diversity and inclusion

When seemingly small things mean so much: inclusive leadership actions

Many of us have probably experienced a thoughtless action at work such as not being introduced in a meeting, being left off an email distribution list, or others taking credit for our work.

By itself, this might seem inconsequential.

But when this happens consistently over time - like a leaky tap - it can leave those on the receiving end feeling isolated and excluded.

It was Professor Mary Rowe of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who coined the term ‘micro-inequities’ in the 1970s to describe small and often unintentional unfairnesses toward those who are perceived as different.

Micro-inequities are often the result of unconscious bias or not understanding cultural differences. They're subtle but erode confidence, explains Australian scientist Dr Jill Rathborne on micro-inequities in the male-dominated world of science for example. 

We all need to be aware, consciously, of these on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

The good news is that there are many relatively simple things we can do to reduce unconscious bias and micro-inequities. Mary Rowe called these ‘micro-affirmations’: ‘tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening’.

It might seem obvious, but the impact of these inclusive actions on individuals and team cultures in our workplaces can be very significant. They help everyone feel a greater sense of belonging and reduce unconscious bias.

We all need to be aware, consciously, of micro-inequities on a day-to-day basis if we’re to create inclusive workplaces of the future.

Here's ten inclusive actions (drawing on research and discussions in our leadership workshops) that can make a positive difference to everyday interactions, meetings, and decision-making.

Inclusive interactions

1.    Acknowledge people when you pass them in the office, especially those not part of your ‘in-group’.

2.    Ask for permission before calling someone by a nickname (and think about who has a nickname and who doesn’t).

3.    Ask for the correct pronunciation of an unfamiliar name – make an effort to get it right.

4.    Be mindful that small talk at the start of a meeting may leave some feeling excluded - make an effort to invite everyone into the conversation.

Inclusive meetings

5.    Introduce all people in a meeting with equal level of acknowledgement.

6.    In your team meetings, appoint a devil’s advocate (and make sure to rotate this role) to reduce groupthink.

7.    Be especially attentive to virtual team members who dial into meetings.

8.    Consider when and where a meeting should be held and who is invited, to maximise diversity of thought and perspective.

Inclusive decision-making

9.    Next time you’re making a key decision, actively seek out multiple perspectives (especially those different to your own) to avoid confirmation and sunflower bias.

10.    Use different communication channels to receive input on a project or idea - some team members will be more comfortable providing a follow up email or direct phone call rather than speaking out in a team meeting.

These tips, and many others, are explored in our Inclusive Leadership: Challenging Unconscious Bias workshop for leaders and employees. We'd love to share more with you - please contact us for a chat.

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Uncovering the real diversity challenges and impacts

When organisations first contact us, some have a clear idea of the challenges they’re trying to address, such as a lack of cultural diversity or gender balance at leadership levels, or concerning levels of inclusion reported through engagement surveys.

What are less clear are the reasons behind these challenges, and how best to drive progress.

That’s why we recommend a ‘discovery’ process that identifies the cultural and structural barriers getting in the way of diversity progress and overall firm performance.

Organisations can then push forward confidently with a bespoke diversity and inclusion strategy and action plans.

The research we undertake for many clients includes a detailed analysis of existing policies, current demographics, external benchmarking, together with employee views captured through interviews and focus groups. We draw on global benchmarks and local industry knowledge to recommend appropriate solutions.

Recent diagnostics have taken us from mine sites to boardrooms around Australia. We’ve interviewed CEO’s, senior managers, paramedics, IT specialists, engineers, meteorologists, digital media entrepreneurs, among others, to provide an assessment of diversity challenges and opportunities.

Uncovering new opportunities

It’s particularly interesting when diversity opportunities aren’t immediately obvious to our clients. Here’s a few examples where opportunities highlighted had an immediate impact on service delivery, product design and employee engagement.

  • A global financial services firm realised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of their increasingly diverse consumer segments.
  • Another diagnostic highlighted an overwhelming need from employees for education about engaging with different cultural groups in the community so they could provide more targeted and culturally-sensitive services.
  • One organisation discovered that managers wanted much greater guidance and tools to effectively lead flexible teams.
  • In another firm, the diagnostic showed a significant difference between employee perceptions of biases and leadership views of how the firm was tracking on diversity. Employees were strongly concerned about perceived in-action by leadership.
A global financial services firm recognised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of diverse consumer segments. Photo license: Getty Images.

A global financial services firm recognised their marketing programs didn't adequately reflect the needs of diverse consumer segments. Photo license: Getty Images.

 

If you’re wondering what initiatives will best progress your diversity and inclusion objectives, going back to the fundamentals of ‘what are we trying to achieve’ and ‘what problems are we trying to address’ is often the best step to achieve targeted and effective solutions.

 

What we're working on

The team at Diversity Partners has been working on several client engagements in the first quarter of 2017. Here's a sample:

  • Diversity diagnostics for emergency services organisations, resources firms, water utilities and government agencies;
  • ‘Inclusive Leadership: challenging unconscious bias’ programs for organisations in the transport, rail, mining, manufacturing, legal, and financial services sectors;
  • Flexibility programs and toolkits for financial services firms and Australian Government departments;
  • Facilitating D & I Councils for a media/advertising firm and rail operator;
  • Strategic partnership with a global mining company to advance the targeted objectives and metrics for a major division;
  • Cultural intelligence programs to build the cross-cultural communications and capability of employees in the transport sector.