Several years ago, I was lucky to have a business trip that took place at a resort in Puerto Rico. Poor me, right?
Nope. It was definitely not rough. While I did enjoy the work and my trip, one of the most valuable things I learned during that experience was from a coworker. When introducing himself to our client, he gave his work credentials and mentioned the accolades he’d received. And then went on to talk about his areas of passion, which include cooking, art and traveling with his wife. He explained that only by bringing our entire selves to everything we do can we be our most authentic and successful selves, both individually and in partnership with others. This was mind-blowing for me. In my previous positions at other companies, personal and work did not only not collide, mixing the two was discouraged. At work, we were to speak about ourselves based on our skills and accomplishments to engender trust and confidence in our coworkers and clients. And while I did have friends in my previous workplaces, I didn’t know the “whole selves” of the people I worked with every day, nor did I ever become fast friends with clients like I do now.
Today, I thoughtfully consider how all my experiences and passions apply to what I do at work, not just my professional experience. It’s refreshing to be encouraged and valued for being my whole self without spending energy on compartmentalizing.
What does this have to do with diversity and inclusion in the workplace? When our colleagues don’t feel safe or fear retribution or don’t feel heard, or valued, they can’t bring their whole and authentic selves to work. It can even be a struggle to bring their “work” selves, let alone their “personal” selves; and, we all lose. When people don’t share all of themselves, they can’t be wholly embraced. Their colleagues and teammates aren’t getting the full value of what they can bring to the work they do, either. And, organizations aren’t achieving full value for compensation. Is that the employee’s fault? Absolutely not. Much can be said about the systems in place that have resulted in outcomes such as this, but much can also be done to change and fix them.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if all employees felt safe, included, valued, and embraced? If all employees worked together to achieve amazing outcomes? If all employees could bring their whole and authentic selves to their job every day? If your organization isn’t achieving its full potential with regard to diversity and inclusion, you’re not committed to staying stuck forever. There are several things your leaders can do to help ensure people feel comfortable in showcasing their true selves within your hallways. Here are a few ways to emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion today:
The saying goes: “Know Better, Do Better.” Some people just haven’t been in a situation to learn what biases they have or how they impact those around them. And then other employees do know and don’t care. If a company focuses on this education, employees can see that the company is invested in making an inclusive workplace and that it believes in helping employees to become better versions of themselves. For the employees who don’t care, this education may provide that inflection point to realize it might be time to move on. Tackling implicit bias and inclusion is a journey, but one that must start sometime.
Consider how you advertise your positions and the graphics used to solicit candidates. Are your descriptions skewed to one employee group over another? Do you highlight your Implicit Bias and Thoughtful Inclusion programs? Do you talk about a culture of family and comradery? Do you include employee stories that encourage authenticity from new hires?
Many companies onboard new employees with at least manager touchpoints. Some companies add in a peer coach, and still others also consider a “sponsor.” The sponsor role might be someone who has similar personal history, or characteristics that facilitate an employee’s ability to have true conversations. The sponsor has the “employee’s back” and in working together, the employee’s success can be amplified. A manager is not always that person; nor is a coach. Making sure the employee has full support for ultimate success is incredibly important and a sponsor can make that happen.
Employees tend to group based on similar experiences, similarities in backgrounds, similar interests, etc. Why not formalize employee resource groups to show company support and to demonstrate that these groups are being heard? Employee resource groups could be focused on the Black experience or LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace, for example. These groups allow safe places for the primary group and their allies to rally and support each other, and for the company to listen and advocate for their employees.
The time is now to make diversity and inclusion in the workplace a priority. If you can help your people feel confident in sharing their whole selves at work, your business is sure to reap the benefits as teams support each other in new ways, new ideas and innovations are surfaced. And, your organization as a whole begins to hum with a new sense of community and engagement. Let’s work together to be our whole selves every day.