Everyone knows the saying, “If you build it, they will come,” from the 1989 film Field Of Dreams. Well, the same rule applies to the type of work environment you create, and, as a result, how diverse your team becomes.
Diversity may not happen overnight, but you can be sure that a diverse team means a broader range of perspectives brought to the problem-solving table. When employees feel accepted and comfortable in their workplace, you can expect them to take more chances on out-of-the-box thinking and creativity, not to mention increased productivity.
But you can’t expect your employees to feel safe expressing their identities, and thus their ideas, if you don’t first create an inclusive environment for them. But how do you create a space in which your team feels safe drawing from their unique perspectives?
One way to make your employees feel more visible and heard is through diversity networks, groups that come together based on shared identities, like single moms, veterans, LGBTQ individuals, Asian-Americans, the disabled or Latinx. These networks help individuals support and learn from one another, share resources and discuss the challenges and stereotypes facing this facet of their identity and how to address them. If you’re worried that this could divide the office more than unite it, don’t be. These networks empower individuals to share their experiences with the broader team, allowing everyone to learn from each other.
You also need to make sure you allow opportunities for team members to express themselves. The quickest way to make an employee feel uncomfortable and unaccepted is to have their co-workers interrupt or speak over them. Provide moments for individuals to talk about the projects they are working on, their goals and their struggles.
Diversity training can be helpful in the office. The fact is, everyone has a bias, and it’s usually subconscious. Diversity workshops can be a great way to unpack our biases and privilege. Being able to listen and empathize is a vital skill in any business setting, and will improve not only communication between your employees, but their customer service skills as well. A diversity workshop should not be a lecture, but rather an opportunity for honest conversation and learning.
Institute an open-door policy so that your employees feel safe coming to you and their other bosses about issues of discrimination, sexism, racism, homophobia and more. First and foremost, listen. Don’t invalidate their experiences by immediately questioning them or taking a side in the conflict. This, plus literally keeping your door open as often as possible, will instill a feeling of trust in your office.
Show that diversity is important to you by hiring employees who come from a variety of backgrounds. Your work team should ideally represent the full diversity of your customer base, enabling them to relate and appeal to your clients on a personal level. Representation also works as a strong motivator. When individuals can see themselves in their role models — bosses, podcast guests, interviewees, etc. — they’ll be more likely to imagine higher goals for themselves.
By: Mike Michalowicz