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.