Diversity and inclusion are the hottest buzz words going around in the public and private sectors. We have all heard that we need to hire diversity in our organizations to look like the communities we serve but have we truly sat back and thought that once we hire that diverse person(s) do we include or exclude them in our daily routines?
According to Merriam-Webster, “inclusion is the act of including; state of being included.” Most leaders seem to understand the definition of inclusion, yet very few know how to make it a reality. All too often, employees feel excluded and disengaged by interactions that discourage their full participation or the contribution of their ideas or experiences. Why is this so? Could it be that supervisors are intimidated by their subordinates? Or does the culture only support like-minded thinkers?
An organization’s workplace environment is the sum of behaviors – subtle and not-so-subtle, intentional and unintentional, and often habitual – of all members of the organization. What this means is that to create an inclusive environment, we must start with inclusive practices. We can make policies, write SOPs/SOGs, and develop initiatives to support such an environment, but an inclusive environment can only be created by the collective use of behaviors that foster inclusive interactions.
Think back to the days when you supervised a recruit, promoted someone or hired from the outside - how did you interact with him or her? Most of us have learned to approach unfamiliar people and new interactions from the standpoint of judging. In judging mode, we engage cautiously – we size people up, we don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, and for those that we may know from a past encounter, we might label them. Judging places distance between us and them, and it puts a limit on the people being judged. Basically, we put them in a box and exclude them. Now put the shoe on the other foot, say that you are being judged by a superior, how do you feel? Most likely, you became guarded and suspicious and judged them in return, causing a lose-lose situation. Moreover, a judging mode creates waste in two ways: 1) we waste substantial time and energy in the process of evaluating and mistrusting others; 2) we lose the ability to draw fully on his or her contributions.
Rather than judging our people, we can choose to start each new interaction by joining. In joining mode, we approach others from a stance of openness rather than caution and defensiveness. We begin with the belief that we are going to connect, that each of us has something to offer the other, and by working together, we will develop better solutions and more creative ideas. The goal in the joining is not to evaluate, but to learn from one another. In joining, we let go of the past, extend trust, give others the benefit of the doubt, and invest in the partnership for the long-term. Joining is a win-win mode that really focuses on creating a WE (partnership).
I know what you’re saying right about now, leaders have the right to judge. I’m not saying that you are wrong, but there is a difference between judging people and assessing their performance or ideas. Leaders need to assess the value of ideas and the performance of individuals. The questions now we must ask ourselves are: Do we place blame or only reinforce what is wrong? Do people walk away from these interactions feeling supported or has their willingness to speak up been devalued? The power of joining can create a path of development from experience that often-caused misunderstanding, hard feelings and apprehension.
The choice to join is not enough to create an inclusive organization. As I mentioned earlier, an organization’s workplace environment is the sum of the behaviors of all the members of the organization. To create an inclusive organization, you must support the choice to join with inclusive behaviors.
There are four key inclusive behaviors that we as leaders need to embrace:
- Lean into discomfort – creates an environment in which trust can grow quickly; make a conscious choice to move out of your comfort zones; allow others to speak up and voice a different opinion.
- Listen as an ally – listen, listen, listen and engage; be a partner.
- State your intent and intensity – clearly state what you mean and how committed you are to the idea. This enables others to act quickly, decisively, and correctly. The clarity of stating intent and intensity eliminates second-guessing. Allow a junior firefighter to express a new idea, “this is the way we’ve always done it” just may not work anymore.
- Share your perspective –we must fully leverage the different perspectives that people bring to the table and truly get a diversity of thought and the possibility of breakthroughs as we bring different ideas together. Grab those out-of-the-box thinkers in your hierarchy, as they analyze things before making decisions.
While working on the four key behaviors, you also need to ensure that they are supported by other behaviors if the change is going to be sustainable. There are eight sustaining behaviors that will assist you and your organization to become inclusive:
- Greet people authentically – make it a point to say hello to people; take time to connect with each team member (not just the clique); introduce yourself to people you do not know.
- Create a sense of safety for yourself and team members – foster an environment that respects and acknowledges the differing needs and approaches of all members; ensure that your team is psychologically and emotionally safe enough to trust that others will “have their back.”
- Work for the common good and shared success.
- Ensure the right people, right work, right time: ask who else needs to be involved to understand the whole situation better.
- Link to others’ ideas, thoughts, and feelings – give energy back.
- Speak up when you notice people are being excluded or humiliated.
- Deal with misunderstanding and disagreements as soon as they become apparent – do not avoid issues or concerns.
- Build Trust – follow through on commitments; hold yourself accountable; maintain confidentiality; invest the time needed to get to know others in your team.
Remember that every firefighter in your organization is different (ethnically, race, gender, culturally). Give them a chance to make a difference in your organization. Let their voices be heard. You just might get the best idea to move the organization forward that you never thought of.