Good managers oversee employee productivity, ensure tasks are completed on time, and goals are met. Great managers; however, build inclusive teams by making sure every employee on their team feels engaged, valued, and heard at work; unfortunately, that task is often easier said than done.
Forty-five percent of U.S. workers reported they experienced discrimination or harassment at work in the past year, according to a recent Gallup survey. While everyone deserves to be accepted and respected in the office, this clearly isn’t the case for many individuals. Broken policies, bias, and a lack of core values can contribute to a toxic work environment where employees don’t feel comfortable speaking up against inequality.
Luckily, managers are uniquely positioned to change workplace culture and create an environment where employees can be their authentic selves.
Why Is Building An Inclusive Team Important?
If employees are scared to be their true selves at work or don’t feel their voices are valued, they might be reluctant to speak up, share ideas, and volunteer for projects. This can also lead to an increase in absenteeism, burnout, and ultimately turnover, which can be costly for your organization.
Investing in diversity and inclusion (D&I) is proven to positively impact business performance. When workplaces build a community that embraces diversity, they see increases in innovation and revenue, according to this Harvard Business Review study. That’s why investing in diversity and inclusion should be a priority for any organization.
Managers need to appreciate the unique characteristics of everyone on their teams. By leading with vulnerability, empathy, and solidarity, managers can ensure employees from all walks of life feel valued and appreciated at work.
Here’s a look at how managers can use these three skills to build a culture of inclusivity.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, a bestselling author and leading researcher on vulnerability, vulnerability is “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”. Our natural instinct is to avoid situations that leave us exposed to physical or emotional harm. It is these moments that require us to be our most courageous. Think back on a time you took a risk. Odds are you also felt vulnerable. Whether you said “I love you” for the first time, spoke up about injustice you had witnessed, or confronted a friend who hurt your feelings, all of these moments require courage and vulnerability.
That said, it’s important to remember that vulnerability looks different for everyone. Our personalities, backgrounds, and even privilege influence sources of our vulnerability.
Both of these individuals are confronting their emotions and having difficult, uncomfortable conversations with colleagues. These uncomfortable conversations challenge the status quo and create lasting change. As a manager, you might need to ask uncomfortable questions and encourage your employees to bring their concerns to you. Together, you can address them head-on and build a work environment where all employees feel safe and accepted.
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Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another individual and to see the world as they see it.
To be an empathetic leader, you must actively listen, be curious, and keep an open mind to understand the way other people experience the world around them. While empathy comes naturally to some people, it is a skill that can be learned through practice and discipline. One helpful exercise is to imagine someone you care about in your life. Next, ask yourself the following questions:
- How have they been doing over the last few days? Are they stressed, anxious, or concerned about anything?
- Why might they be feeling this way?
- How are you helping (or hurting) their current emotional state?
- What could you do to help them?
This short exercise encourages you to put yourself in their shoes. By trying to understand what their experience is like from their perspective, you can gain more insight into:
- Their feelings and experience
- How your actions might be affecting them
- How you can help their current situation
This is a big step into becoming an empathetic leader. For example, let’s say you’re a manager on your company’s sales team and your direct report is struggling to meet his sales quota. You might be worried about not meeting team revenue goals and immediately jump to writing him up and getting him on a performance plan. However, an empathetic leader would notice the change and ask the employee directly if anything might be impacting his performance. Maybe the employee recently had a baby and is adjusting to a new sleeping schedule and struggling to keep your company’s normal business hours. In that case, letting him work from home a few days a week or adjust his work schedule might be enough to get him back on track. Those small adjustments can help you both get a positive outcome and strengthen your relationship.
Leading with empathy can instill a sense of trust and respect with you and your team. Your employees will be more willing to come to you with concerns when they know you’ll listen, take their requests seriously, and work with them to find a solution.
The pursuit of justice goes beyond seeking fairness for oneself. Solidarity is about being an ally and advocating for others who are different than you. Unconscious bias can make us more likely to recommend employees who are similar to us for promotions, raises, or awards.
As a manager, you want to be an advocate for all of your employees. Being aware of this bias is the first step to becoming an ally in the workplace. The second step is to lead with empathy. Work to understand your employees’ wants and needs and fight to be the change you want to see in your workplace. Here are a few examples where you can lead with solidarity:
- Advocate for minority employees to get a promotion or raise
- Fight for better benefits, like paid parental leave
- Attend an unconscious bias training to build your own awareness as a leader
- Address microaggressions on your team in 1:1 and group settings
Managers need to not only acknowledge the disadvantages minorities have in the workplace, they need to be a champion for these employees. They need to leverage their authority to advocate for their employees and fight to win them what they deserve. A great manager should listen to their employees’ needs and wants and work to make them a reality. Even small workplace changes can make a world of difference to your team.
When these skills become the norm they help foster a sense of emotional safety. Team members will feel respected and cared for by their manager and company. This lays the groundwork for a culture of belonging. Your employees can be their authentic selves at work, be more open at work, and celebrate—not hide—what makes them unique.
As a manager, you can lead with vulnerability, empathy, and solidarity to create an inclusive team and workplace culture. Listen to your employees and be their champion when needed. That will help you foster and build a workplace culture of mutual respect.