Many organizations work on rooting out unconscious bias with good intentions, but this can make it harder to foster cultures where people can build collaborative relationships across gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual divides.
That’s the view of Sally Helgesen, who has spent 35 years working with women around the world to advance their careers and is described in Forbes as the world’s premier expert on women’s leadership. Here, she tells us more.
Diversity is not a goal. It is the nature of the global talent pool. It defines who is available for hire. Inclusion is the means by which this talent pool is most effectively led because those who have historically been outside the leadership mainstream are those most likely to be unsure that they belong.
First, inclusive bias training seeks primarily to address people’s thoughts. It can provide insights but rarely offers a path for moving forward by identifying specific actions or behaviors demonstrating inclusion. It’s mostly ‘aha’ moments, without the ‘now what?’.
Second, it can be very painful and discouraging for people to hear what their colleagues may be thinking or know the details of their family’s bias against people like them. This therapeutic model may be helpful to the individuals who gain insights, but it does not serve collegiality among team members.
Visibility is a major trigger. People who are poor at gaining visibility, claiming their achievements, and being noticed are often triggered by those who are good at it, dismissing them as showboats and telling themselves a story about how nice they are. Those who are good at visibility are often triggered by those who are not, dismissing them as not being players, not ready for prime time. Other key triggers include the words ‘it’s not fair’ and humor, communication styles and how we build and leverage our networks.
A key inclusive behavior is investing in colleagues’ development: finding out what they aspire to, identifying how you might help them, and asking what you can do to be of service. Suggest networks they might want to join, offer to introduce them to people and be on the lookout for honors or awards for which you might nominate them.
It’s also helpful to look beyond the usual suspects when inviting people to a meeting: who might benefit from being included? Who might learn from attending? Seat them in the center, the front of the room, or at the table instead of putting them in the back, as often happens.
Honor people’s time, making it clear that you know they are busy and avoid overloading them with extra work. Push back against robotic bureaucracy requests that can consume frustrating hours for employees. Remember Peter Drucker’s rule that a manager’s first job is always managing up: protecting people from unreasonable demands that float down from higher levels.
Create a culture where people are comfortable asking for help or clarification by doing so yourself. Be honest and frank about what you do not know.
Your credibility is not vested in having all the answers but in whether people believe what you say. You also want to make sure that when mistakes are made, you identify the lessons that can help move everyone forward. Above all, avoid a culture of blame.
Before the millennium, senior leaders (female, people of color) often hesitated about joining employee networks because they feared doing so would tag them as, for example, “a woman, not a leader.” This reluctance has mostly vanished.
I have observed substantial and sustained progress since the year 2000. Global companies today recognize the reality of a diverse workforce and have, for the most part, made significant adjustments to their policies, increased funding for diversity, equality, and inclusion initiatives, and are far more likely to hold leaders to account for progress. Many have adjusted how they assess performance and identify candidates for promotion in ways that root out biases that were formerly unrecognized.
There is still room for improvement, however, but by applying the principles in my book, companies can elevate their inclusion game and create a workforce that exemplifies solidarity rather than division.
Sally’s latest book, Rising Together: How We Can Bridge Divides and Create a More Inclusive Workplace, suggests strategies to build more inclusive relationships, teams, and workplaces and is available in all leading bookstores.Read it here