Do you have a truly diverse team? A key focus area for businesses in 2021 is to improve diversity at all levels in the organisation. Diversity is a word that is often used but I wonder whether we all understand what it means?
To me, diversity is about recognising and celebrating that we are all different. It is about making it okay to be different. All too often I see articles that tell women they need to be more assertive and that men need to be more in touch with their emotions. This can have the effect of making people think they aren’t good enough and that they need to strive to all be the same. The truth is that if we practice empathy and refrain from judgement of others then we can make it a far better place to work. If we practice kindness to ourselves then we can allow ourselves to be who we truly are. Both of these would enable a world that is far easier to live in. True diversity means that we encourage and support everyone to be their best self.
A sporting example
A really great example of this is a rugby team. If you watch the line up before the game you will see props that are as wide as they are tall, flankers who are well over 6 foot, and scrum-halves who are shorter, lighter and built for running. There is a wide range of skills and physical attributes. Each player is expected to be skilled in their particular role. A prop is not expected to be able to accurately kick a conversion from the touchline. A hooker is not expected to jump 6 feet in the air in a line-out. A full-back is not expected to hold up the front row of a scrum. If they all had to be able to play in any position, then the team would perform very poorly.
Business is no different
The same is true in business. We have organisational structures that allow people to develop different skill sets and excel at them. It is perfectly acceptable that an IT director is not an expert in Marketing; that an HR director is not an expert in Finance. However, it is really common that we expect all people to be assertive; great at public speaking; or expert negotiators. This can lead to senior positions and boards to be lacking in true diversity as only the people with those skills have been able to climb the ladder.
To improve true diversity, we need to change the systems, processes and culture so that we recognise and accept that we are all different. We need to celebrate those differences and allow people to maximise their strengths and contribute the most they can to the success of the team and company overall. We need to enable leaders with different skill sets to sit equally around the board table and at all levels below that.
What skills do your managers and leaders need to enable true diversity?
Being able to truly listen to people is an essential skill for leaders in a diverse team. This does not mean hearing what people say whilst thinking of what you are going to say next. It means being totally focussed on what the person is saying including body language and then responding. It can be a really powerful tool to playback what you have heard before you respond. This will make sure you have truly understood and enables the talker to know they have been heard.
If you are communicating thoughtfully and listening properly to people, then there will be periods of silence whilst you gather your thoughts and respond. If you never have any silence in your meetings it is likely that the communication is not truly effective.
Being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else can really help you understand what they need to be successful and how they want to be communicated to. If you find yourself in a conflict situation, it can be really helpful to try and look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Consider what is important to them, what they may be feeling threatened by and what their concerns might be. This can help you tailor your approach and choose your words and arguments differently to help resolve the situation.
Creating a culture where you help people excel requires a coaching culture to be present throughout the organisation. A coaching approach will require you to ask questions, listen effectively and then help people find their best way forward. There needs to be a culture of constant feedback where people are able to fail and learn. This allows people to grow and to gain confidence in their own strengths and abilities. It also means that the organisation benefits from a diverse approach rather than replicating one way of doing things.
Being able to take feedback and adjust your approach accordingly. Actively seeking feedback and sharing development areas can make it far easier for people to be open and honest. Building relationships based on trust and respect can ensure you receive constructive feedback that helps you grow.
All of these skills can be learned if the right tools and support are made available. However, these behaviours have to be modeled from the highest levels of leadership and not just paid lip service to. People must be supported and celebrated for excelling at these skills and allowed to succeed. All of these behaviours will contribute to the psychological safety of your teams and therefore the success of your organisation.
How truly diverse is your team?
Whatever someone’s background, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, or personality type are they able to contribute to the best of their ability? Do you have the full input of everyone in your team? Do you know how your team feels and whether they are comfortable to express their views? Are your managers competent at the skills listed above? What other skills do you think are vital for leaders to harness all the benefits of a truly diverse team?
If you would like to talk to me about how I could help your organisation be more successful, please book an initial call with me via www.mebestlife.co.uk/contact