I have been working with senior leaders quite a bit this year. This is a change from previous years, one that I attribute to the fact that leaders are now more interested than ever in making a real difference to the level of Diversity and Inclusion in their organisations. They are genuinely interested in creating a work environment that benefits from the great talent of those who are already there, as well as attract a level of diverse thinkers that will continue to enhance their teams’ performance and give them that elusive competitive advantage.
Voice At The Table tend to be engaged by leaders when the why becomes a how. So, while we rarely need to make a big song and dance about the business case for Diversity and Inclusion these days, there is a level of acknowledgement that people don’t always know how to achieve Inclusion. Of course, it takes more than a workshop, or even a few workshops, to make it happen. That said, there are things that leaders can do almost immediately that will have a great impact on the level of inclusion and diversity in their teams.
Here are seven of them:
1. Create leadership and visibility opportunities for members of underrepresented groups.
Research shows that members of underrepresented groups tend to have fewer opportunities to shine. By acknowledging this, a leader can address visibility to create additional opportunities to be seen. For example, ask people to chair meetings as part of a rota. Or ask those who might not usually be asked, to speak as part of a panel at an industry event, to speak in public or to give a presentation on a topic they’re familiar. You might even nominate them for a sector award in order to improve their profile and create that all-important recognition.
2. Monitor and reduce interruptions in meetings and conversations.
Statistically speaking, women are interrupted three times more often than men – both by men and women! The problem? When someone is frequently interrupted, they become less motivated to contribute with their ideas and perspectives – and that’s the opposite of what we want to achieve as inclusive leaders. How to address it? Notice the pattern of interruptions and disrupt it by asking the interrupted person (once the interrupter is done speaking) to finish her or his thoughts.
3. Share stories with your team that communicate your fallibility, humility, and vulnerability.
People often mistake leaders for superhumans. That makes it difficult for them to relate to leaders. Moreover, identifying an unbridgeable gap between one’s abilities and those perceived of a leader contributes to imposter syndrome. To avoid this, try sharing stories of when you’ve made mistakes, or talk about scenarios when you were less than perfect. Share any experiences of feeling excluded – perhaps when living in a different culture or coming into a new school. And then ask team members to share their stories and experiences. This humility and vulnerability will not only create a stronger team bond, it will also encourage people to share significant, work-related information.
4. Take 5 minutes at meetings to talk about the benefits of Diversity and Inclusion to YOUR team.
This helps ensure that D&I is seen as the important business challenge that it is, and not something that we think about once in a while. Try saying in your own words why and how it’s important to you as a leader, as well as to you as a person. Encourage others in your team to do the same.
5. Ask team members to share what Inclusion means to them.
I’ve learned that terminology means different things to different people. Also, people don’t always think of D&I as something that happens on a daily basis. By articulating what it means and what it looks like, it makes it easier for team members to understand how they can incorporate Inclusion into their daily work routines.
6. Appoint Bias and Appreciation Monitors.
Addressing bias and creating new inclusive habits is something best done in small, frequent steps. Bias and Appreciation Monitors make this easier. A Bias Monitor is a volunteer team member whose role it is to listen out for statements with built-in assumptions or stereotypes and watch out for biased behaviours. As a Bias Monitor, when you hear or see a bias, you call attention to it, explaining what you have observed. The one important rule about this is that the team must not argue with the observed behaviour. The aim is to notice and acknowledge, not to explain it away. Similarly, an Appreciation Monitor’s role is to notice inclusive behaviours and to point them out – within a similar structure. In this way, it is easier to identify and encourage the types of behaviours we want more of, and the types of behaviours we want to minimise.
7. Check the potential impact of proposed decisions/changes on ALL stakeholder groups.
To make decisions or changes inclusive, develop a process or checklist addressing how that decision might impact people of different age groups, cultures, roles, etc. In this way, decisions become more inclusive. Once this practice become second nature (when we do this without the help of a checklist), we can be more certain that the services and solutions we provide to our clients will be well considered and more helpful.
Being more inclusive is not difficult. What it does require is patience, perseverance and a little bit of courage. A look in the mirror at a late stage in one’s career might not be a comfortable experience, but as leaders, we know that there is no end destination to learning – only a path that leads further and further.