How to Value Diversity and Inclusion: Resources and Guidelines

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    Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Can Have a Huge Positive Affect

    © Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD

    In today’s highly diverse organizations, the ability to work with people having diverse values and cultures is extremely important. An organization’s culture is driven by the values throughout that organization. Employees need to feel included — that their values are being recognized, understood, and respected.

    They need to feel that their ideas and concerns are being heard. Those conditions create strong motivation and momentum for strong satisfaction and performance in their jobs.

    It can be a major challenge to work with people and cultures where others have values, beliefs, and certain conventions that are distinctly different from yours. Differences can lead to increased resistance to leadership and change because others might not understand and trust you.

    For example, Western cultures tend to be highly rational and value things that are very useful in meeting a current need. They value rugged individualism and competition. Some cultures might value patience, a sense of community, and getting along with others, and still others might value direct authority and privacy. Some cultures may be overly deferential to the leader. Some cultures are deeply guarded about private matters.

    You and your employees might not even realize that you all have very different values. There are no universal laws to ensure conformity in each culture. Because of the complexities in continually learning the cultures of your organization, it is critical for you to continually be open to differences and ask for help from your employees.

    Although working in highly diverse and multicultural organizations comes with its own unique challenges, it comes with many benefits, as well. There are few other such powerful experiences in which you can learn so much about people and organizations and also about yourself. The following guidelines are intended to focus on the most practical suggestions for appreciating diversity in life and work and also for supporting others and yourself to feel included.

    Here are some articles that add to the above points:

    But What Are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?

    Both have become prominent topics in today’s organizations. But what do both terms mean? Ferris State University suggests these definitions:

    “Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.

    Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive university promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of its members.”

    It might help to consider a variety of different definitions.

    How Well Is Your Organization Appreciating Diversity and Cultivating Inclusion?

    Most people probably feel that they are very appreciative of diversity and always help others to feel included. Here are a variety of assessments that you might take about yourself and your organization to get a more accurate perspective.

    Basic Guidelines to Improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    The following guidelines might be useful, especially if you are new to the organization.

    1. Be aware of your personal biases, style, preferences, lens, and focus.

    This is critically important for successful leadership in any type of culture. You make a major difference in your organization, whether you know it or not, just by exposing it to your own nature and style of working. Thus, you need to understand your nature.

    2. Realize that each part of an organization probably has a unique culture.

    For example, the secretarial staff might interact with each other in a manner quite different from that of the marketing staff. In larger organizations, there are often several differences, for example, between senior management and support staff.

    3. Promptly convey to employees that you want to be sensitive to their culture.

    You should start with your first interaction with them. State that you recognize that different people might work differently depending on their own personalities and the culture of the overall organization. Ask them how you can understand the nature of their organization.

    4. Consider getting a mentor, or representative, from the organization.

    Attempt to get someone from the organization to help you understand their culture and how to work in a manner compatible with the culture of the organization. This request is not a sign of weakness or lack of expertise; rather it is an authentic request that better serves you and your employees.

    How to Learn Basics About Another Person’s Values and Culture

    Consider asking others to help you understand how each of the following aspects might be unique in the culture of the organization. Key cultural aspects that might affect your leadership include:

    • Assertiveness Are members of your organization comfortable being honest and direct with each other? If not, how can you still be as authentic as possible and help them to be as authentic as possible, as well?
    • Body language Are there any specific cues that you can notice to help you to sense how others are experiencing you?
    • Communication styles and direction Is communication fairly direct and specific or more indirect and general? Does information flow mostly “upward” to executives or is it widely disseminated?
    • Conflict Is conflict considered bad and avoided? Or is conflict accepted as normal and directly addressed when it appears?
    • Eye contact Are members of the organization comfortable with sustained eye contact during communication or not?
    • Gestures Are there any specific gestures that can cause members of the organization discomfort or confusion?
    • Humor Is the use of humor in the organization rather widespread? Is there anything about the use of humor about which you should be aware?
    • Information collection Should you be aware of any potential problems or use any certain precautions when conducting interviews or using assessments?
    • Physical space For example, are members of your organization quite conscious of having a minimum amount of space around them when they work or speak with others?
    • Power Are members attuned to certain people of power when solving problems and making decisions? Is power based on authority and/or respect?
    • Silence Are members uncomfortable with silence during communication? Or is it a common aspect of communicating in their workplace?
    • Time Is time a precious commodity that seems to underlie many activities, or can activities take as long as they need to take to be done effectively?
    • Wording Are there certain words or phrasings that cause discomfort when people from different cultures interact?

    How to Talk About Management and Leadership in Diverse Environments

    It is not uncommon for people of any culture to experience confusion or engage in protracted arguments about activities only to realize later on that they have been in agreement all along – they had been using different definitions for the same terms. Therefore, it is important to ensure that all of you are “speaking the same language” about activities. The following guidelines are most important when ensuring people continue to understand each other when talking about management activities.

    Recognize the Difference Between Terms That Refer to Results Versus Activities to Produce Those Results

    It is common for people from different cultures to become confused because different people are talking about results and others about the activities to produce the results. For example, some people refer to the “plan” to be the document, and others refer to the “plan” to be the activity of developing the plan. It is usually most clear to use the term “plan” to refer to the document itself and use the term “planning” for the activities that produce the plan.

    Here is another example. Inexperienced leaders sometimes assert that, because employees do not have a tangible plan/document on the shelf and do not explicitly reference the document on a regular basis, the employees are not doing planning. That assertion can alienate the leaders from employees who believe that they have been doing planning all along (but probably implicitly) and also have a good plan – they just have not been calling their process “planning” and have not produced a written plan document. Therefore, it is important for you to recognize if your employees have their own form of a certain activity and how that form is carried out in the organization.

    Be Able to Separate a Term from the Meaning of That Term

    If your conversations with others about management seem to get stuck or mired in confusion, it often helps to separate terms from the intent of those terms. For example:

    • Rather than talking about “vision” or “goals,” talk about “what” the business wants to accomplish overall.
    • Rather than talking about “strategies,” talk about “how” to accomplish “what” you want to accomplish overall.
    • Rather than talking about “action plans,” talk about “who is going to do what, and by when.”

    Hints for Talking with Others About Leadership Activities

    The topic of leadership has become so prominent and passionate with so many people that it sometimes causes great confusion. Here are a few tips to help people “stay on the same page” when talking about leadership.

    1. Be clear about whether you are talking about leadership roles or traits.

    When people talk about leadership, they might be talking about traits of leaders, such as being charismatic, influential, and ethical. However, when others talk about leadership, they might be talking about roles of leadership, such as the Board Chair or the Chief Executive Officer. Both discussions are about leadership, but both are about quite different aspects.

    2. Be clear about the domain of leadership about which you are talking.

    For example, when talking about leading yourself, you might be talking about leadership skills, such as being assertive or having good time and stress management skills. When talking about leading other individuals, you might be talking about skills, such as coaching, delegating, or mentoring. When talking about leading groups, you might be talking about skills, such as facilitation or meeting management. When talking about leading organizations, you might be talking about skills, such as strategic planning or business planning. In each of these four cases, the term “leadership” refers to different sets of skills.

    Strategies to Cultivate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

    General Resources About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

    For the Category of Interpersonal Skills:

    To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources. Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.