As a business owner, and more importantly, a leader in the eyes of your employees as well as the rest of the world. You are the role-model for any positive change you wish to see in your own workplace and among your staff. While you’re busy doing your best to run your company successfully and to ensure proper workload distribution. You might be fostering a workplace environment that isn’t really all that inclusive in nature.
What does “inclusive” mean, exactly? In the business world, inclusivity is not just a footnote in the contract that states you hire with equality in mind. It’s a mindset, and a culture that brings people together, makes everyone feel valued and appreciated and makes it possible for people of all skillsets, genders, ethnicities, and ages to thrive under a single roof. It’s not enough to simply have a policy, you need to build a culture and hire people who live by these values.
Now, as a leader, it’s up to you to imbue your workplace, your brand, your hiring practices, and your entire organization with the desire to foster and cherish diversity in all of its forms. Here are a few ways you can achieve that in your role as the leader.
Recognize your own bias
You cannot expect yourself to spot or effectively treat bias in the workplace when you have your own issues that you haven’t’ dealt with. Unconscious bias is somewhat of a frequent issue among leaders today. You should not take your position for granted and simply assume that you have no bias to speak of. That’s the very first assumption, at the base of all other assumptions, that can actually let bias fester in your workplace for years.
Leaders are prone to analyzing the behavior of others around them without looking closely at how they behave or how they think. Before you start randomly assigning qualities or expectations to people in your organization, start assessing your own inherent ideas that might be hindering the process. Bias is often disguised as categorization that helps us make decisions more efficiently. Second-guess your first impressions and your assumptions, and you’ll be on the right way to eliminate your own bias and base your decisions on merit, data, and actual expectations.
Embrace the learning curve
Real leaders know that they don’t know. You don’t know what it means to work in a wheelchair in your office, or if a person with Asperger’s can thrive alongside your colleagues. Not unless you’ve actually been in those shoes, and few leaders have (which is another perfect example of how bias drives our decision-making in choosing leaders who somehow predominantly end up being tall, white males). Since you likely don’t know, as a leader, you should exhibit curiosity to learn.
Working with organizations such as atWork Australia can help leaders discover hiring opportunities for workers with disabilities, and to transform their work environment to meet the needs of a more diverse workforce. They can also help with employee integration, which is yet another learning opportunity for you in all of your hiring efforts so that each and every employee to come to your door can feel welcome and have all the support they need to succeed under your wing.
Fostering workplace transparency
Are all of your employees happy to share their opinions during meetings, lunch breaks, or when you see them in the hallway? Do you know they regularly exchange ideas and have healthy debates on all things related to your business? Too many companies empower one or two select groups of employees – the extrovert, assertive ones who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and the ones in management roles who always have something to say.
What about the note-taker, the new girl, or the guy who always sits in the back? True collaboration can only be possible when all minds are willing to join and share, and if you don’t provide the right environment for such exchanges, you’ll always deal with the idea of collaboration without the real deal. Maybe not everyone likes to speak up in a room full of people. Offer alternative ways for your employees to be heard. Think outside the box and foster collaboration through transparency.
An inquisitive mindset
We all have errors of judgment. Now that you know and are able to recognize your own bias, it’s time to take the next step and actually start learning in order to avoid making more baseless assumptions. Now, this is not a strategy any leader can implement and then abandon. It’s a mindset and it requires consistent, unwavering dedication and perseverance.
Continuously look for ways to learn about your employees through engaging questions, meaningful conversations, inclusive action in and outside of meetings, active listening, and of course, regular feedback exchange. By taking charge of this situation, you’ll finally admit to your own shortcomings as a leader – and that is the only way to move forward and make room for diversity and inclusivity in your workplace. Only when you hold yourself accountable can you actually start learning about all the ways you can make a difference for the people in your organization and those who’ve never, until now, had the chance to work with you.
Leadership is so much more than inspiring innovation, spotting talented individuals, and being a hands-on boss. The role of the leader comes with a slew of responsibilities, one of which is the promise of diversity. Build your role as one that empowers an inclusive workplace, and you’ll effectively become a better leader for it.