As leaders, our words and actions have a great impact on workplace diversity. Here are several simple things you can do at work that will make your workplace more inclusive, while boosting morale and increasing performance. In Part 2 we will focus on things leaders can do outside of the workplace, which nonetheless impact the workplace.
1. Give your time and attention to colleagues who want to support diversity.
One of the most frequent complaints we hear is from employees who feel that their ideas and initiatives about diversity and inclusion are not supported by their company’s leadership. If someone in your organization is making the effort to spearhead a diversity and inclusion initiative, no matter how small, take the time to listen and participate.
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2. Balance the time you spend supporting others.
Whether it’s an impromptu discussion about a project, a performance review, or a mentoring session, check to see if you are inadvertently dedicating more of your time to specific groups of people, especially those who feel comfortable asking for your help. If so, make sure you offer help to those who may be reluctant to ask.
3. Spread responsibilities evenly across your organization.
As with the previous point, it is easy to fall into the trap of assigning more responsibilities and giving more visibility to those who are comfortable asking for it. Those who don’t feel they belong may be less likely to ask to do something, but equally likely to get it done if given the chance. Check that you are not inadvertently supporting this form of self-perpetuating bias.
4. Listen to all complaints about bias or discrimination.
If someone voices a complaint about bias or discrimination, be open-minded, listen carefully, and let them know that you care. And then make sure you follow up and take action as appropriate. Even if you think that someone is being hypersensitive, do not underestimate the courage that it takes to bring up an uncomfortable issue with a superior.
5. Take a stand against inappropriate behavior.
Even without someone voicing a complaint, if you witness someone say or do something inappropriate, don’t let it slide. Everyone in a room may laugh at a sexist joke, but that does not make it appropriate workplace behavior, and ignoring it can send the wrong signal. The slight awkwardness of dealing with it promptly will be more than made up by the improvement in workplace atmosphere.
6. Look for diversity beyond skin color and gender.
Just because someone’s skin color is different from yours, it doesn’t mean that the person is particularly different from you. And conversely, someone who looks exactly like you may feel different from everyone else because of economic status, gender identity, political inclination, religious beliefs or many other characteristics that are not visible.
7. Foster open, candid conversations with and among your colleagues.
One of the keys to embracing diversity is to understand that it can lead to some awkward moments. Although certain conversations need to be handled professionally, being open and inquisitive is a good thing, as long as it’s done in a candid and respectful manner.
8. Assume that you will need to educate the majority.
If you just hired your first team member from an underrepresented minority, chances are that he or she is quite used to being surrounded by people who look different. It’s the members of the majority that need help understanding how to make their new colleague feel welcome.
9. Educate yourself about unconscious biases.
Some biases are called “unconscious” because we don’t even realize we have them. Learn about unconscious biases, take an online test that can help you spot your own weak points, and be aware of the potential pitfalls – for yourself and for those around you. It’s a leader’s role to be aware of these biases and to know how to deal with them.
10. When unsure, ask for help.
Whether or not you have received formal diversity training, you will encounter some difficult situations that you are not prepared to handle. Don’t be afraid to look for help! Look for internal company resources or consider bringing in outside help.
Next week we will focus on simple things that leaders can do outside of their work environment, which nonetheless can have a significant impact on their company’s success in leveraging diversity as a competitive advantage.