I know that diversity and inclusion can be a prickly topic. Let’s take a collective deep breath. Are you ready for this? Because I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous myself. But I’m “choosing courage over comfort,” to quote Brené Brown, and leaping feet first into the topic of diversity and inclusion conversation. I’ve spent the better part of my career trying to move the dial on this topic through training and education, and I’m ready to advocate even harder. This topic comes up in some way with nearly every coaching client, regardless of their age, race, or gender.
Thanks to #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the myriad public figures who have come forward to share their stories, the issue of diversity and inclusion is in the spotlight. This has caused some great steps forward as illumination always does, but it has also created a fair amount of backlash and fear. Even well-intentioned individuals and organizations are struggling on how to get this right. I want to help get us there. And yes, I know that starting this dialogue in my community might turn some people off, but I feel strongly that the solution to this topic requires some open, candid dialogue to create an environment where all employees have the opportunity to thrive.
Our Blind Spots Impact Our Bottom Line
I am a straight white female. I have blind spots and unconscious biases. We all do. And that’s OK. What isn’t OK is letting those blind spots and biases dictate our decision making. That kind of leadership isn’t right for your team, and it’s certainly not good for your bottom line.
For example, when Google first launched its image recognition software it incorrectly labeled two African-Americans as animals. That’s because there was not a black test engineer involved in the testing and launch of the product. It hadn’t occurred to the team that people with darker skin colors might show up differently on video.
Similarly, it took a woman to perfect the auto-unlock option on car doors. This feature initially unlocked all four doors at once, but a female designer suggested that this could be dangerous if, say, a woman was being stalked by a stranger in a mall parking lot. This thought never occurred to a roomful of men that this would pose a potential threat.
These are both great examples about how a diverse team can eliminate blind spots and have us create better products and services for our clients.
Let’s Explore Our Blocks to Progress
There are hundreds of studies that show the positive business impact of having a diverse and inclusive work environment, and yet change is very slow to happen. In some cases, leaders are woefully unaware of their blind spots and cannot see problems that are obvious to others outside the executive board room. Sometimes, they’re scared. Even the leaders who strive to get this right, fear they may say the wrong thing or have something taken the wrong way, or worse. Or they lack the ability to articulate the issues, and so they say choose to stay silent.
Some organizations are still mainly focused on the numbers. They think about diversity in terms of percentages but don’t make enough effort to ensure that the behavior in their workplace supports the success of underrepresented groups. This failure of vision leads to more exclusion, underperformance, and extremely high turnover rates among diversity hires, especially at the senior level. Great intention, but in many cases this creates the opposite effect of what it intends.
Easy First Steps to Make Things Better
Here’s the good news! A lot of companies are getting it right. Airbnb, Johnson & Johnson, Netflix, and Accenture, are just a few of the corporations making some real progress in this area. If you’re interested in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace, look to them for inspiration or try a few of these steps to get started:
- Bring in an expert. If you or your company doesn’t know how to start this conversation internally, seek help. And when you do seek advice, be willing to invest. You need expert guidance. Contact me – I’m happy to help or refer you to the right resource.
- Recognize that we ALL have biases. Get honest about yours and ask yourself and your team how they are impeding the creation of an inclusive environment. I offer a custom 360° interview process that can be used to illuminate opportunities to do better in this area. I’d love to talk with you about how this could work for your team.
- Before you make a decision, ask, “Whose perspectives are we missing?” Think about this in terms of not only race and gender but also diversity of thought (aka cognitive diversity), family status, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, disability, physical fitness status (yes, it’s a real thing especially here in Boulder, CO!).
- Review your practices and consider new ones. For example, consider not allowing for salary negotiations up front. Research has shown that men typically negotiate more effectively than women for their starting salary. Publish your salary ranges. Heck, publish your actual salaries!
For the next few months, I’m going to dedicate a lot of space on my blog to unpacking this sticky, and often uncomfortable topic. Remember that real change lies outside our comfort zone. I promise to keep it positive and focus on what IS working. All I ask from you is that you show up.
Read my blog regularly and use the posts that resonate with you to start a conversation in your organization. Ask the hard questions. Begin where you are right now and commit to staying in dialogue for as long as it takes. This process won’t be short or easy, but it will be worthwhile.
If you’re committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment, but you want help getting started, contact me for a complimentary consultation.
Image source http://www.invistaperforms.org