This virus has given a lesson in diversity, equality and being inclusive If nothing else; it’s shown we are all equal and interconnected. It is diverse, fragile in the wake of soap & water and strong in its entrenchment in the lungs, it shows equality in that it has hit almost every country in the world; and; it is inclusive, affecting young, old, rich, poor, famous, and unknown.
Diversity, Equality and Inclusion – Where to Start
I was asked by an HR professional for my take on this topic and, given I’m not an HR professional, I’m going to approach it from a different perspective. And I’m referring to diversity as covered by the Equality Act 2010 UK of age, disability, protected characteristics, gender, race, religion, beliefs, marriage, partnership, sex, sexual orientation, the gamut.
For many leaders, diversity, equality, and being inclusive are often thought to be outside of themselves, an issue external to them, something ‘out there’ that needs to be addressed. That is true. It is often something outside that needs to be changed; you can’t have equality, diversity and inclusion without multiple parts. The paradox is that the necessary change starts within; the leader needs to shift to have the outer impact/effect. Here are practical tips for leaders as part of your overall equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.
Know Yourself First – Embrace Your Diversity
To effect change the best place to start is knowing yourself well – the great, the good, the bad and the ugly. Include all the diverse aspects of you. The reason to start within is to understand truly what you are bringing to a given situation, whether that’s interviewing a new hire, considering promoting someone or listening to a different opinion. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your natural tendencies? Your default preferences?
- Review existing data such as previous performance reviews, 360° surveys, awards, certifications, complaints, feedback you’ve received, any personality assessments you’ve done, comments from family and friends (praise and stuff they tease you about!)
- Look at your company data around number of diverse hires and promotions. What are your numbers within this organizational total?
- Look for the patterns of who you like to work with and who you find frustrating – Who do you hire? Who do you fire? Who do you promote? What traits and characteristics do they have in common and what are their differences? Think age, ability, race, ethnicity, religion, education, social background, gender, sexual orientation, introvert/extrovert, thinker/feeler in decision making, planner/keeps options open, big picture/detail oriented, personality traits, nationality to name a few. One of my coaching clients called this a ‘people management autopsy.’ Reflect objectively on what this means. This will start to highlight any biases you might have/had.
- For the patterns you identified above, make sure you know your preferences on each of those aspects, so you can see who is similar to you and who is different.
- Ask for feedback from your boss, direct reports, peers. Use these specific questions to help people give you clear feedback: What should I start doing regarding equality, diversity, inclusion? What should I stop doing? What should I continue doing? You could also use these 3 questions of start/stop/continue about getting feedback on your leadership in general. Depending how well you know them and how close you work together you could ask about your blind spots and biases specifically.
Authentically Inclusive of Others
This is about the dance between yourself and another person, your connection with others. It’s the energy field between two magnets. Given you’re the one reading this article, you are responsible for navigating this space between yourself and another. How do you do this you ask? By being self-aware, aware of the other person and in the moment together. Here are some practical tips:
- Know yourself – you’ve got that covered from the work above.
- Know the other person as best you can – especially if they fall into the ‘category’ of those you don’t normally interact with or whom you don’t enjoy working. Try and create a picture of them like you created for yourself in the previous section. Be curious, ask questions, don’t interrogate, genuinely learn about them – who are they when they are at their best? What brings out the best in them? By doing this you will be treating diverse people equally and they will feel included.
- Set a target for interacting with others that are different from you. View those differences as complimentary versus contradictory.
- Practice these skills in situations that are not mission critical. And with people who aren’t your key stakeholders. Said another way, practice in less risky situations and people if able.
- Try the improvisation (improv) comedy technique of Yes, and. This means when someone shares an opinion, especially one you don’t agree with, pause and find the thread, something in it you can agree with or do value. And then build on that thread. This allows inclusivity of ideas and allows co-creation, rather than you vs them.
- Experiment – practice doing things differently then you normally do. Reach out to people you normally wouldn’t. Try some of these ideas and those suggested by your specific HR department. Notice the impact. Ask the impact. Adjust. Experimenting is about trying new ideas and methods to see the effect and adjust as needed to get the desired outcome.
Be Genuine, Be Transparent
What’s in your heart about equality, diversity and inclusivity? Years ago, when promoting women was at the focus, when coaching my executive clients who were struggling with the topic and their role in actioning women into leadership, I asked a simple question – What would you want for your daughter in her workplace? (or niece or sister depending on their family). This gave them perspective, they connected to it personally and made it more real, they could engage more genuinely, it mattered, it wasn’t just a tick box or intellectual exercise anymore.
What do you believe? What do you want for your people? For your organization? Your company probably has a target or mandate about diversity and inclusion. Make it personal. What really matters about this to you? Come from that heart space. It might be service, duty, empathy, respect, fairness or something else. Once you answer these questions, how can
you ensure those targets or mandates are threaded through your entire talent strategy supporting the business?
Be transparent as you navigate your interactions and your organization’s inclusivity initiative. For example, if you treat someone poorly or say something inappropriate, the moment you realize what you’ve done, stop, apologize, own your mistake, don’t give excuses, do better. Recognising and owning your unconscious biases takes work and insight. Awareness is key and may be your starting point, not just about your unconscious bias, rather that it impacts others, even when it is unintentional. If you are awkward in an interaction, you can ‘name it’, say “I’m feeling awkward and am trying my best.” Sometimes just naming it can ease the tension and create connection. You might not get it right the first time, especially with all the uncertainty swirling around now (being it coronavirus or inclusion). You might not get it right the second time. Admit your mistake or name your challenges, have a conversation about it. The impact you have might not be the one you wanted. Stay. Stay connected with the person, try to resolve it together if they are willing.
Identify a ‘buddy’ that can give you feedback on your progress and be a sounding board as you work through things. This could be your HR business partner, someone in the minority population or a trusted colleague.
These practical tips do not replace formal training, they do not overrule legal requirements. They are suggested as ways of being as a leader with essentially anyone, especially those your organization wants to include more.
Be honest with yourself. Be brave. Be vulnerable. By being responsible, examining your thought patterns and including your feelings, uncertainties and ambitions in the discussion, you role-model inclusion, encourage diversity and make it a more equal playing field.
What’s the stretch in this for you?