For many organizations, moving the needle on diversity has been an ongoing, yet slow process. While a lot of attention has centered on increasing the actual number of marginalized individuals in an organization and in leadership roles, very little emphasis has been placed on inclusion, which, many experts say is a key factor for hiring and retaining diverse talent.
According to a report by Accenture, American companies leave $1.05 trillion on the table annually by not having inclusive work cultures, which leads to high turnover rates, low productivity, and low morale. One problem that prevents progress, according to Accenture data, is a perception gap between company leaders and their employees. Roughly 68% of employers feel as though they have work environments where their staff can be themselves, raise concerns, and innovate without fear of failure, but just 36% of employees agree.
“The feeling of not belonging isn't limited to just people from a different gender, or race, or ethnicity like me,” says Tricia Montalvo Timm, a first-generation Latina executive, board member, and investor who serves as the Director at Salsify. “It can apply to anyone. You can even look like you belong in the room and still not feel like you belong in the room.”
In a conversation with Chief Members, where 90% said they downplay or hide a piece of their identity in the workplace, the author of Embrace the Power of You: Owning Your Identity at Work, shares how leaders can do their part to ensure all employees, regardless of background, feel included, supported, and nurtured at work.
While it’s easy for executives to engage with the members on their team who always offer their thoughts, Timm says it’s imperative that leaders encourage those who don’t talk as much to get involved. This can be done by asking more-quiet teammates a question that shows you value their opinion, but also by prompting the entire group to think outside the box, so no one feels singled out.
“One strategy I love is when you see groupthink, and the same ideas are being repeated by everybody, challenge the entire team to come up with a different idea,” she says. “Say, Hey, we're seeing everyone go down this path, but what is a different way we can look at it? So now, the entire group is challenged to bring a diverse opinion and that person doesn't feel so alone [if asked to speak up].”
Creating an inclusive work culture requires leaders to be active listeners to the needs and concerns of their employees. And in some cases, Timm says, this can require uncomfortable conversations. Rather than shying away from these uneasy moments, Timm encourages executives to remain curious and examine their own efforts to ensure they are actively doing what’s needed to get to know all of their employees and not just a select few.
“Continue to do your work, read books, attend workshops, talk to different communities to see what other different lived experiences are like,” she says. “It's going to open your mind to so many differences in the workplace.”
And, if you’re a leader who is in a position to create pathways of opportunities for others, then Timm says you should “practice stepping back, passing the mic, and lifting that high potential employee up and being a sponsor.” According to data from LeanIn and McKinsey & Company, Black and Latinx women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to say their manager supports their career development. And, Latinx and Asian women are more likely than women of other racial groups to have colleagues comment on their culture or nationality. All of these factors impact an individual's work experience and can easily contribute to them feeling as though they don’t belong.
When it comes to creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces, it’s inevitable to make a misstep. But the key to moving forward, Timm says, is to own up to those mistakes so that you don’t unintentionally repeat them in the long run.
“Anybody from a marginalized community will tell you to just take accountability for that past mistake, and learn and grow from that,” she says. “I think the idea of pushing it aside, not talking about it, and being quiet is a mistake on its own.”
As a Latina executive who once downplayed her identity at work, Timm says it’s important for all executives, whether you’re from a marginalized group or not, to role model what it means to be an inclusive leader. Doing this, she says, creates a sense of belonging that is “good for our well being, but it's also good for business.”
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