Dialogue around diversity, inclusion and belonging has swept the media landscape in dramatic fashion this year, dominating the conversation in Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the sports world, the hospitality industry and yes, politics. We can hope and optimistically presume that the surfacing of these narratives will lead to positive changes for our national culture and the places in which we work.
Yet, judging by how rapidly and widely these stories appear, it would seem we still have a long way to go to earnestly impact mindsets, attitudes and practices around diversity and inclusion.
As leaders in our respective workplaces, we have a unique opportunity in this time of transformation. At its most rational level, building work environments that embrace and encourage the differences among our people is a known performance-booster, every leader’s top agenda item. But beyond that, as leaders, it’s our role to do what we can to provide each of our people with the resources and experiences that support their happiness and success. Therefore, it’s within both our interest and our purview to be the change agents that create more equitable workplaces.
How can leaders across the business — in critical partnership with the HR team — take a more intentional approach to improving diversity, inclusion and belonging? One important place to start is at the heart of many of the stories we’ve been inundated with this year: to recognize and work to address unconscious bias on our teams and across our organizations.
Where to Start?
There’s no simple solution for improving the state of diversity, inclusion and belonging. But we must begin by acknowledging that which is often overlooked: unconscious biases do exist across the workforce. Research from Google shows that our subconscious judgments impact the decisions we make as individuals, as teams and as an organization. Those judgments find their way into the policies and practices we create and enforce, and become perpetuated as a matter of course. According to Google’s research, these biases “can cause people to overlook great ideas, undermine individual potential, and create a less-than-ideal work experience for colleagues.”
Addressing and reducing bias, in both individuals and the workplace, is a complicated undertaking. With that in mind, there are a few steps we can take that will help kickstart the process.
Step 1: Understand and Acknowledge Bias
The first step toward advancing inclusive behavior is being aware of your blind spots and how they impact your interactions. As the team at Google puts it, “Give your first thought a second look.” Reflect on why you are drawn to specific candidates, team members, or colleagues: is it because they meet your criteria for success, or is it because they share certain similarities to you? Hold yourself and your team accountable for reflecting on bias by communicating your expectations for how new hires, promotions and wins will be evaluated.
At Glint, one of our core values refers to “default to open.” This means approaching interactions, discussions and especially conflict with curiosity and transparency. We look at even uncomfortable situations as opportunities to learn, often asking the question, “What if the opposite of what I think is true?” Simple pauses to think about our own state of mind and judgment before we speak can help improve collaboration and innovation. Leaders can be intentional about modeling and reinforcing this behavior. Highlight examples of acknowledging bias in the moment and share why it’s important to understand and address. Remember, what gets recognized, gets repeated.
Step 2: Build a Culture of Conversations
Beyond acknowledgement, leaders can create an environment that encourages open conversations between managers and employees, among teams and across the organization. Well-meaning conversations with a foundation of openness can alter our understandings of one another and boost empathy and authenticity.
To create an environment where conversations thrive, leaders must continually solicit and recognize the opinions of all. In order to develop practices that drive inclusivity, organizations should include a diverse group of people to review and support the creation of processes to ensure diversity of thought and experiences. They can equip managers and employees with guidelines for effective conversations, and continuously reinforce their importance. Tactically, providing teams with encouraged or built-in timef rames for holding ongoing conversations can dramatically reduce resistance to engaging in these discussions.
Step 3: Measure, Adjust and Repeat
We’ve all heard the age-old maxim that that which is measured gets improved. As a leader, hold yourself and your team accountable for improving your environment by frequently measuring the sentiments and actions of your teams. Once you’ve begun to implement frequent, transparent conversations, examine the trends in your ongoing engagement surveys — data you’ll ideally receive throughout the year. Overall, do individuals feel a sense of inclusion, or do they feel ostracized? Do they feel like they have a place within the organization, or do they feel undervalued and unappreciated? Take the comments to heart and begin to use the survey insights (quantitative and qualitative) as the basis of these conversations and continued efforts.
While HR can create company-wide programs for hiring, retaining and promoting a wider range of employees, individual departments and teams are far better equipped to track and ensure that progress is being made. When decreasing biases is made into an organization-wide effort, the process opens up new opportunities for growth and progression within the workforce.
The Future of Diversity, Inclusivity and Belonging
The time to just talk about diversity, inclusion and belonging is long past. Now, it’s time to act. Bias on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and numerous other factors exists, both on the individual and organizational level. To address it, leaders across the organization — not just HR and the CEO — must truly walk the walk and model sustainable, positive change in their words and actions. No organization has completely cracked the code, but acknowledging bias and shifting mindsets is the first step towards open, authentic workplaces where everyone has the opportunity to love their jobs.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.