A Look at my Summer - How to Make Inclusion Real
In April I launched my new workplace culture consulting and advisory business, and while I, along with many of my peers, have been working to build more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces for a long time, it feels different now. For the most part, we don’t have to make a business case for D&I anymore—there has been a groundswell of increased awareness in the post #metoo era, with leaders, organizations and companies shifting from the WHY it’s necessary to have a more diverse, inclusive, and equal workplace to the HOW you strengthen organizational cultures through behavioral shifts, policies and programs that work and last. Legislatures from coast to coast are also stepping up to create workplaces where employees can feel safe and valued—for example, effective January 1st, California significantly raised the stakes for employers when it comes to how sexual harassment claims are litigated and expanded the need for companies to put in place policies, procedures, systems and training regarding sexual harassment by putting forth both SB1300 (aka the “Mother of All #MeToo Bills) and SB1343.
So yes, we are experiencing much needed changes in workplace cultures and practices, but through my summer of talks and discussions at The New York Times “New Rules Summit”, Aspen IDEAS Festival, Network of Women Executives “Executive Forum”, Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility “Leadership Pipeline Program”, National Association For Female Executives/Working Mother Media “All In For Women Summit”, and Revista Mercado’s “Diversity Summit”, I’ve realized that many organizational leaders and the teams responsible for executing on their diversity and inclusion mandates are still struggling with how to implement inclusive workplace practices that work. (P.S. Thank you all for having me!) Across these varied audiences, what came across loud and clear is that we’re all grappling with how our values show up in our work and how we build spaces that nurture belonging and psychological safety. As we are on the cusp of fall, when there is always a fresh urgency to finish the year feeling productive and accomplished, here are the conversations we started this summer, what I hope to continue talking about this fall, and the guidance I shared on how to make inclusion real.
Amplify the voice and visibility of women of color: Minda Harts recently launched her book The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table. It’s a must-read and insightful collection of career advice for women often left out of the corporate diversity conversation. This summer, I spoke at length about the emotional armour that women of color put on every day in a society where our civil rights and identities are increasingly under threat while in the workplace. Our livelihood and ability to work in safe and respectful environments remains at stake. I look forward to continuing to share how organizations can remove the barriers that persistently hold women of color back.
Make sure everyone on your team feels safe to challenge ideas, fail, and try again: It is every leader’s responsibility to foster a sense of psychological safety — a shared belief that any team member will feel comfortable about taking interpersonal risks. Leaders can begin by modeling the right behaviors: openly admitting mistakes and giving candid feedback. To build trust, mutual understanding and respect, thoughtfully curate conversations where you listen, share in the vulnerability, and respond with words and actions.
Repair damage when it happens: When, for example, a racially or LGBTQ-charged incident occurs, respond transparently and take action. Do so by openly revisiting your organizational values, admitting where there is distance from them, and reconfirming an organizational commitment to upholding your values. Don’t make those most harmed, even if not directly impacted by a particular incident, have to do the emotional and intellectual work of “solving the problem.” Now more than ever, leaders need to show capacity to be called in, admit failure points, and speak to the work they will undertake individually and as an organization to break down the systems that marginalize and oppress their employees.
Do not exclude disability when building in diversity, equity and inclusion practices: Our organizations and economy are made stronger when all segments of the population are included in the creation of innovative ideas and products. Yet, employment circumstances for the differently abled remains bleak largely because of persistent cultural blind spots, misperceptions and general discomfort with the unknown. You can signal support for differently abled employees beyond a corporate statement on your website or a federally mandated initiative. For example, when hiring and onboarding new employees, ensure that your recruiting and hiring teams conduct safe and well-informed conversations about your new employees’ needs and the available accommodations designed to ensure they succeed.
Proper identification is critical to engender a sense of belonging: Create the conditions for all people, including trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals, to feel seen, respected and be correctly identified by asking “what are your pronouns?” at, at a minimum, key early stages in the employee cycle: screening, hiring, and onboarding. Explain to your employees why these practices are important and equip them with the knowledge and tools to treat everyone with dignity and respect. Other tips? Don’t make assumptions about which bathrooms someone will use; and review your system’s identification requirements when, for example, flying a candidate in for an interview - legal names may be different for some.
Ask better questions: Do the work to find out how your employees really feel. Ask your people if they feel safe, valued and respected in the workplace. Ask them what their biggest obstacles are to achieving their aspirations, and then ask them what you can do to help remove obstacles for their success. It’s about having the courage to ask questions centered on your employees’ experiences and aspirations, some of which you might not want to hear the answers to, and then taking action.
Let’s turn years of research, testing of ideas, complex and emotionally heavy work, and increasing demand for safe, fair and equitable workplaces into a reality. The future of work is now and it is defined by an integrated focus on diversity, inclusive cultures with a sense of belonging, equitable benefits and fair policies. I’m all in.