“I don’t know why only the White guys showed up for the team building event. Who doesn’t love paintball?”

 

“Hey, Shawna, we’re trying to be a more diverse organization. Can you make sure you are front and center in all the pictures of our development team?”

 

“Diversity is fine, but we’re not going to look at applicants without a comp sci degree. After all, if it was good enough for Bill Gates…ok, bad example, but still…”

More and more companies are committing to diversity and inclusion efforts. Some are doing it because of the data that diverse companies are more profitable, have higher employee engagement, and are more innovative.

Some are doing it because they feel it is a necessary outgrowth of their company values.

And, let’s be honest, some are just doing it to cover their asses so they don’t face an Uber scandal (See what I did there? I’m always looking for ways to bring dad jokes into my professional life). 

To be effective, however, these efforts must be more than just window dressing. Too often, the message that people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and others hear is, “We really want you on the team, so that you can conform to how we’ve always done things.”

Diversity means welcoming difference

Here’s a secret, diversity means including people who are different. That goes deeper than melanin levels and pronouns. A diverse team includes people with different life stories, family histories, perspectives, communication styles and more.

As African-American marketing pioneer Tom Burrell said, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.” He recognized that the historical, economic, and cultural dynamics within the Black community are different than the White community, and companies need to address these dynamics they want to succeed in engaging with Black audiences.

That’s why you’ll often hear “diversity and inclusion.” The work isn’t just getting a diverse group in the door, it’s creating a culture where everyone can bring their full selves to their work. You don’t just have a mix of people in the room, but you cultivate a sense of belonging.

Brené Brown talks about the difference between “fitting in” and “belonging.” She writes, “fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” 

This is the challenge workplaces–going beyond a “fitting in” culture to a “belonging” culture, especially as the diversity in the workplace increases.

That’s all good and fine, but we have a business to run

Google wanted to understand what makes for successful teams. So they launched Project Aristotle and, in typical Google fashion, they crunched the numbers…all the numbers.

They looked at demographics. They looked at personality traits. They looked at skill sets. They looked at tenure. They dug deep.

What they found was that the biggest predictor of team success was psychological safety, “a belief that a team is safe for risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive. In a team with high psychological safety, teammates feel safe to take risks around their fellow team members. They feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.” 

If you want the most out of your teams, you need to create psychological safety. 

Psychological safety and diversity

Have you ever walked into a room where you are the clear minority? As a White guy, for me this has been visiting Black churches. For many members of those Black churches, it is every day when they go to work.

Regardless if it was last week or last decade, in that space where you were the clear minority you experienced what sociologists call hypervisibility. Even if everyone in the room was super nice and amazingly supportive, every action you took was in a spotlight in the way that wasn’t true for others in the room.

(Hypervisibility is one reason why, as a White guy, I can show up a bit late for a meeting and nobody raises their eyebrows. I’m not usually hypervisible.)

The point is, if you want to create psychological safety (and you do want to if you hope to get the most out of your team), then you need to pay extra attention to creating safety for the people who experience hypervisibility.

This requires a tricky balance–you don’t “solve” hypervisibility by ignoring it but by engaging with diversity. Amy Edmonson and Kathryn Roloff write, “For demographic differences, it is helpful to ensure that the unique perspectives that come with age, gender, race, or cultural background are discussable. Discussion can help people value these differences and see them as resources for the group’s task.”

OK, so what do you want me to do?

1. Listen: As a white, straight, cisgender man, there is so much I don’t see unless someone points it out to me. By listening to women, I started to see how they get cut off in meetings more than men. By listening to transgender people, I learned how important gender neutral bathrooms are. By listening to people of color, I learned to see the lack of diversity in the kids books I was raised on, and how I could do better for my kids. Creating a culture of inclusion in your company demands that you listen to the voices of people outside the dominant culture. This is the first step of accountability.

As you listen, remember that there is a power dynamic at play. If you are a man, it may not feel safe for a woman to give you feedback about your behavior in a meeting. A person of color may worry that she will be stigmatized if she speaks up about dynamics that make her feel excluded. As long as we live in an unequal society, this dynamic isn’t going away–but you can mitigate it by building trust, following through with your actions, and getting feedback from sources outside the chain of command such as books, articles, podcasts, or external advisors. Feel free to drop me a line at chuck@ChangeWorksConsultingLLC.com for a few suggested resources.

2. Start now, (hopefully) before there’s a conflict. You know what’s awkward? Starting a conversation about pronouns right after you’ve hired your first transgender employee (but even that’s not as awkward as not having the conversation after the hire). Every person, every organization has room to grow here, so start now. You will learn things you didn’t know about your team. You will be better prepared as new situations come up. And, by investing in this before there is a conflict, you might just earn a bit of grace if trouble does come up.

3. Create spaces for peer support: Even if you are doing your absolute best at creating a culture of inclusion, there will be things that come up for people outside the dominant culture, whether that’s women, people of color, trans folks, people with disabilities, religious minorities, you get the idea. And even if you win the world’s best ally award, people experiencing these challenges may not feel comfortable processing them with you. That’s why affinity groups (also called employee resource groups) are so important. If you have a big enough organization, you can set them up internally. Or, you can support the work of tech[inclusive].

4. Evaluate hidden messages: Whose pictures are on the walls of your office and on your website? Do you have a comfortable place where mothers can pump or nurse? What does your careers page say about who you expect to recruit? A page that highlights beer and Foosball is speaking to a different audience than one that talks about ample PTO and childcare assistance. 

Sometimes these messages can be very subtle. For example, when undeclared undergraduate students at Stanford University were surveyed about their interest in different majors, women were much less likely to report interest in computer science if they were surveyed in a very “tech/geeky” adorned room. Even though there was nothing explicitly gendered about those rooms, the tech/geeky space signaled to many of the women, “this space isn’t for me.”

The messages you send are important, even (maybe especially) the “hidden” ones. Creating an inclusive workplace depends on paying attention to them. When in doubt, go back to step one and listen.

5. Don’t just talk about it; take action. In Atomic Habits, James Clear writes, “Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.” Start “voting” to be the kind of leader that takes action for inclusion and diversity. Find one action you can take this week to improve diversity and inclusion. Build from there. You can go beyond conformity to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. 

Still unsure where to start? Here are a few ideas:

    • Register to attend Intermitten 2019 to hear from amazing speakers and connect with peers about how to promote inclusion.
    • Sign up for Champions for Change. This fall NEW will launch a two-track effort to support racial equity leadership in Washtenaw County. The Leaders of Color Fellowship and the Allies Academy will build cohorts with the skills, networks, and resilience to transform their organizations. Application information will be available at Intermitten, or email me for details. 
    • Rethink your next company social event. Does it work for working parents? People who don’t go to bars (either for religious reasons, addiction recovery, or other reasons)?
    • Diversify your media.  Start reading books, listening to podcasts, watching shows by and about people with different backgrounds and experiences from you.
    • Download the free ebook Confronting Implicit Bias: Nine Tactics to Ensure Your Actions Line Up With Your Intentions.

About Chuck Warpehoski
With sixteen years experience growing a nonprofit organization and six years service in local government, Chuck Warpehoski has built a career on helping people come together across differences to make a difference, whether that’s expanding public transit, fostering racial equity dialogue and action, or mobilizing a community response to hate crimes. As founder and Chief Change Strategist of Change Works Consulting, Chuck helps businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations build diverse, inclusive, and effective teams through training, coaching and strategy development. 
Follow Chuck on Twitter.