While I’ve been directly involved in Inclusion & Diversity work since the 90’s, I have to sadly acknowledge that it seems to have taken a big step backwards in recent years. Why is this? I truly believe that the challenge is in people putting differences first and inclusion is an afterthought. In the work that I partner with clients on, we focus on Inclusion first and Diversity second. If you include everyone first, regardless of their differences, you are more inclined to appreciate the beauty and value of their unique composition. While this sounds overly simple given all of the heartache and extreme negativity that has been playing out in front of us, the basic foundation of it is built on respect and I believe that cannot fail. By genuinely including others in a respectful manner regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status-whatever it is that introduces their differences, you let them in and then you can each be curious about the differences that you share and learn from them. In my experience, there are usually many more similarities rather than differences to consider.
Another way of highlighting differences rather than similarities comes when I’m asked what terms to use when referring to women, men, people of color, etc. In these discussions, it is usually the point of difference that’s highlighted and I simply respond that it’s always best to use the individual’s first name….people like hearing their own name. When in doubt, ask someone if there is a term that they prefer and start the conversation. It can be that simple.
There is clear, scientific evidence that diverse teams out perform teams where the members are more similar. Why? Because diverse teams don’t get in a group think rut and are more active problem solvers focused on an outcome that works for the group. They avoid the pitfalls of similar thinking that constrains other teams and have breakthrough thinking and revelations quicker in the team building process. There is also research that supports the idea that highly engaged cultures at work are more profitable. Highly engaged teams deliver a better customer experience and client satisfaction results in higher profits. It’s a virtual circle of engagement and positive outcomes. So, the bottom-line here is that by treating people in a respectful, inclusive manner and effectively engaging all team members in meaningful work, your business will do better. The really great part is that people on your teams will have more fun delivering exceptional service and results. There will be conflicts at work and inequities that need to be addressed, I’m not unrealistic. I do believe that leading people to engage in a positive manner will net benefits for everyone.