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How to manage your non-inclusive manager

April 14, 2024
Diversity & Inclusion

At a recent training I was facilitating, I invited people to ask me anything anonymously using polling technology. While the questions always give me great insight into where people are struggling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), this question seemed more universal: “What do I do if my manager is not inclusive?”

This can be an interesting challenge for an everyday employee. How do you advocate for inclusion if a person with power behaves in opposition?

Managers have power over their employees. It can be difficult to surface problems with inclusion when someone holds power over you. I find that having a candid conversation from a place of trust is the best way to manage a non-inclusive manager. If trust is absent, work to build that first, getting to know them as a person before introducing issues of inclusion.

To better build trust with your manager:

  • Share your story.
  • Learn what motivates them.
  • Set boundaries for a healthy working relationship.

Share Your Story
Human brains are wired for stories. Since the earliest days of our survival, our ancestors have passed down stories—from what berries are poisonous to risks that can be avoided—that help us learn how to navigate the world. Our brains find stories 22 times more memorable than facts and figures. To build trust with someone, it’s critical that we share our stories. Sharing the vulnerable parts of ourselves opens up our humanity to others. Consider sharing a story about a time when you made a mistake or overcame a problem. Rarely does someone judge you for your vulnerability; they are more likely to reciprocate your vulnerability, building more trust.

I was volunteering for a school-board election last fall and was stationed with somebody of a different stance on DEI. While the first hour was extremely painful navigating non-confrontational issues like the weather and health problems, we began to find some commonality when we began discussing our backgrounds and stories. I shared stories of how I moved to the community, my family and why issues of inclusion matter to me, and he did the same. We found that we had a lot more in common than we did in difference. While no one’s minds changed that day, a shared understanding of our humanity emerged.

Learn What Motivates Them
Human beings do not change without motivation. Our brains are hardwired to stay rooted in our current behavior because it has enabled us to survive. Change can be seen as a threat and elicit fear. Asking someone to be more inclusive can feel overwhelming, especially a person in a position of power.

Instead of wishing there was a magic wand for this person to be more inclusive, consider framing the conversation around motivation. Find something the person already cares about and connect inclusion to it. Maybe they want the team to be more proactive with problem solving or be more positive about the work environment. How could inclusion help them achieve that goal?

Set Boundaries for a Healthy Working Relationship
Willing someone to change does not always work out. If you’ve worked to establish trust and find motivation points and are still not gaining traction, it’s important to set boundaries for your own psychological safety. If there are behaviors that are truly problematic or potentially discriminatory, this may be the point where you involve Human Resources or outside counsel.

If you believe the person is capable of change, stay with it. Behaviors aren’t developed overnight, nor do they change overnight. Be clear about the risks you’re willing to take and protect your energy. You cannot help others from a place of deficit. Create boundaries around what you are willing to do and not do. Decide when and how you will engage and stick to your boundaries. If it begins to affect your performance or mental or physical health, think about how allies might help you move out of the position or organization.

Managers play an important role in inclusion. As hopeful allies, build trust through story sharing, find points of motivation and set clear boundaries.

by Julie Kratz


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