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Ep. 12: We Are Not the Same, So Don’t Treat Us Like We Are

We just got back from a lovely two week vacation in Argentina. 

Generally, I really enjoy leaving out of the Tampa airport rather than going to Miami. It’s super chill, people are kind, there’s rarely a lot of people, and in general – it doesn’t raise my stress levels as you go through the process of getting checked-in and going through security.

But this time was a little different. Once we got to the security line – Luna started crying. The TSA person wasn’t the kindest, and he fussed at me because I didn’t have my tickets just the way he liked them. When he didn’t see Luna’s boarding pass – he told me to get out of the line so I could find it. 

Frustrated – I stepped out of the line and fumbled through all our boarding passes – the ones for Tampa, and the ones for Miami. I couldn’t find Luna’s boarding pass for Tampa. So Luna and I (yes, both of us, because if I would have left her – she would have had an even bigger fit) – she and I went back downstairs to the check-in counter – while Jonathan stayed at security with our bags. I get to the check-in counter, and the agent points out that Luna doesn’t have a separate boarding pass – because she’s traveling on my lap. 

She then circled in red on my boarding pass where it read “infant lap seat” – or something like that. Frustrated and relieved all at the same time – Luna and I make our way back up to security – and we point out that we do have all of our documents, and we sail our way through. It was stressful – I think I was sweating – and it was just less than a desirable experience. Thankfully – we had enough time to do all that – without missing our plane.

Ok – fast forward to us arriving in Argentina. We make it off the plane, and I’m already dreading the fact that we’re going to have to go to separate lines once we get to immigration. Like with many airport immigration lines – there’s a line for citizens, and there’s a line for foreigners.

In this case, Jonathan would go through the citizen line, and I’d have to go through the foreigner line. I was dreading us having to separate – knowing that the foreigner line is often super long. He says – well maybe they’ll let us go together, let’s just ask.

So as we get out of the elevator and approach the lines – an immigration officer starts walking up to us – motioning for us to follow him. We start following him, and then Jonathan goes to ask him – if its possible for us to go to the same line, because we’re married, and we have the baby, and blah blah blah.

But before Jonathan could even get all the words out, the officer escorts us to the priority line which is SUPER SHORT. Like there’s only one other person in line ahead of us.

Why did he do this? Because we were pushing Luna in a stroller. And parents/families traveling with small children go to the priority line so they don’t have to wait.

They don’t treat us the same as other passengers.

So we made it through immigration – the officer processed all three of our passports together – citizen and foreigner, she was super nice, and we sailed through in record time.

Jonathan looked at me with a smile and a knowing look – making sure I took note of how different things are in the treatment in Argentina.

I knew it was different, and was thankful for the reminder. 

It took me back to a time a little over 2 years earlier when I flew back to Buenos Aires from Florida. I was 5 months pregnant with Luna, and when I saw the foreigner line for immigration I was horrified. It was the longest line I’d ever seen – and I knew it could have easily taken me 90 minutes to two hours to get through it.

Feeling like I had no options, I got in the line, and rubbed my pregnant belly like I often did. Then a security guard saw me – came up and asked if I was pregnant. I responded yes – and he told me to come with him.

I skipped that monstrous line and was taken to the priority line, where I made it through immigration in about 7 minutes.

Won’t He do it!!!

Argentina – does not treat pregnant women, seniors, or people with young children the same when it comes to lines. They give them priority with a special line just for them. It happens at the airport, at the grocery store, on the subway – everywhere.

And people in Argentina gladly give up their spots – or tell you to advance so you can have the priority and not wait.

In Argentina – the powers that be – and citizens at large, recognize that equality isn’t what’s always needed. Sometimes, certain people need to be given priority, additional accommodations, or supports to increase their degree of success – and to ease their degree of comfort with completing a task.

In society and in business – I think a lot of times people struggle with this. They struggle with figuring out when to focus on treating people equal, and when to treat certain people differently.

There are times when equality is absolutely the goal.

There should be gender pay equity. People shouldn’t be discriminated against or followed or racially profiled while they are shopping, or just living. People shouldn’ have a harder time getting a job because of what they look like, or because their parents didn’t go to an ivy league school, or set them up with a trust fund.

Equality is essential in certain aspects of society – and the reality is we still have a long way to go on many fronts.

But it is also true that equality isn’t always the goal.

There are situations where treating everyone the same is detrimental.

I did a research study for a keynote I gave earlier this year. The study focused on the hospitality industry, and I asked the respondents to tell me about a time where they felt like they belonged. One respondent wrote in how she loved it and felt seen when one hotel she went to had 3 entire floors dedicated to women. They even went as far to make sure those floors were only accessible in the elevator and in the stairwell using a keycard. As a woman traveling solo, she appreciated the precautions the hotel put in place to give her an added sense of security.

Depending on the area, treating all travelers the same could have put some people’s safety in jeopardy.

This hotel treating women differently, eased their peace of mind.

A couple of years ago, I was doing some research with a client that had a product for people with diabetes. As I was talking to doctors, I asked one if she ever tailored her recommendations for patients based upon their race or ethnic background.

She looked at me – dumbfounded, and responded – “why would I ever treat my patients differently?”

She was having trouble understanding that general or generic advice – particularly with regards to her patients with diabetes who had different cultural and ethnic heritage than her – might need recommendations and support for how to tailor their diet based upon foods they were eating that were staples within their culture.

As I dug deeper into my research, I found that patients were struggling to implement advice from their doctors, because they couldn’t relate to the advice. However, the doctors that took the time to tailor their recommendations to be culturally relevant, saw much better compliance and subsequent outcomes with their patients.

Doctors in this example who were treating everyone the same, got less than ideal results – which negatively impacted their patients health.

Doctors who treated their patients differently – got better outcomes.

As business leaders, we need to make sure we take the time to proactively identify when it’s appropriate to treat everyone the same, and when we should unapologetically treat people differently.

To be clear: treating different groups of customers differently isn’t new in the business world. Think about loyalty programs where customers who buy more get increased access, preferred seating, upgrades, and other priority benefits.

People, particularly in the business world, just get funny about it when it comes to treating people differently based upon certain demographic characteristics.

We have to shed that aversion for the good of our customers.

Here are 3 steps to follow to help you identify when equality for all isn’t the way to go:

  1. Think about the customer journey from the various identities of the people you’re serving
    1. Don’t just think about your ideal customers from the vantage point of the problem you help them solve. Consider the various types of identities those customers have:
      1. pregnant woman
      1. someone who is nursing
      1. someone with a different religion
      1. someone with allergies
      1. someone with a different skin tone
      1. someone with a disability
      1. perhaps someone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community
  2. Proactively practice empathy: Take the time to walk a mile in your customers’ shoes from various identities
    1. Develop a deep degree of intimacy, by finding out how their experiences might be different – or more challenging – because of whatever “difference” they have
      1. Market research, observation, simulation
  3. Build products, policies, and experiences that give people what they need – based upon the aspects of their journey that make them different
    1. Act on what you learn. Then institutionalize it – so that everyone knows the how and why certain groups get access to resources others may not

When you do, you do a better job of consistently making life better for more of the people you serve, but also making more of them feel like they belong with you.

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