There is a significant and growing body of research which establishes the fact that diversity is a material benefit to an organization and is the driver behind innovation, creativity and increased ROI. However because it is also a concept which can create internal conflict, stress and a feeling of “discomfort” among teams – it’s creation and implementation within the organization is not always realized.
This discomfort or unease experienced with diversity its implementation and how it impacts people, has its own unintended benefits that organizations should harness to create collaborative, creative and open work spaces.
What are the benefits of embracing being uncomfortable vis-a-vis diversity related programs/initiatives?
- Engagement: An initiative that makes people uncomfortable is indicative that they are engaging with it at some level. They are no longer in their safe ‘bubble’. This process if facilitated can create a more meaningful interaction with teams and in turn the values and mission of the organization.
- Encourages creativity: Enabling people to identify their concerns and then finding innovative solutions to address them, leads to seeking and discovering new ways of tackling significant issues.
- Enables resiliency: Navigating difficult conversations around diversity and finding a way to still work together as a team, leads to a resilient team dynamic that can withstand turbulence.
Finding a way to negotiate concepts that are outside the comfort zone is always a challenge at an individual level and more so at scale within an organization. But accepting that challenge and pivoting it towards success, even if it is in small increments, is the only way forward.
As organizations tackle gender diversity and appropriate strategies, it is essential to take a step back and ask – Why does your organization want to or for that matter need to build a diversity strategy?
Here are 6 foundational factors to consider when analyzing why diversity is important? and what will it help you achieve?
- Moral/Ethical Value: Are you seeking to implement a diversity strategy because of the moral value associated with it? Because it is the right thing to do?
- Profit Margins: Do you want to increase your profit margins and positively impact your bottomline?
- Long Term Growth: Do you want to create a sustainable long term growth arc for your organization?
- Employee Retention/Engagement: Do you want to attract and retain the brightest and most productive employees?
- Resilience: Do you want to build an organization that can adapt to change, is agile and can recover from setbacks quickly?
- Innovation Drive: Do you want to increase the creative and innovative output of your organization?
Conducting this 6 factor analysis will enable you to build the right foundation, in approaching your organizations diversity agenda and the strategy to implement it.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is a premise which is increasingly gaining traction in terms of leadership development and success. There are various articles [e.g. lifehack, inc., inc., forbes, psychtoday] that address this and conversations surrounding it, but a preliminary review reveals, that current literature appears to driven by either a gender neutral or male driven perspective.
For women getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is an essential survival skill. It is unique to the challenges that women face in the work sphere. The fact remains, it is an unequal playing field and barriers exist at every stage placing women in uncomfortable scenarios on a daily basis. [**Note: While the list of barriers can be exhaustive there are some common ones listed out towards the end of this article].
Here are some tools that women may use in pivoting discomforting scenarios to become stronger leaders:
- There is a reason why you keep coming back
- Women work hard every day to push past the gender equation and focus on their merit and skills. This is a challenge, but in spite of it – women keep coming back . Take a moment to recognize what drives you to keep coming back to your work space and to do what you do. Once you can hone in on that ‘driver’ you will find what motivates you and you can channel it and implement it, in any work sphere.
- Push past the discomfort – hold on to what you find there
- If you can push past the discomfort of facing biases and other impediments along the way to succeed in what ever it is you are doing, big or small, a project or a large transaction – hold on to the feeling that you experience at the end. That feeling of your success and your achievement. Remember it and use it as one of your foundational ‘forward moving tools’ when faced with a challenging task ahead.
- You get what you deserve, or not – own it either way
- There will be instances where you may or may not receive the recognition or the reward that you deserve based on your merit/work. When faced with that – ‘own it’. Flip your mental switch to become the owner of your work i.e. the resource person in terms of actual knowledge and work. No one can ignore a person who knows what she is talking about. In the end whether you get what you deserve or not – your own knowledge of what you have achieved will be the impetus for you to move on to your next challenge.
While the path for women and their professional development is being addressed at an institutional level by various organizations, simultaneously attention needs to be paid in viewing and implementing management practices from a gender lens. Furthermore, while there are no general solutions to these issues, customized individual tools that empower and enable women, can create a more balanced working environment.
**Common Barriers Faced by Women:
- Uneven pay
- Lack of pay parity often restricts the resources that a woman has in order to invest in her well being and professional development.
- Pushback from management – preconceived notions
- This is the most common form wherein women are judged by the preconceived attributed associated with gender and often receive pushback for not conforming [e.g. being called “bossy” or “too aggressive” or on the other hand being labelled as “too meek” or “shy”].
- Not being included in the ‘boys’ network
- Most educational institutions and large organizations have informal networks that are exclusive to men and where often recommendations, mentoring and decisions on leadership roles are made. Being excluded is a significant impediment, considering that a majority of leadership roles are occupied by men.
- Not having access to social events
- Similar to the point above, there exist clear social events such as golfing etc. where the platform for professional advancement is laid down. Many such events are implicitly or explicitly inaccessible to women, thereby putting them at a disadvantage.
As organizations seek to build a more diverse and multi-cultural workforce, one of the more significant impediments towards developing an equitable environment are the unconscious gender biases affecting behavior and lack of processes addressing them. Some such points to consider when developing related diversity initiatives are:
- The trap of “Act like a man” and “Don’t be a girl”.
- Our socio-cultural environment has common gender normative concepts such as “men don’t cry” or that “women are emotional” that establish behavior and expectations. These concepts are reinforced in the work sphere where women in leadership roles are judged as being masculine or aggressive. Part of developing the right culture at work is educating your work force and establishing the philosophy that there is no typical male or female behavior i.e. “gender specific behavior”, but instead there is only leadership behavior – which is gender neutral.
- Recognizing that gender bias exists and take steps to address it
- The first step in resolving a problem is identifying and accepting that there is in fact a problem. Unconscious gender bias is a reality – once managers and employees receive training in identifying biases as well as critically examining their responses and/or decisions from a gender bias lens, there is a potential for future behavior modification.
- Mechanisms to protect
- While developing appropriate policy and procedure at an organizational level is essential for eliminating discrimination and bias, one overlooked component are institutional protection mechanisms for women employees and leaders. Effective, well established and well-governed processes that offer women in the workspace protection and security, from potential ramifications are an essential component of over all policy.
Be it telecommunications, transportation, public management, government, non-profits, technology services or e-commerce, there is one challenge common to all sectors: the last mile challenge. Simply put – it is the actions taken that enable the delivery of goods or services to the final destination or to the final consumers/beneficiaries.
When viewed from the lens of Diversity, I believe we are at a stage where organizations are facing “Diversity’s Last Mile Challenge”. While there is an increase in corporate leaders, entrepreneurs , government agencies, fortune 500 corporations as well as startups who are talking about diversity while also implementing diversity policies-strategy, developing diversity training and so on so forth – yet the diversity gap still remains and is very real. One of the most significant factors is the phenomena of Diversity’s last mile challenge.
Diversity’s last mile challenge is the gap that exists between the broad stroked strategies, policies, thought leadership and conversations taking place amongst the leadership/executive teams versus where the majority of the day to operations and minutiae of organizational work and/or production takes place i.e. the middle and lower rung workers, teams and managers.
To address this gap, here are some common last mile challenges that organizations should consider as they ramp up their diversity initiatives:
- Delays in delivery
- Are the policies and strategies decided by the top rung being communicated in a timely and effective manner amongst all your employees?
- Misaligned vision mission and goals
- Are the overarching vision, mission and goals of the organization in sync with individual employee goals?
- Distance between the employees and leadership
- Are the leadership and executive teams approachable and open to their employees?
- Consistent implementation
- Are organizational policies being implemented in a consistent manner across the all business units and teams?
- Bottom up transmission
- Do you actively encourage employee opinions/insights and allow these insights to inform your diversity initiatives?
We all know in some format what a multi stakeholder process looks like; without going into the theory of it, in essence the end goal of this process is it promote better decision making by ensuring that the views of the main actors concerned about a particular decision are heard and integrated at all stages through dialogue and consensus building. This is the UN perspective on it and admittedly one that I am partial towards.
That said, having wrangled together a few multi stakeholder processes, here are a few tools that I have used and found beneficial-
- Draft out a vision board
- Map out your goal – know who the actors are, where they come from and what is the solution you are collectively trying to achieve? This is your basic reference point and you should leverage it as a reference point of check and balance.
- Provide the answer first
- Unless specifically requested, most actors/decision makers don’t have the time to understand the nuts and bolts of everything. When communicating, work backwards, start with the proposed solution first and then, if necessary provide a fuller context and analysis.
- Resist the urge to delve into long explanations
- You have worked hard, you know the lay of the land and you want to provide all your knowledge and information to the folks whom you are working with – resist that urge. Remember your worth and acumen is not being measured by how many pages of graphs you can produce but how succinctly you can take a complex issue and provide an easy and accessible solution for it.
- Be ready to let go of what is not important
- As you navigate an array of actors from diverse backgrounds and hierarchies -not everyone will like your method or your solution. You will be criticized, perhaps even disliked during the process – known without a doubt its not personal. Know what your non-negotiables are and be willing to let go of what is not important.
- Know the distinction between important vs.critical
- As you negotiate this process, if you remember nothing else – just remember the difference between what is important vs. what is critical. In complex negotiations there will be a volley of ‘important’ things that will be thrown at you [documents, decisions, people, emotions, process etc.] – always vet out the critical from the important.
While I was spinning away at my soul cycle class, the combination of loud hip hop and motivational words led to honing in on two concepts that can make for a better organizational culture.
- Embrace your authentic yourself
- Every team or department has a unique identity and and value proposition. Healthy organizations enable teams to define themselves, embrace their identity and establish their space within the intra organizational dynamic.
- Set your intent
- Be it a short term project or long term strategy, setting the intent at the onset establishes the essential road map to be followed. The simple act of enabling groups to set their overarching purpose for what ever task they are taking on, sets the tone for purposeful action. Mindful organizations know the significance of this act and the results it yields.