Workplace Inclusion: Welcome to the Dance

hashem_inclusive November 22, 2017 By: Maan Hashem

Today’s workplaces are filled with talented people with a wide variety of backgrounds, preferences, and work styles. Inclusive managers take steps to ensure that everyone on the team has the opportunity to contribute and succeed.

To quote the wise diversity and inclusion consultant Verna Williams, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” In my work as an association professional, I’ve had opportunities to manage talented teams working hard to meet challenging goals—teams made up of individual members with different personal behaviors and workstyles. Inclusive management means ensuring that everyone gets to participate in the dance by contributing meaningfully to our shared success.

For me, this means looking beyond traditional modes of operation to make room for different personal behaviors and workstyles on my team. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned in striving to be an inclusive manager.

An inclusive workplace makes room for introverts. Several of my most skilled team members are introverts who excel at jobs that require intense focus for extended periods, such as editing, data quality review, or software testing. As these team members succeeded and their responsibilities grew, however, they were expected to play bigger, more visible roles, such as representing our organization to external stakeholders by speaking at large forums.

Public speaking is scary for almost everyone. For introverts, it can be terrifying. For some of the introverts on my team, this fear was easily addressed with the traditional Toastmasters approach: instruction and regular practice. For others, this didn’t work, and there was no solution. For situations where job tasks and individual employees are seriously mismatched, I support job shaping, where responsibilities can be moved around a team to place them where they best fit an individual’s talents.

An inclusive workplace values the whole employee. As a manager, I’ve seen many versions of the challenge of work-life balance. This issue originally focused (and still often does) on the new or single parent, but the biggest challenge for members of my team has become elder care. Some of my team members need to devote a significant amount of time to help their aging parents.

A flexible management approach—such as supporting remote work (either a few days a week or full time), being flexible with work hours, or even offering an extended leave of absence—can help you retain talented team members. During challenging times in an employee’s personal life, the organization has the best opportunity to show that it cares about each team member’s welfare, even if this causes some short-term delays to deliverables.

An inclusive manager recognizes and roots out favoritism. No one likes to think they play favorites. But people often do. When I took a hard look at my own attitudes about work styles, I recognized that I tended to favor people who displayed more traditional work behaviors. I realized that I shared more information with people I felt more comfortable with and included them more often in the decision-making process. In this way, I allowed my unconscious bias to diminish inclusivity on my team.

For situations where job tasks and individual employees are seriously mismatched, I support job shaping, where responsibilities can be moved around a team to place them where they best fit an individual’s talents.

Recognizing this challenge and addressing it effectively ensures that managers are open to and value every team member’s contribution so they don’t miss a great idea or fail to leverage individual potential.

Three Tips

What can managers do to create a more inclusive work environment for their team? Here are three tips that have helped me become a more inclusive manager:

Build in flexibility. To support informal and flexible job shaping, build a team with overlapping and complementary skills. This means recruiting team members with specialized and deep skills, as well as generalists with a broad skill set who are best equipped to fill in the gaps.

Uncover your own biases. The work of eliminating implicit bias begins with recognizing and understanding your own biases. Implicit association tests, which can be found online, can be a good start and can help managers understand whether they have certain biases. Once you realize your own biases, you can actively challenge them.

Don’t treat everyone the way you want to be treated. I’m a big believer in the golden rule, but in an inclusive workplace, most of my team members are not like me. They have different backgrounds, needs, preferences, and so on. My assumption that others want to be treated like I want to be treated often creates unrealistic expectations. To avoid that error, I need to do more listening, keep an open mind, and do more work. Over time, I have learned to listen better to discover—and sometimes even ask outright—how others want to be treated.

Navigating these dynamics while working hard to deliver on organizational goals requires effort, patience, and lots of trial and error. Enjoy the dance.

Maan Hashem

Maan Hashem is vice president, products and services, at the Industry Data Exchange Association in Arlington, Virginia.