Most leaders would say they value diversity in their organization. Some do so for strategic reasons, perhaps to reflect their customer base. Many companies reveal a gap between their words and their actions. Yet, those that succeed still seem to fall short when it comes to inclusiveness.
Queensborough Community College defines diversity as “the understanding that each individual is unique and recognizing individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines inclusive as “including everything or all types of people.” The distinction is important because it is possible to have a diverse organization without having an inclusive one.
Therefore, it is essential to focus on both. Ellen Taffe, an assistant professor of leadership at the Kellogg School, explains, “Inclusions are about welcoming, developing, and advancing a diverse mix of people. It is about making people feel valued, including changing practices that might unfairly benefit any one group, and making sure everyone has the same opportunity to advance and make an impact.”
The issue is that implicit bias is universal. As much as we do not want to admit it, we all have unconscious biases (autopilot behavior) that guide our mindsets and actions. It is shaped by our experiences, fears, and the media. If we can uncover these blind spots, we can choose to move forward in a more deliberate, intentional, and inclusive manner. Decision-makers often assess the skills and values of others based on their own experience. This is simply a lack of self-awareness. It becomes easier to build professional (and personal) relationships when we talk with others about anything other than work, getting to know them as humans rather than some category. Doing this is beneficial because it generates more inclusivity by reducing the possibility of promoting the person who is “just like me.”
As leaders, we must model self-awareness of bias. This means making ourselves vulnerable. It also means demonstrating that we stand by what we believe and that we are willing to learn. If we commit to interacting in new ways, we will build a better organizational culture.
Disruption is how we create and add value. Having a team of people from diverse backgrounds allows us to be open to new ideas and new perspectives and helps us think differently. This only happens if we give them a seat at the table and are willing to provide them with a voice. We must listen to everyone, regardless of our unintended biases. As we welcome more ideas from truly diverse perspectives, we will be more innovative and competitive in our increasingly changing world.
To start being more inclusive, you need to clearly understand where you are now. This is a raw and challenging evaluation of your organization. It is much more than stating the answer in the question (i.e.., “we need more women in leadership” or “we need to add more diversity). These are not the solution. The solution is asking the question, “What is keeping us from having more diversity?” Is it a lack of available talent? (I do not think so). Is there a lack of access to the people that can mentor them? (I find this more likely, but this is solvable). Is it a fear of changing “the way it’s always been done?” It is time to take steps to question the logic, reframe the question, and look at arbitrary policies that may be keeping your organization from being truly inclusive. You need to connect with your organizational values and see where you are coming up short.
One of the things leaders can do is to set clear expectations around performance. It does not matter race or gender; if the expectations are the same, the people in those positions will learn, grow, and excel. Objective criteria will help everyone because everyone will know what is expected of them and where they are the curve of advancement and performance. This requires openly discussing the expectations of each person and learning what obstacles are keeping them from growing.
In 1890, William James recognized that all people want to feel included and belong. There is research demonstrating that inclusion has the promise of both positive outcomes for organizations as well as their people as individuals. These include greater team engagement, lower turnover, and greater altruism. When people genuinely feel included within a work environment, they are more likely to share information and participate in decision making.
So, the ultimate question is, “What is an inclusive workplace?” An inclusive workplace values and respects the individual lives, experiences, input, and effort of every individual, making them feel welcome and accepted. This does not mean there will be no disagreements about the work at hand, but that we can discuss and come to a consensus about steps forward.
Have the courage to face your unintended biases. Allow everyone on your team to share thoughts and be part of the decision-making processes. Move towards a more inclusive organization–and thrive.
Talk to our coaching team about how you can cultivate a more inclusive environment in your organization.