Incorporating Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
We’re often told how essential it is for companies to be proficient on the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), but these efforts shouldn’t be undertaken simply to check a box. By exploring diversity in the workplace, companies can develop a happier and more evolved company culture and ultimately, one in which your teams can thrive.
To tackle DEI in the workplace effectively, the effort can’t be a one-and-done. It must constantly evolve as you strive to achieve “cultural competency”.
To help unpack these concepts, Mainsail Partners invited ServiceTitan’s Senior Program Manager, Aslyn Teague, to conduct an interactive workshop. Teague currently serves on the DEI team at ServiceTitan. She holds a Master of Education in Training and Development from North Carolina State University and recently completed University of Utah’s certificate in leading with diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Here are our top takeaways from Teague’s workshop.
What is diversity?
It used to be that when people heard the term “diversity”, they pictured visually evident characteristics such as differences in gender, race, hair color or body type. These characteristics represent a type of diversity, but they only scratch the surface when it comes to the myriad of elements that can differentiate people from one another.
Diversity also comes in the form of socio-economic status, which is defined by a combination of one’s level of education, income and occupation. Even more difficult to recognize might be diversity in the form of culture, points of view, values, the way one processes information and learns, one’s firsthand experiences, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
In addition to diversity in personal experiences and characteristics, diversity can also encompass organizational factors including the industry a person has worked in, the role(s) they have held, their tenure within a company, their management style and how they relate to other coworkers, for example.
When you peel back the layers, says Teague, there is so much about our coworkers that we don’t know that it can feel as though we are more different than alike. But of course, there are also many similarities between people that are just asking to be discovered.
How do we discuss diversity? How do we uncover similarities?
To create a workplace that celebrates diversity, you first have to find a way to uncover it. To do so, says Teague, your company needs to create a sense of “psychological safety” in which everyone feels they belong as their authentic selves. To create a sense of belonging, you must have trust. And to build trust, you must develop relationships.
Discussing diversity typically only happens when two people are comfortable with one another, and that is the result of longer, personal conversations held within a safe space. So, give these discussions room to evolve. Facilitate frequent conversations and encourage your team to uncover their diverse points of view.
In developing your company culture, make a conscious effort to reward authentic communication and encourage curiosity.
At the root of these efforts should be a desire to become “culturally competent”.
What is cultural competency?
Cultural competency refers to the ability to understand, communicate with and effectively interact with people across cultures. Teague presented a “Continuum of Cultural Competency” that illustrates a spectrum of understanding ranging from “Cultural Destructiveness” to “Cultural Proficiency”.
Within this spectrum, we should all be striving for competence and proficiency.
Teague argues that the trickle-down effects of a culturally competent workplace — one that values psychological safety — are plentiful.
First, conversations that encourage authenticity appeal to our innate need for belonging. The more plentiful these conversations are, the more your team will feel connected and like they belong. When people feel connected to their coworkers, the work culture becomes more positive. Social friction reduces and your team is better able to set healthy boundaries and work productively.
Alternatively, when employees do not feel as if they belong, their mental and emotional wellbeing suffers as does their productivity, their happiness, and the likelihood you will retain them.
In time, when your team is comfortable discussing their own diversity, you may find they are better at developing and expressing personal and professional goals. They may even be more likely to find purpose in their work.
Put another way, when the workplace makes room for authenticity and vulnerability, morale improves and productivity increases.
Given that society is becoming increasingly multiracial and multicultural, and knowing that humans are always changing, Teague emphasized that the pursuit of cultural competency needs to be ongoing.
How do I drive toward cultural competency in my organization?
To move toward cultural competency, you need to foster a work environment that encourages authenticity. To do so, Teague presented several key tactics:
- Help individuals be aware of their own world view. Recognize and reflect on unique experiences. Talk about how they differ and are similar to one another.
- Create safe spaces to talk about hard topics such as racism, stereotypes and unfair hiring practices.
- Develop positive attitudes toward cultural differences. Be curious. Ask genuine, respectful questions amongst diverse groups so you can learn about others in a meaningful way.
- Hire culturally unbiased and diverse staff.
- Work to gain knowledge of different cultural practices and world views.
- Develop the skills to communicate, interact and improve services across cultures effectively.
If you’re not sure how to start, Teague provided the following exercise which might be a good place to start with your team members:
“My name is _______ and I am from ______. One thing you cannot tell just by looking at me is _______.
This is important for me to tell you because _________.”
Recognizing diversity and its impact
Achieving cultural competency will require the buy-in of your whole team, but by expanding your definition of diversity in the workplace, and facilitating a culture that encourages authenticity, you can create a sense of belonging. In time, these efforts will pay off as your company will become a place people want to work.
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