4 Guidelines for Creating an Inclusive Culture at Work
We know that diversity at the workplace is beneficial for a lot of reasons. Diverse teams can generate more creative ideas by bringing their different perspectives together, they are more innovative, get to better results and to higher economic benefits.
Investigations from McKinsey over the last few years (Diversity Matters, 2015; Delivering through Diversity, 2018; Diversity Wins,2020) keep on proving one thing: companies that are gender and ethnically diverse outperform their peers.
But - of course - this can only be truth when teams are capable of managing this diversity in a constructive way!
Normally, our first reaction, when working with people who think differently or who don't behave in our standard way, is to think that they are "strange" and we are "normal". We tend to think that their way of collaborating is not logical, not efficient, complicated, not transparent, exaggerated.
In general, we have the natural tendency to label these different behaviors negatively. For example when someone during a team meeting doesn't participate, I often have heard the conclusion that this person"is not very motivated". When we know more about the background of this team member it might be the case that, for this person, intervening without a direct question is extremely impolite.
How can we work constructively in diverse teams?
Professor A. Sedlovskaya from Harvard Business School created an interesting framework, which she called: The four C's. These four elements can form a basis for constructive and meaningful discussions and idea sharing within your team and make diversity work to your benefit.
When collaborating in diverse teams, one of the important things to do is to replace your tendency to judge for curiosity. Judgments happen automatically, almost without you thinking about it. They are based on your personal background, experience, personality, gender. Like in the example of the colleague not participating during the meetings, it is rather easy to label this in a negative way when you don't know the reason behind it.
Regarding your personal judgments, it is important to ask yourself, "What is influencing my judgments?" It can be very revealing, and often more so about you than about the person you are judging.Your own identity and those of others influence in how you perceive them and how you appraise the information that they are sharing.
When you are aware of that, you can start using your curiosity and investigate about the reasons for the other person to behave or think in a certain way. What's their perspective, what makes their idea interesting, what angle does your colleague use? You can be very surprised by the way people these perspectives can add value to your ideas.
Judgements stop us from listening. Curiosity can bridge the differences and make the conversation interesting.
In a diverse culture, is it important that the team talks about issues candidly, with transparency and honesty. If you are the minority in a group, the easiest way to adapt is to "go with the flow". But probably that doesn't make you happy. Furthermore, the team misses your input and lacks the advantage of the different perspective that you can add.
If everyone speaks up, it is possible that you hear opinions that you have never heard before, or that are drastically different from - or even in direct opposition to - yours. A high level of openness and candor is necessary and expected when we want to make diversity to an advantage for our team.
When we have many different perspectives, it is important that all team members voice these in a respectful way. But apart from voicing these, everyone needs to listen and respond respectfully to those who have different perspectives. If you feel judged, or not listened to, probably next time you will hesitate to share your ideas and important conversations will not happen. At the same time, if we don't know how to say things in a respectful way, we could keep our ideas for ourselves, fearing that we might offend someone.
In all cases, it helps to assume that our colleagues have the best intentions when they are raising different perspectives, opinions or ideas. In a team, to be able to share ideas and perspectives constructively, we have to pursue our intellectual curiosity with kindness and courtesy.
In many situations it takes courage to voice your perspectives, especially when these are very different from what most people in your team think. But unless you speak up, you don't even know who else shares your perspective and supports you.
It as well takes courage, maybe even more, to listen respectfully to opposite perspectives. Especially when a colleague tells you things that are totally in contrast with what you think is normal, reason able, or effective. It takes courage to not start defending your ideas immediately and instead of this listen carefully and say thank you to the other person.Thank you for bringing this up, for trying to make your point of view visible to others and for contributing to the team's performance.
The beauty of diversity is that you might be the only one with a certain kind of view and that when the team supports you to speak up,all these perspectives are shared.
This is what makes diversity work!
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• Diversity and Inclusion: Building Connection and Community in Physical, Online, andHybrid Classrooms. A.Sedlovskaya. HBR, 2020.
• The key to inclusive leadership. J.Bourke & A.Espedido. HBR, 2020.
• Sustaining and strengthening inclusion. D.Ellsworth, R.Imose, et al. McKinsey &Company, 2020.