With so many companies talking about making diversity a priority but falling short of the mark, diversity and inclusivity initiatives will only be successful if everyone experiences a feeling of belonging in the workplace.
It’s not just a feel-good move; it’s good for business. Study after study has shown that diversity leads to more creative teams and increases a company’s bottom line. According to McKinsey, companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity were 35% likelier to financially outperform the industry medians. Other research finds that inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time.
Diversity is an action, inclusivity is cultural, and belonging is a feeling. Change doesn’t start from top-down leadership; it happens at every level. We can all be leaders if we choose to be, and we all have a responsibility for making people we know feel comfortable. When you feel like you belong somewhere, your work ethic improves because you feel like it’s your company, too. As a middle manager, you can play a big part in communicating why creating a sense of belonging at work is needed. For inspiration, I collected advice from leaders who are prioritizing diversity so that people from all backgrounds can bring their unique strengths to the table.
Seek Out Different Mindsets. Diversity isn’t just about gender or race, it’s also about diversity of background and mindset. A big barrier to diversity, says Gina Grillo, President and CEO of the Advertising Club of New York, is that “we tend to promote people who we feel comfortable with, and often that is people who are like us.”
The data shows that those in positions of power still tend to be similar in terms of race and gender: About 72% of CEOs in top Fortune 500 companies are white males, while less than 1% are African American females.
Much of “the [advertising and communications] industry is dominated by white women through middle management, and white men at the top,” says Lauren Wesley Wilson, founder of ColorComm, a business community for women of color in the communications industry. “When you look at PR and advertising agencies, there is often a handful of people of color in leadership positions and sometimes none at all. Often times, hiring managers hire people who look like them. They don’t look for diversity or difference, they look for similarity and compatibility.”
Be Intentional. Be intentional about bringing diversity into meetings and work opportunities. If we want diversity, we should all be bringing people to work who are not like us.
The goal of inclusivity is to make sure that everyone feels included in everything you do and that each individual feels she or he belongs—regardless of gender, race or sexuality. It’s not only good for morale, but good for your employees’ performance: Research has found that hiding our true identities dramatically declines our professional performance. For diversity initiatives to be successful, we must be open to different points of view and allow workers to express their individuality.
“It’s not autopilot. The autopilot is to hang out with people who think like you and look like you,” said Kristin Hayden, Chief Partnership Officer at IGNITE, in the Equality Lounge at Dreamforce. “It’s actually about being present…it takes intentionality to do things differently.”
Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable. Accept that achieving diversity isn’t easy. “Somehow there is this perception that managing diverse groups is fun, it’s easy, everything is going to be ‘kumbaya’,” said Antonio Lucio, CMO of HP, Inc., in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week. “It’s damn hard.”
A study from MIT found what we already know: Diverse teams beat homogenous teams every time in terms of performance. “What I found incredibly interesting [about this research] is that homogenous teams felt great during the process and yet they lost, while diverse teams felt miserable during the process until they finished and met their target. No one is telling us how hard it is…but you have to embrace that because the ultimate outcome will be better.”
As a middle manager, you can act as a role model by showing support for diversity goals and encouraging your team to push through challenges. Pinterest found that when managers are made aware of why diversity matters, these employees took more initiative and got more involved to support the cause.
Lead With Empathy. Paying attention to employees’ feelings is key for creating a culture of belonging, and ensuring the success of diverse teams. You’ll help retain employees of all backgrounds if you make them feel heard, because how people feel within their company is a reflection of how long they’ll stay. More than 40% of job turnover happens within the first month of hiring, according to a study. This might be avoided if new hires had a feeling of belonging from the start, such as leaders who checked in about how they felt things were going and mentors to turn to for guidance.
Have Accountability For Change. We need to start becoming more conscious of our unconscious and know that we can do more and be better when it comes to creating cultures of inclusivity. Transformation will happen when we have accountability for change.
Companies should track progress toward well-defined goals. Some companies have made diversity a part of their review process to incentivize and stay accountable to diversity goals. Kaiser Permanente, for example, has a National Diversity Agenda which focuses on building a racially diverse workforce. So far, their dedication has worked—Kaiser has no racial majority among its employees and nearly 60% of the staff are people of color. Think about ways that you as a middle manager can create your own internal diversity goals and then monitor those metrics.
At the end of the day, treat your employees like your family, embrace and respect individual strengths, and create a collaborative and safe space. This will lead to a culture of belonging and inspire your talent to be their best selves.
By Shelley Zalis
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