and timid, but can also be agile and nimble, as well as quite perceptive about its surroundings. Neither the mouse nor the elephant is always right or always wrong. Neither the elephant nor the mouse will succeed at every task, nor will either always fail. Characteristics of each can be beneficial in the business world, and traits of each are necessary at different times to navigate success in the arenas of leadership, diversity, and inclusion.
In the workplace, there are norms and ways of being that come naturally to the dominant group, yet for a team to truly thrive, these elephants must become aware that their experiences aren’t everyone’s reality. They must be able to shift their perspective to see how much and how well mice can contribute, and to foster an environment where the mice—and the giraffes, lions, antelopes, and ocelots, to name a few—can all bring their unique skills and perspectives to the table.