Do all the people in your organization feel safe and included? Are employees from diverse backgrounds free to do their work without being marginalized? Do you constantly work to broaden your hiring pool?
People leaders who are committed to creating diverse, inclusive work spaces must ask themselves these questions. Yet before you can answer them in any meaningful way, the company’s leadership must have an open mind and an eagerness to learn; they must be willing to be educated on areas in which they have blind spots.
Let’s do a thought experiment: Imagine you’re a CEO or in your company’s leadership, and you’re a white man. Statistically, this is most likely to be the case. In 2018, there were only 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500, and there were only three black CEOs, all of whom were male. The remaining 95 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 500 were white men. Thus, it’s a relatively safe assumption that your company leadership is white and male. These numbers have to change if workplaces are going to be a true representation of the world we live in.
But for the time being, let’s go with the most likely scenario. If you’re a white man and your C-suite is largely white and male, what are you doing to educate yourselves about the experiences of those who don’t share your position of privilege?
Recruiting is a great place to start. “Hiring Across All Spectrums,” a 2018 report from Pride at Work Canada, a nonprofit organization that represents LGBTQ union members and their allies, stated the importance of recruiters undergoing training specifically about LGBTQ people and their experiences to understand the challenges LGBTQ people encounter in the work force. Respondents surveyed revealed things companies can do to ensure that a workplace is LGBTQ-friendly. These included:
Diverse candidates won’t stay if they’re not truly safe within the organization. Even the most immovable, traditionally non-inclusive industries are finally waking up to this. This was brought home to me in February 2018 when I attended the DICE (Design, Innovate, Create, Entertain) gaming summit. It was evident that the gaming industry is taking giant strides toward becoming more equitable for all employees. Phil Spencer, vice president of gaming at Microsoft, delivered the keynote, which was all about how Microsoft is working to become a more diverse, inclusive, and safe working environment. The five steps Spencer outlined were:
Spencer’s keynote was a clear turning point. I’m a veteran of the gaming industry. I have firsthand experience with its rampant sexism; over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of my own #MeToo stories, and so has every woman I know. In 2017, a study from UK games industry trade body, The Independent Game Developers Association, found only 14 percent of the people working in the gaming industry in that country are women. According to the International Game Developers Association, more than 75 percent of game developers are white. For women or minorities who’ve worked in a field dominated by white men, these are more than just statistics. When an organization has extremely high levels of gender and racial disparity, discriminatory language and marginalization of minorities is almost a given.
How organizations become more inclusive
Neela Dass, director of game developer relations at Intel, told me her team hosts workshops that help participants identify their unexamined, beneath-the-surface biases and how these biases impact others. Google VP Phil Harrison shared that during its onboarding process, Google trains new employees to better identify their unconscious biases.
When I began my career in the early 1990s, there wasn’t a structural understanding of why diversity was important, to say nothing of inclusion and the need for safe work spaces. “Political correctness” was largely scoffed at as cumbersome and tedious. Now we know better. The words we use to describe people and things inform how we think and feel about them. By taking care to use language that’s free of bias, we are forced to examine our own biases, which are often unconscious. This awareness is the first step toward eliminating our prejudices and developing a truly inclusive worldview.
But we’ve probably all embarrassed ourselves by using the wrong term for a people group besides our own. How can we get it right when it feels like we can’t keep up with the pace of social change?
The bad news is, you’ll almost certainly say something that makes you feel stupid. The good news is, if you have good-faith relationships with your direct reports and colleagues, they’ll believe you when you say, “I’m so sorry. Please, can you teach me the correct way to talk about this?” Generally, people are happy to educate others if a) they have receptive, thankful listeners and b) they don’t have to educate people all the time.
As a people leader, you set the tone for others in your organization. If you make a mistake and are corrected, you know what to do going forward. The person who took the time to teach you must see you implementing your new knowledge when talking with employees at every level of the company. If you make work a safe space with your attitude and language — and lay out the clear expectation that everyone else will do the same — you show employees from marginalized backgrounds that you have their backs.
By Caroline Stokes, from her book Elephants Before Unicorns.
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