As workforces continue to get more diverse, leaders must be increasingly purposeful in designing fair and equitable workplaces. Research shows that leaders are more likely to hire individuals that they identify as being like them (1). In addition, leaders are more likely to give raises and promotions to individuals of their same gender (1). This is a factor in the underpaying of women, and the lack of diversity at the top of most organizations. Cultures influenced by similarity biases based on gender, race, age, sexual preference, ethnicity, or religion leave minority groups feeling like they must work twice as hard to get a head. This can lead to burnout, employee turnover and employee disengagement. For companies to get more out of their work force, they must put energy against reducing similarity bias that create barriers for the advancement of minority groups. Minority members of organizations would contribute more value to organizations if they received similar levels of recognition, rewards, and development as their majority member counterparts. The act of improving inclusion creates the opportunity for all employees to have equal access to resources, information, and personal development. This positions companies to benefit from more employees being engage in value creation. Building a more inclusive workplace starts with leaders being aware of their biases and taking purposeful action to be fair and consistent in their interactions with employees.
The first step to building a more inclusive workplace is to evaluate how you are spending your time.
Time is our scarcest resources, and often our biases impact who we spend time with. During my time leading teams, I would periodically audit the amount of time I spent interacting with my direct reports. By reviewing the amount of time, I spent with employees, along with the frequency of phone calls, text messages and emails, I was able to get a good picture of who I was interacting with the most. With this information, I could identify any biases in my behavior, and take purpose action to shift how I was spending my time.
The second step to building a more inclusive workplace is to be curious.
When you take the time to connect with people on a personal level, you build empathy. Empathy is the glue the keeps people together. You can fight the impact of race, age, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and religion similarity biases by being curious about people. When you take the time to learn about people’s values, dreams, character, and passions you will find that you have a lot in common with those you work with, even if they are physically different from you or come from different background. By being curious, and asking people questions, you communicate to others that you care about who they are and that you see them. By going deeper, and really getting to know people, you build the foundation for trust and inclusion.
The final suggestion for building a more inclusive workplace is to solicit feedback.
Your perception does not define another person’s reality. The best way to identify if you are creating an inclusive workplace is to ask those that you work with how you are doing at making everyone feel like a valued member of the team. To get candor, it is critical that you take action to let people know that you genuinely care about creating an inclusive work environment. You accomplish this by following the first two steps of allocating your time fairly and being curious. These actions set the stage for you to build trust which is a prerequisite for candor. Once you establish trust, those you work with will be more likely to be candid with you. When you ask your team their impression of inclusion in your workplace, you must listen and suspend judgement. Everyone’s experience is different and the purpose of you asking is not to influence their opinion, but to seek their perspective. Once you get feedback, it is critical that you take steps to help the individual feel more included.
I remember a conversation with a direct report that shared with me that she felt that I gave preferential treatment to her male co-workers that I occasionally went to happy hour with. As a mother she prioritized going home after work to spend time with her family, over meeting at a local spot and talking business with her peers and her boss. Prior to talking with her, I was unconscious of the unlevel playing field I was creating. Her peers had an extra 2 to 4 hours a month interacting with me which did influence my awareness of their work, along with providing them with the opportunity to receive incremental coaching from me. Her point was 100% valid. By me meeting with a portion of my team and without her being included, I was eroding trust and providing special treatment. She was the only one courageous enough to say anything, but her opinion was shared by other members of the team that also prioritized other non-work-related activities over happy hour. To address her concerns, I significantly reduced the frequency of these outings, along with the duration of time I spent in after hour activities with direct reports. As I matured as a leader, and gained more sensitivity around inclusion, I eventually eliminated most non-work-related socializing with direct reports to create a more level playing field.
The fact is that changing behaviors and norms within a company takes time and resources which raises the business question of whether companies should invest in building more inclusive workforces. There was a time when the leaders perceived the workforce to be so homogenous that companies had little reason to allocate time on inclusion efforts. The culture of organizations was so strong, that they could pressure individuals to conform. In addition, during that time periods employees’ perception of work were different. Previous generations expected to work for one company their entire life which made them more willing to go along to get along. As the workforce grows in diversity, and employees’ expectations around work change, companies risk losing talent if they do not focus on being inclusive. Employees today are more willing to leave their place of employment if they feel like they do not fit in, do not see equity in their treatment or feel that they are not getting a fair opportunity to advance their careers. As more females, people of color, English as a second language and LGBTQIA workers enter the American workforce, organizations must evolve, and leaders must work to connect with individuals that on the surface might look, speak, or act different from them. We are all human beings and share more in common than we differ. Leaders must take the time to get to know the people they work with and be purposeful in being inclusive.
Dorian Cunion is an Executive Business Coach with your Path Coaching and Consulting. He specializes in coaching service for managers, executives and small business owner.
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Grant, G. (August 7th, 2018). Similar-To-Me Bias: How Gender Affects Workplace Recognition. Forbes. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/georginagrant/2018/08/07/similar-to-me-bias-how-gender-affects-workplace-recognition/?sh=51e35f8e540a