Diversity With or Without InclusionDiversity & Inclusion Monday, March 5th, 2012
Diversity With or Without Inclusion
Each morning we expect to see colleagues arriving at the office wearing dark, neutral attire. In order to fit in with the rest of the staff, we dress ourselves in this conservative style as well. The need to belong and be a member of this successful group of people is a very strong one.
Women who dress distinctly feminine have a tough time advancing out of the secretarial pool. Women who are successful tend to dress more like the conservative men they work with. Making exceptions for a few creative industries, the corporate uniform we all wear reinforces our belief that the workforce is a homogenous place. In reality it in fact is not at all.
To progress or even survive, we need fit in with the mainstream. We stifle our individuality for the sake of being a member of the larger group. We learn to keep our opinions to ourselves. The higher we climb in our organizations, the more alike everyone looks.
Are People All the Same?
When we leave our offices and look around, we see that people on the street are unique and different. Personal tastes in clothing styles are all very diverse. People do very different things outside of the 9 to 5 daily working day segment.
In reality, our offices are composed of a multitude of unique styles and personalities. Our organizations are composed of an incredibly diverse collection of people who act very similar during office hours but are otherwise very unique individuals.
I’ll explain why in a minute, but the first step to a successful diversity and inclusion program is the personal acknowledgement that the teams in our offices are composed of a diverse range of professionals. It should be obvious that this is a good thing, and I’ll talk about that later too.
Joining the Mainstream Club
People who are outside the mainstream, (those who are diverse) realize that the “playing field” in the office is slanted against them. Whether these people are women, handicapped, members of a religious minority, LGBT, age disadvantaged or have skin of a different color, they all have a certain degree of awareness and identification with this minority group.
This awareness that they are not genuine members of the mainstream group is a continuous reminder that corporate life is a bit more challenging for them: after all, they’re different from those that control the power.
Fitting in with the mainstream is a requirement for business success, but it’s not easy for everyone to do. The clothes we wear in the office are the most visible evidence of this need to conform. The need to behave and look like or to actually be a member of the mainstream is a requirement for business success. Those who aren’t genuine members of the mainstream will spend quite a bit of energy and time trying to appear that they are. This is energy that they can’t allocate to doing their jobs as well as they’d like.
What Do We Want from Our Staff?
As leaders, we all want our team members to give 100% of their efforts. But for the members of the six groups I just mentioned, the give and take equation is unbalanced. These people think: the boss wants my 100%, but there are important parts of me that I can’t acknowledge or discuss in the office. I don’t feel respected for who I really am.
Maslow figured out 50 years ago that people want to feel appreciated, respected and belong to a group. How can women feel respected professionally if there are only a few women at senior levels in the organization? What does the absence of religious minorities and handicapped people in senior management tell those members of our teams? People outside of the mainstream group think: the chance of my climbing the corporate ladder here and being included in the company’s success is low. But my boss wants me to contribute 100%! This doesn’t seem fair. I’m confused….
Balancing the Equation
To really engage staff and get the 100% that we seek, we need to send the message to all members of our team that we respect and appreciate the efforts of everyone. As a gay man, I don’t need to have a seat in the C-Suite, but I want at least to see that there is a gay man at that level. Then I will see that the company treats people fairly and with respect, and I will give my 100%.
To get all that we want from our staff, we must respect them. To gain their respect, we must acknowledge their uniqueness and show them that we’ve balanced the equation.
If you’re used to everyone looking the same, this transition may feel a bit uncomfortable at first. After a while you’ll come to enjoy the diversity that actually exists in the workplace.
Once we recognize the diversity on our teams, the 800 pound gorilla suddenly disappears. When people feel they don’t have to edit their conversations, they can then channel this energy into giving 100% of their muscle to building the company.
The Death of the “Yes-Man”
Once we’ve gotten 100% of the creative energy of our staff, we need to leverage it. When people feel that their uniqueness is respected, they will reallocate their energy from trying to look like a member of the mainstream club into being innovative and giving their 100%.
Having a diversity of team members can help us figure out how to exploit niche markets – this is the low hanging fruit. But this is only the beginning of the productivity that gets unleashed when people feel respected and welcomed.
The nicest part about having a successful corporate D&I program is that when the staff get that eventual call from a recruiter, they’re much less likely to take it. Who wants to give up a good thing?
By: Robin Adams – Regional Head of Diversity Programs, Stanton Chase International Hong Kong.