The World’s First D&I Leader

Us Greeks seem to be doing all we can to sustain a vibrant connection with our Land’s ancient past. Nostalgia all over the place: from the way we stare at the Parthenon to how we name our kids!

It was a rainy afternoon. The pavements of Downtown Athens were soaking wet, and we had just been out of our third trimester scan. Only minutes earlier, me and my hubby had heard the news: despite mom’s daily morning sicknesses and the fact that she was so bloated she looked like Roger Hargreaves’ Little Miss Greedy, our lovely fetus was growing smoothly, and… it was a boy!

I remember holding my beloved man by the arm, walking slowly in my size 7.5 trainers (being the only ones that fit!) pondering: how would we name him? Hubby (who often gets to read my mind – being only one of his superpowers) immediately suggested “How about Jason“? Bang! A million sparkles filled the surroundings festively decorating the slippery autumn leaves, and I couldn’t wait to get to meet little Jason, whose name meant more to us than meets the eye.

You see, the word Jason (/ˈsən/ JAY-sən; Ancient Greek: Ἰάσων) gets to mean a lot of different things depending on how you look at it. From a linguistic perspective, the etymology is quite unique. Stemming from the Ancient Greek verb ιώμαι (meaning, to cure), Ιάσων is, in effect, “the one who cures”. The healer. And given my own struggles with conceiving, that name felt more than a fitting reminder of our family’s many blessings.

But Jason doesn’t limit his name to satisfying our need to celebrate serendipity. He is also an iconic ancient mythological hero, with a greatly symbolic past rooting as back as…the 8th century BC!

Gathering of the Argonauts, Attic red-figure krater, 460–450 BC, Louvre (G 341)

Jason was the leader of the Argonauts, an iconic ship crew featured in Greek mythological literature. He was the son of Aeson, the rightful king of Iolcos, and the great-grandson of the messenger-god Hermes, through his mother’s side. His life and works appear in various literary works in the classical world of Greece and Rome, including the epic poem Argonautica (written by Apollonius of Rhodes) and the Ancient Greek tragedy Medea (written by Euripides).

The Argonauts (whose title stems from their ship, named Argo) were a band of heroes who, in the years before the Trojan War (sometime around 1300 BC) got to accompany Jason to Colchis in his quest to find the Golden Fleece. The Argonauts went through a lot to retrieve that (bloody) Fleece. Clashing rocks, squeaking Harpies, enchanting Sirens and furious Titans, only to name a few. But they succeeded in getting back (almost) as many as they started.

Even though there is no definitive list of who the Argonauts were exactly (given that an Argonautic ancestry was an addition to even the proudest of pedigrees, so many would see to having their name appended to the crew list through bribes), our friend Apollonius of Rhodes states no less than 55 unique names!

From legendary Heracles to Theseus (note: he is considered the founder of the city of Athens!), and from renowned artist Orpheus to King Laertes (hint: he is the father of Odysseus, you know, the one with the Trojan horse who went through quite an… odyssey to get back to his home in Ithaca) Argo was privileged to carry the most prestigious crew in the history of Ancient Greece for a good four months!

Soldiers from Athens. Wrestlers from Sparta. Ship-builders. Swimmers. Beekeepers. Archers. Poets. Oracles. Royals. Sons of Gods. Even a female! (Atalanta the virgin fighter, if you just know) Talk about an all-star crew. Or one hell of a band of misfits! Or, in the modern lingo’s way of putting things: a uniquely diverse team!

The Society for Human Resource Management (widely known as SHRM) defines Diversity as:

The collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes -for example- individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences, and behaviors.

Based on this definition, the Argonauts are undoubtedly the absolute diversity hit. Meanwhile, Jason (being the captain of this crew and having handpicked each and every one of them) must have gotten that year’s Global award for the (known) world’s most inclusive leader (had there been one), given that Inclusion is said (by the SHRM again) to be:

The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.

The way I see it (and judging from the way Apollonius gracefully narrates it) nobody in Jason’s crew was left behind. No one’s value was diminished. Nobody was discarded or brought down. Not even the woman, whose presence during sea traveling is -probably- the world’s most ancient jinx. Not even Cyzicus who died tragically by the hand of Jason himself, mistaken for a member of the enemy side during the clash at Bear Mountain.

All diversity traits (both visible and invisible) brought along this journey by the Argonauts were appreciated, and everyone who took part in the quest for the Golden Fleece was commended for centuries to come, having received uncontested room to be, to offer, and to grow. The way I see it, good ol’ Jason, King of Iolcos and Captain of the Argonauts, is no less than the World’s First Diversity & Inclusion Leader!

Visible & Invisible Diversity Traits (source: SHRM)

Captain Jason has practiced what we are nowadays striving to achieve in practically all contemporary organizations, namely to provide with a place of acceptance and equal opportunities, where people fearlessly bring their best self to help generate value. Regardless of gender, background, and parental status, all members were viewed as of equal value to that epic quest.

When you read Apollonius’ poem, you are served with much more than meets the eye. You find purpose and vision clearly articulated by the leading figure, astonishingly diverse teammates actively engaged in an inclusive surrounding, super-eager to support even the most dangerous calls like countering Sirens or timing a swift passage through clashing rocks! They did it for fame. Sure, they did it for glory. But they did it mostly because they had a leader who instilled in them the need to get together in the face of danger, for a higher cause.

This is why I am proud to have such a character’s name (even if the persona may prove to be fictional to a large extent) associated with my precious only-son. May the symbolic analogy and compounded wisdom of all that cosmic energy surrounding the thought-form of Captain Jason always guide my son’s path towards wise decision-making in his quest for fulfillment. Still, it saddens me to see how backwards my country seems to have evolved in this area.

Instead of having our ancient paradigm guide us forward in the speed of light, we are struggling to acknowledge the value of individuality: the dynamic of Diversity and the power of Inclusion. We still find it hard to combine the two, and oftentimes view them as synonyms. Today’s Greece, EU’s notorious laggard in socioeconomic policy making, only recently (May 2019) signed the European Union’s Diversity Charter, becoming the 23rd country in a row, among 28 member-states. Meanwhile, the European Union’s Platform of Diversity Charters had been around since 2010, encouraging organizations (NGOs, public bodies and private companies) to share best practices that help develop and implement Diversity and Inclusion policies.

We still fail to see Diversity and Inclusion as major hygiene factors largely contributing to building sustainable organizations here in Greece. And on the first occasion, we bury them somewhere among the many duties of an -already overwhelmed- Engagement Officer, a newly founded professional persona desperately trying to make sense of all the fancy new terms that populate a seemingly impossible mandate.

Only a month away from the year 2020, our global and local societies still can’t figure out how to remove bias and misconception out of the workplace equation and banish sexism, ageism and all other divisive terminology from our daily professional conversations. Moms are oftentimes a liability in talent development, and older generations are a waste of investment in the talent management practiced in modern corporate Greece. Sorry to admit that, even without an MBA, Captain Jason knew far better. It’s not funny anymore. And it’s getting older by the minute. OK, Boomer?

Featured Photo: Jason returns with the Golden Fleece, shown on an Apulian red-figure calyx krater, c. 340–330 BC