“The future doesn’t just happen- people create it through their action, or actions today” according to The World Futurist Society. 

If you are a leader, you probably want to be your best self when it comes to creating high performing teams where people can feel empowered and like they belong, regardless of who they are. But, often the demanding focuses of the day job can suppress the best of intentions and actions in this space. Ever wondered how to fix this?

Let’s start with why diversity and inclusion seems to be the slowest, toughest and least integrated part of most businesses.

Close to twenty five years ago in 1996, Robin Ely and David Thomas wrote an article in HBR called “Making Differences Matter” —outlining three paradigms or approaches to diversity. This is possibly the best single piece of work for companies to follow as a “how to” for creating a learning culture for effectiveness in all areas, and specifically diversity. Ely and Thomas themselves know their “learning and effectiveness paradigm” was not implemented, to the detriment of the theme, and patiently explained again to the world what needs to be done in their latest paper in November 2020 called “Getting Serious about Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case”.

The approach that they so accurately describe is to create a learning organization, meaning —in my opinion and in plain language— do the right work, not some pretend moral endeavor which is supposed to lie in ethics, which only some are compelled by, and only to some degree even with the best of intentions. Also, stop approaching representation as counting or hiring two of each type onto Noah’s Ark, thinking you have to be a giraffe to sell to a giraffe.

Lastly, they rightfully point out to stop the fallacies of women being magical unicorns who make share prices rise alone due to their presence on boards and instead: understand the work, make mistakes and learn, integrate the work. Rinse and repeat.

Adding to this, I would say stop categorically believing women’s networks or other ERGs (employee resource groups) can take the place of a systemic change rooted in behavioral change—which needs everyone to buy in and change. Having a strategic network is different from being part of an ERG that wants to do philanthropy or overlooks the fact that it has no real authority or power, as it’s not inside the hiring or promotion discussions for every person in the firm, where the changes that actually need to happen for real outcomes take place. Lobby for change, educate and gather —as ERG’s are good for some things— but know what they are there for, and align goals and resources accordingly!

Here are 3 areas to consider on your leadership journey to grow into the leader you want to be:

#1 Know yourself

Start with you and understanding your styles and preferences regarding work. You can recognize that others have a different style to you, once you see styles for what they are and how they show up in communications, learning and thinking. How do you uncover your style? The fastest way is to work with a good executive coach who specializes in executive and leadership development, as opposed to straight career coaching.

But, if you don’t have access to that type of resource, then ask yourself: what are your style preferences when it comes to communicating and being communicated with? Are you direct and candid or do you prefer to couch your requests in sentences where the audience can hear a gentler message, sometimes amongst other messages? We are all different and there are many free versions of Myers Briggs and other great tools free online to start, such as SCARF (the neuro-leadership institute) and Emotional Agility report by Dr. Susan David. The Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) is not expensive and comes with a full explanation of how you learn and apply knowledge. Curious souls on their development journey will benefit.

We are all somewhat beholden to how we were raised in our families and societies, unless we have taken the time to disrupt that – which you can start doing today by reading Immunity to Change. Doing this with a coach, or even by yourself, will help you to understand what is stopping you from reaching goals in any sense, including D&I ones.

# 2 Take time to know others

Some cultures find it quite impolite to just ask and other cultures find it weird not to say what’s on your mind. Some people might not comply with what you culturally assume they might, so rule number one is don’t assume anything.

Regardless of which schools of thought you buy into, or where you were brought up, or the body and skin you were born into, the psychology of inclusion and high performance are the same. Simply put, nobody likes to have grind or experience hindrances and barriers in doing their job and everyone wants psychological safety. We are exploring what it means to speak up safely.

Personality-based theory from behavioral and organizational psychologists would argue that all behavior is a function of your personality (traits, that are mostly intrinsic), times or reactive to the environment you are operating in. So, if you are a less-than-calm type, stress and certain work cultures will accentuate your excitability for example and can seem volatile. We know that certain people are judged more harshly for anger in the workplace than others, with Serena Williams punished for expressing something that Novak and all the men readily get endorsed for as part of an aggressive champion brand à la John McEnroe.

Instruments like the Hogan, which you may have done via a coach or a training session, will tell you these things. For inclusion, this plays out in many ways including, for some, a skepticism when people don’t walk the talk which makes diversity fatigue kick in, or else an overly diligent approach under stress to stick to outdated playbooks because historically things were done a certain way and status quo is a safer path.

Know where you are honestly at on your own journey. Take an audit of what life experiences you have had, what exposure and connection you have had to people different from yourself. Be compassionate about it, as it is a journey and about building trust and forgiveness for ourselves and others. In a recent Pew survey about cancel culture, the highest amount of respondents believed that context is the most important factor to understanding past behaviors. We can give people room to learn and adapt and grow, educate not punish.

Take the time to ask people who they are including. Straight white men are not a homogenous group either, just as all women or LGBTQ or Asian or African Americans/Black people are not the same. We are individuals, so the career advice here is to ask questions so that people can tell and show you who they really are, what their work styles are and where their interests lie as it pertains to projects. Just because you met one person of color once or a gay cousin, doesn’t mean you know them all, we are not a melded persona and the color of one’s skin or who they take to dinner doesn’t dictate their thinking or work preferences in any way, so just ask open questions to learn more. I am spelling it out here, but are brains are wired to evaluate and label and to override. We think we have seen the movie and how it ends before, when we haven’t.

#3 Know the cultural norms in your firm

How does work get done around here? Who gets rewarded and why (which behaviors) and what is not tolerated? It is key to understand the general ocean you are swimming in and the direction of the currents to truly leverage systems, programs and processes that can help you positively impact culture and succeed in being a change leader. Going from status quo to a new world of meritocracy is a change project. Who are your allies? And who can you form coalitions with to create a more positive inclusive culture where people get to thrive, not just survive?

Start today. The journey is worth it and a leadership one. Anything less demotivates talented people, discredits true high team performance and denies the reality of the world around you. Build trust.

by Nicki Gilmour, CEO and Founder, Evolved People (theglasshammer.com)

If you want to be a leader, work with Nicki Gilmour – Founder of theglasshammer.com , organizational and leadership coach this summer. Book here for a free exploratory session and then decide if you want to commit to a six session pack for $2,200 this year.