Developing leadership that builds diversity, equity, inclusion is a learning process
| August 02, 2018
An inclusive leader takes their best practice and inclusion mindset with them wherever they work. While we most often hear about inclusion, diversity and culture in corporations, good leadership is also found in higher education, health care and other industries.
I recently spoke with Terri Givens, provost of Menlo College in California, about how she came to be seen as an inclusive leader.
"Being open-minded is essential to being inclusive. Just because I’m African-American doesn’t mean I know all about diversity and inclusion. Some people still think that people of color are automatically inclusive. That’s not true. We can still be discriminatory. There was a time when I wasn’t thinking of all the dimensions of diversity beyond race. We need to be more conscious of areas like neurodiversity so we can help everyone learn," Givens said.
I asked her about specific practices she employs as a leader to create inclusion.
"I make sure that we have a diverse pool of candidates and that we don’t just hire one person from a particular group. If diversity and inclusion is important to us we need to hire more than just one woman, or more than just one black person. We want to bring people in, and have them feel part of a group and a community. Everyone has a mentor who helps new people feel welcome, understand the norms and makes sure they don’t get lost in the shuffle"
"If you want people to be successful, you can’t just hire them, and then leave them alone. If they don’t feel part of a community, they’ll get lost."
This is true for every type of organization and industry. I often help my clients create formal processes to integrate new people into their culture, and train people to be new-hire ambassadors.
Having a more formal process ensures that everyone gets the right information, has a point person to introduce them to other employees and answer their questions. When new employees are made to feel welcome from their first interview, to their first day and beyond, they are more likely to share great ideas, feel invested in their success within the organization, and want to stay with you.
Terri shared that when she was the only black person where she worked, she felt isolated. As a leader, she strongly supports having centers on campus where people from different backgrounds can go and feel comfortable, while being part of and contributing to the larger community.
Sometimes it’s the seemingly small, every day practices that make a big difference in how people feel and their ability to contribute fully.
When I asked her about her every day practices, she said, "I try an example of inclusion. Every day, I sit at a different table during lunch. I ask people for their ideas and I really listen to what they say. I want people to know that they are heard and that I see them."
No matter what size or type of organization you lead, delegating inclusion to one department and not taking responsibility doesn’t work.
Sustainable inclusion leadership is a process, not an event or potluck.
It takes introspection
Know what inclusion means to you, and assess your every day practices. Are there people you’re not engaging? Are there people you haven’t noticed before that may not feel as though they belong?
Think of times when you’ve felt included and how that impacted your behavior and your productivity. What made you feel included?
Think of a time you felt out of place and excluded. What made you feel that way and how did it impact your ability to do your best work, take risks, and participate?
The reason for inclusion and exclusion is not the same for everyone. For some it may be because of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. For others, it may be because they were new and no one welcomed them, or they didn’t go to the same school as everyone else.
What’s most important is the way inclusion and exclusion make people feel and the impact on their potential, and contributions to the organization.
Take an informal poll
Ultimately you won’t know what helps people feel included and able to do their best work until you ask them.
Every inclusive leader I’ve interviewed in the last 27 years has told me they spend time talking to people in the organization at every level. They take the time to engage with people they don’t know.
They are curious about differences and are willing to go out of their comfort zone and talk with people. They listen and make adjustments to the culture when it will help support diversity, equity and inclusion. They listen and give feedback because they know beyond valuing inclusion as a human need, it’s necessary to build and sustain a great organization.
In today’s global work world, where people are always busy interacting with others across the globe or across the room, the best leaders intentionally practice inclusion.
It’s counterintuitive, but they slow down, take the time to see and interact with their employees, especially those that don’t look like them. They greet everyone from the hourly employees to people on their own team.
When you show your employees you care, take time to listen even when you are overwhelmed and want to rush to the next “big thing,” they’ll have your back, work harder and help you lighten your workload.
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