Key Ways to Recharge Diversity – by Tasnim McCormick Benhalim and Terry Howard

As we connect with diversity thought leaders and listen to the perspectives of employees at all levels, we’re reminded that the decades-long diversity and inclusion journey has reached a critical point. Important progress has been made, but major gaps remain across communities and workplaces.

There’s public support for diversity in virtually all sectors. Yet, this support is counterbalanced with a sense of private suspicion and caution in many circles. Others, including progressive-minded leaders fully committed to the inclusion process, have expressed feeling stuck and unsure what to do next to have long-term, strategic and meaningful impact.

But the reality in our times, in which communities and workplaces increasingly are becoming more diverse, is that the what, so what and now what of diversity are not going away. The numbers are compelling as revealed in recent research conducted by The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

And the call to action is clear.

Organizations that answer the call and identify the right solutions to fit their needs will have a winning advantage. What’s needed isn’t a generic, negative silo mind-set of “us versus them” and assigning blame. It’s a positive approach to grow, accomplish goals and achieve success custom tailored to meet each organization’s needs.

Competing to survive and thrive in the global economy – whether the arena is business, nonprofit, academia or government – requires strategies to open the windows on inclusion, which will remove suspicion and enlarge the circles to invite everyone to the table.

To push the diversity and inclusion momentum in this direction, we see three key areas in which organizations can create the greatest impact on their people and the organizations’ success: engaging and retaining talent, recognizing and developing leaders with an inclusive mind-set – especially middle managers – and recognizing and addressing unconscious bias. All three areas are explained below.

Engaging, retaining talent

Many organizations have put effort into recruiting diverse talent – some with more success than others. But a question that often arises is how to use the talent to best benefit the organization and its people.

Establishing a work environment where the majority of employees perceive no barriers, real or imagined, to their full participation in achieving the organization’s goals, requires more than just bringing people in the door. It takes leaders with passion and knowledge to create trusting, inclusive workplaces that value, respect and engage the rich diversity of cultures, skills, perspectives, abilities and life experiences present within modern teams.

This dynamic approach includes and builds upon traditional models of cultural competency to the larger scale of cultural agility – the ability to perceive and respond effectively to nuanced experiences and situations. We call this Translating Diversity with Cultural Agility™. Our baseline tool is the 7 Key Practices of Cultural Agility™ – a model that invites everyone to step up, lean in and engage authentically.

Developing leaders with an inclusive mind-set

This area is critical, specifically because of changing demographics and a gap in the management and leadership pipeline. Emphasis should be placed on untapped talent, middle management and those who traditionally may not have aligned with diversity and inclusion efforts.

Leaders with the essential skills of cultural agility will be well placed to build effective teams and the networks to develop the leadership pipeline for future decades.

The ability to connect and relate across diverse lines and the openness to embrace nonjudgmental and different viewpoints are two examples of cultural agility skills. People with these skills create welcoming environments that encourage learning, creativity, respect, team cohesion and high productivity.

Recognizing, addressing unconscious bias

Unconscious bias, also known as “hidden bias,” is an unintentional, automatic predisposition or attitude that influences perceptions and behaviors. It affects everyone and subtly drives our assessments of people based on perceptions and assumptions.

Helping leaders recognize, address and interrupt unconscious bias can go a long way in leveling the playing field in the workplace. Unconscious bias in leaders and managers is the natural, often unintentional tendency to favor people who are just like them, think like them, or have common backgrounds, skill sets, interests or affiliations.

For example, a leader who consistently gives critical, high-visibility assignments to a couple of “go-to” team members who sync with the leader in one or more ways is likely creating tension and frustration for other team members who are just as capable and experienced as the go-to favorites but “different” from the leader.

Team leaders who develop solid working relationships with only a few members of their work groups, risk sending the message of exclusion to the rest. They also are not building trust with the people they are excluding, and a lack of trust is not good for any team.

Everyone plays a role

Leaders and managers represent important pieces of the puzzle, but so does everyone else. Wherever you are in the organization, you play a role in helping to create an atmosphere where you and your colleagues feel included and able to pursue all of the opportunities the organization offers.

The bottom line: Who wants to be excluded, ignored, passed over or minimized? Not you. Not us. And it’s safe to say no one.

Everyone needs to be at the table, but how do we get everyone there? By continuing the journey with as much determination as before, a renewed sense of purpose and fresh takes on sharing the wealth that mutual respect, consideration and appreciation bring to us all.

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