I’ve been thinking about writing a blog on diversity for a while now, but wasn’t certain how I would approach it. The loss of Maya Angelou and the legacy she left behind has inspired me to give it a try.
In the consulting work that we do, diversity comes up on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes its companies working to increase diversity and drive inclusion, other times it’s resolving the issues that can arise when individuals don’t embrace the diversity of the people around them. In any case, it can be a difficult conversation to have.
To help with that, we’ve come up with a couple of key recommendations for successfully creating an inclusive work environment:
• Assume people are unique: Personalities and behaviors transcend any age, ethnicity, or gender. No two people are exactly alike, even if they look the same, regardless of what stereotypes or biases you may have.
• Differences are good: It’s easy to feel threatened by someone’s beliefs. Instead, think of those differences as learning opportunities. If I believe in X and you believe in Y, that should be the start of a thought provoking conversation, not the basis for a fight or to put up your guard. At the end of the day, I get to choose what I will believe and what I won’t.
• When in doubt, ask: If you’re not certain about someone’s preferences, ask. It’s much easier to plan for your friendly vegetarian before the event than it is after the food has been delivered to your remote location.
• Be approachable: If others are comfortable coming to you, it will go a long way towards heading off conflicts. Most differences are easily accommodated if people are comfortable expressing them to you.
• Drive authentic inclusion: As leaders, it is your responsibility to create an inclusive environment where all team members are comfortable sharing their opinions and ideas. Problem solving and creative endeavors are always more effective with a diverse team.
In a recent training program, I was fortunate enough to have two parents of twins in the room at the same time. So I asked them how similar the personalities of their twins were. Their response? Completely different. When it comes to demographics, you can’t get much closer than twins. And that’s what keeps life interesting. After all, think how boring it would be if we were all the same?
A key thing to remember is that everyone is different in some way or another. Differences are good and offer a variety of opinions and ideas based on varied life experiences and approaches to situations.
So my challenge to you is to ask yourself, how diverse and inclusive is my organization? If it is not, you are probably losing out on some valuable resources and big opportunities. Having an inclusive environment is a competitive advantage which can set you apart from your competitors.