Breaking Down Diversity and Inclusion
Another Reason Why We Desperately Need Creative and Mindful Leadership
Let’s start by admitting that “Diversity and Inclusion” is a touchy complex subject in the workplace.
It’s a topic we all want some solutions for but feel unsure how to get there and make everyone happy, welcomed and included. It’s complicated. There are a lot of players with different motivations and assumptions. And then there are the differences in generation, gender, and the very definition of “Diversity and Inclusion” makes the journey to creating a workplace that is diverse and inclusive kind of tough. Why are we still feeling that way even though we have a tremendous amount of data about how diversity is critical to business success and growth? What kind of leaders does it take to solve this?
I am curious. As a minority female business owner and a millennial, I am intrigued and I want to better understand the WHYs. I found myself asking more questions after each event where I was the only Asian or female participant and started noticing patterns of behaviors. I do not have all the answers but I do want to share what I’ve learned so far to expand the conversation on Diversity and Inclusion nonetheless.
NOTE: Here are some quick references to those who are new to Diversity and Inclusion, also known as D&I. Most companies tackle D&I three different ways: recruitment/hiring, workplace culture, and through suppliers. In other words, attracting and hiring diverse people, creating an inclusive environment for diverse opinions to foster, and walking the talk in D&I by working with diverse vendors as a practice. Hence, diversity and inclusion are essentially different. As Verna Myers explains, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party and Inclusion is being asked to dance.’ Some companies have a full-time staff working and leading these initiatives, others have the part-time staff or volunteer-led initiatives. Motivation and programs differ for all companies.
We need MORE ORGANIZATIONS that:
(1) Have a Holistic Approach.
If you want to truly tackle diversity and inclusion, take a look and see how you are communicating that message and implementing initiatives across the channels. Many have programs in recruitment, culture or supplies. But how do they work with one another? Are your message, initiatives, and deliverables consistent? Who are you communicating this to? How are your internal organization and outsiders responding? How are you taking feedback? Is your focus on quality or quantity? What kind of media portrayal are you doing? Most importantly, what have you actually done versus talked about? Feel the pulse of your messaging on the subject and answer yourself how genuine does your communication sound?
As Kate Brodock from Women 2.0 wrote in Forbes, the “Real Impact In Diversity and Inclusion Means Looking At Structural Changes, Not Tactical.” Yet too many leaders seem to think that just increasing the quota of diverse backgrounds to be the answer to the problem. If you are not making those brought on feel welcomed, they will most likely leave and go somewhere else where their talent and culture is fully embraced. I don’t mean to suggest that you should just have more ping pong stations or free drinks. What I mean is, what are you doing to make everyone believe they’re truly included and feel that they can be their whole selves.
(2) Communicate the SAME WHY Across The Organization and Get To Know Their People Better to Give an Understandable WHY.
We know everyone may be at work for different reasons but we also know that the most successful team collaboration is when they all believe in the mission. Same goes with D&I initiatives. You have to communicate the ‘why’ and have your people understand the value from top-down to the bottom-up. Emphasis again - TOP DOWN TO BOTTOM UP. You need to communicate the vision and explain why it is important at each level. To do that, you have to really understand their motivation. Why should my people in my organization follow these D&I initiatives? No really, ask yourself why. Do these programs really resonate with them? Why and Why Not? You may think some of the answers are obvious but you would be surprised at the diverse thoughts. When more people understand the WHY and can relate to it as a core company value, it is then that they are able to be more mindful throughout their time at work.
(3) Create a Safe Space to Have Comfortable Conversations About Uncomfortable Topics at Work and outside of Work.
This is a critical step to creating an inclusive environment. Even if you hire many diverse talented individuals if they do not have a safe space to have certain conversations they will most likely not enjoy their time there in the long run. It’s the same for non-diverse talent as well. If they have never worked with someone different, they are most likely going to feel uncomfortable at first. Unconscious bias will direct their thoughts and first reactions. That’s not surprising. We often like friends who think or look like us because it is easier to relate to. But when we are exposed to more, hear more, and have more time to understand one another the differences are no longer seen as a barrier. This is why it is critical for leaders and organizations to be mindful and proactively create organic spaces for such conversations to develop and the relationships to foster.
That’s why conferences like the Fannie Mae’s Diversity and Inclusion Technology Forum was powerful and insightful. During the breakout session, we discussed in reality how hard it is to find a structured environment for employees to have honest conversations about differences. We all have unconscious bias. The problem is not all of us truly acknowledge it or are aware of it. If someone didn’t like that smelly microwaved food, they tend to complain behind someone’s back instead of wanting to understand or have a conversation with that person. This is how passive aggressive behaviors can grow and it's not healthy at all. This space can be created in many different ways, but it has to be done intentionally not to find fault in others. When done right, not only will you open up doors to deeper relationship building but also creating an honest and respectful workplace.
(4) Empower Managers and offer Mentorship.
It’s true that most employees leave because of managers, and not because of the company. And yet, there seems to be a lack of good training for managers, especially within large organizations. While there are certain things you understand by having more work experience, being a good leader, mentor or manager is not one of them. Some are in fact good managers with little past experience because they bring different values, such as empathy to the table. Still, overall, managing people is tough and managers today are dealing with three different generations.
This isn’t supposed to be easy and organizations need to be more understanding of that instead of simply blaming the individuals or busy finger-pointing. Good training cannot only empower managers to be more empathetic, thoughtful and wise leaders but also play a pillar role in creating an inclusive culture. When managers are better equipped to have tough conversations, they can help open the door for those uncomfortable conversations and even step in if others belittle someone else. Rising stars play a key role in developing organization’s culture so it's essential to have a thoughtful mentorship program for them. People with extremely different views can have a conversation and perhaps change their minds if you give them space to have a conversation they both can relate to and get to know each other at deeper levels. It’s not going to be easy but taking a closer look at your manager training and mentorship programs is an essential element.
(5) Take a Closer look at the Generation Gap.
Working with people who have different assumptions is hard but not impossible. First off, we always will have at least three or more generations with different cultures, values and work experiences. Why do we act as if this has never happened before? Learning how to work across generations will always be critical. Second, we need to remember that people are different. Just because they are the same generation does not mean they think or act the same way. Education, experience, values and personal life heavily influence how individuals make decisions and hence relate at work. Yes, there are values and cultures certain generations embed more but we cannot criticize someone’s behavior based on generational trends. It’s a label and such generalization is inappropriate. You have to be intentional to have the conversation and want to understand the gap. Conflicts between two generations will only be resolved if the two are willing and ready to open up and understand each other.
And that’s just a handful of key observations I have made from attending some events over a year! What’s interesting is that all of these insights and perspectives go back to the importance of leadership development. While many of these changes and thoughts seem gigantic, expensive and complex, they all originate with better people management, talent utilization, leadership development and team collaboration. It’s all about people. Why aren’t we spending enough time on our biggest assets? Giving individuals the opportunity to be better thinkers, implementers, collaborators and problem solvers can help take a new and better look at the D&I and many other problems more strategically. So how do you build that mindset? How can you help leaders be more mindful and thoughtful problem solvers? What can I provide as an organization to my leaders and teams to notice these subtle differences and opportunities at work? What can I do today?
These are questions we should be asking more and often.
If I left you with more questions to think about at the end of this post, I’m glad. We can’t get great answers without first asking more thoughtful questions. I look forward to hearing how you generate more post-it notes and new joy in the office.
Monica Kang is the Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox® where she helps leaders unlock their creative leadership potential and is redefining innovation in the workplace. Since launch, InnovatorsBox® has been recognized as the only creative education firm that is teaching creativity in a tangible, practical and relatable way for professionals to understand, embrace, and practice. She is an avid supporter and speaks often on the importance of rethinking creativity, diversity and inclusion, diversity in technology, and social entrepreneurship. She actively supports DC Tech growth as the Organizer and Facilitator at Startup Weekend and President of DMV Startup.