“I’m looking forward to hearing how the women’s history event goes.”
“Hopefully our new policy around addressing racism is seen as helpful. Please share the feedback from employees when you have that.”
“Maybe the women’s affinity group can do something on caregiving, since it sounds like that may be an issue for our female employees.”
You may have heard statements like this from leadership. There is something missing. The voice and active involvement of leadership.
If you manage a team or are in the C-Suite, you’ve probably already seen some of the data around the mental and physical toll it takes on employees that feel marginalized. And yet, far too few organizations have leaders involved in discussions focused on these areas.
Back in 2019, a male HR leader shared his perspective at a big event in London. He had worked at the global level for companies including Proctor and Gamble and the nonprofit Oxfam. He has two daughters. As a male leader, he emphasized the need for leaders, particularly male leaders, to speak about gender and diversity challenges in their companies from their perspective. He was clear that they need to be vocal about these issues being important to them, not just important to a group of employees in the organization. Specifically, he said to use language that shows these issues are important to them personally and that they are aware that these issues have an impact on the working culture in the company.
What You Can Do
If you are looking to get a better understanding of the views of your leadership and/or management teams on these issues, set up forums where they can be discussed. Be honest about whether you think bias or long-standing cultural norms may get in the way of a transparent conversation. Look around the room. Are the people around the table from any of the diverse groups in your workforce? If not, then it’s time to get them there.
Ask HR to help understand where there is more diversity and where there is not so you can start to discuss why. If you don’t have that information in your organization, now is the time to pull that together.
Do a deep dive on job descriptions and your automated recruiting tools. Do they reflect biased language? Do they remove names that could identify a person from a particular background, and do they truly judge candidates by their skills and experience?
Leaders need be honest with themselves that we all have some bias, themselves included. That is not a bad thing. It is only bad when we aren’t willing to recognize it and get more curious about the ways it gets in the way progress.
Think of the impact of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook publicly coming out in 2014, revealing his sexual orientation in an open letter published in Bloomberg Businessweek. He was the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
You may be a white male leader looking to be a better ally in your organization. It is very important to understand that the term ally may be misused or misunderstood. It can also be triggering for those who have been subjected to racism, oppression, and discrimination. To be an effective ally, it is key to be active and purposeful in supporting, promoting, and advancing real change to a marginalized group through a focus on inclusion, equity, and diversity. Being an effective ally, as a leader, does not mean you understand what it feels like to be a part of an underrepresented group, rather that you are not only willing to support those individuals and provide opportunities for meaningful change, but visibly doing it.
- We are all at risk for confirmation bias, no matter at what level we may be in the company. Even when our expectations are based on insufficient information or false assumptions, the same mental process tends to run in the background, “confirming” that we have seen what we expected to see, unless it is deliberately identified and altered.
- Inclusive leaders must actively work against the deep human instinct to distinguish “insiders “ from “outsiders.”
- Question character judgements, particularly those about employees that might not be considered part of the “in” group.
- Watch out for greater subjective confidence in judgments than an objective assessment would provide. Many people tend to underestimate the performance of others compared to our own performance.
Too often organizations go right to bias training. One of the most transparent things you can do is to conduct bias testing with members of leadership and then share that information with your workforce. Yes, that can be mean acknowledging places where you personally and your leadership team need work. It also shows a clear commitment to being a part of the change that may be needed.
It is extremely powerful for a leader to acknowledge where they are, some places where they may need more training, and how they are personally working on their challenges for themselves and their team. It gives others in the organization confidence that leadership is serious about making positive change.
For any C-Suite leader or manager, you can be the change makers for getting diverse voices intentionally included. Your organization then also gets the financial benefits from better creative problem solving, more employee engagement, better employee well-being, and lower turnover costs.