Diversity and Inclusion in Disguise

Has the D&I Agenda been forgotten? ‘Of course not!’ is the immediate answer one wants to give. But the reality is, people are focusing on other matters right now; no-one is spending; all but a few budgets have been suspended or cut. No-one is thinking about either Diversity or inclusion. Or are they?

Actually, Diversity & Inclusion is alive and kicking. Except, it has morphed into other ways of expression and focus. In fact, the virtual work place presents many opportunities to practise Inclusion in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious. The benefits of these new behaviours, however, are very similar: they improve our empathy, our listening skills, our compassion and relatedness to each other; they strip away corporate armour and reveal the human within us. All this is necessary in order to truly benefit from our diversity of thought.

If you want to bolster the practice of these new habits, I offer you a few of my thoughts on how to do this:

  1. Create ‘Touch-In’ Pairs:

Ask members to ‘buddy up’, making the effort to pick someone with whom they aren’t already closely familiar. Ask the pairs to check in with each other daily on a video call. Each week, they must learn something new about each other and teach or share with each other something new. For instance, you might want to learn about people’s favourite dishes, books, films, holidays, hobbies. You might want to teach them how to cook a particular dish or how not to make the same mistake on Zoom that you just made and learned from, or share your latest favourite exercise app or virtual quiz.

At the end of the week – on an all-team call – let the pairs share what they’ve learned about each other and for themselves.

Mix up the pairs the following week.

Behaviours/Skills honed: empathy, listening, curiosity, creativity, relationship skills.

  1. Practise a New Leadership Style

Never has it been safer to practise a new style of leadership. As we’re all in the same boat, there are no judgments being attached to anything we are doing that’s different from the norm. All bets of traditional behaviours and expectations are off! This is a great time to suggest and/or role-model ways in which we can lead from a place of trust, humility and empathy. Listening is becoming more important than ever, as it takes much more effort to properly ‘hear’ people when you’re not in the same room. As a leader, we’re listening not only for the cue for what we might say in response but to understand how others are feeling, what they’re experiencing and how successful you are at engaging them and keeping energy levels up. Are people spending too much time on video calls, tied to their laptops, on devices? Is this affecting their moods and wellbeing? Are there any tips you can pick up and share from team members on how to cope with disruptions, anxieties, mood swings, etc? Now more than ever leadership is defined by being able to call on your relationship skills and by down-playing the hierarchy.

Behaviours/Skills honed: relationship skills, listening, building trust, humility, vulnerability.

  1. Maintain staff networks

Our communities are vital for our well-being. We are constantly establishing new ones and take comfort in connecting with existing ones. This should also extend to our staff networks.

It’s important not to forget about staff networks and to keep maintaining them. Staying connected now is critical, ensuring that the efforts that have been put into building a successful staff network aren’t lost while we enter a more virtual existence.

Encourage your colleagues to take part in already established employee networks and to form new ones.

As a network member, think of ways to host events and share information with other members. What can you offer to make use of new opportunities? Are there stories and experiences you can share? Is there an opportunity here to recruit new allies by broadcasting to the wider organisation? I know of one organisation whose women’s network is planning to sponsor sessions that benefit the entire global community of colleagues. What a great way to make use of your assets!

Behaviours/Skills honed: relationship skills, curiosity, creativity, visiblity.

What next?

I encourage you to think of Diversity and Inclusion in other, simpler ways. After all, it’s all about our human behaviours – our ability to see what isn’t in front of our eyes, to express an interest in each other in ways that we didn’t need to do before, to notice strengths and abilities that previously lied dormant. Perhaps, after all, our current situation is an opening to something that will make it easier to embed the agenda when we move on to our new normal – whatever that looks like.

Here’s hoping!

If you would like us to help you develop a framework of Inclusive Behaviours and show you how to  practise these ‘new’ habits, get in touch with me.