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Modern consumers, especially young ones, crave authenticity. They prefer brands that speak honestly, punish those that break their promises, and develop strong feelings of loyalty for companies that share their commitment to a better world.
Those consumers are the same people working for the brands they judge, and they’re even pickier about where they work. Cone Communications found that 75 percent of Millennials would take a pay cut to work for a more socially responsible company.
The latest generation to join the workforce is adamant that their employers operate honorably. Most members of Gen Z consider workplace diversity when they decide where to work. To attract and retain top talent, businesses must not only preach their beliefs of diversity — they have to put those beliefs into practice within their walls.
Leading a diverse team introduces diverse challenges. When people from different backgrounds with different values get together, they can either become more than the sum of their parts or butt heads in innovative ways. Leaders of diverse teams must learn to lead with authenticity, warts and all, if they want to get the most from their workforce.
Businesses with diverse workforces are more creative, more productive, and more innovative than businesses without. However, those benefits don’t amount to much if diverse workforces are led by people who don’t understand what their teams need.
Diversity leadership is not just about accommodating differences. It’s about challenging norms. Today’s leaders must not only accept their employees for who they are, but also challenge the barriers their employees face and advocate for change when necessary.
Leaders need strong backbones to be the champions their diverse teams need. People from varied backgrounds experience unique communication barriers and cultural clashes. Leaders cannot afford to sit behind a veil of “everyone is equal” and expect workers to suppress their identities. Instead, today’s managers must champion the differences in their teams — even when that means openly acknowledging personal bias.
No one wants to admit to being racist, sexist, or homophobic, yet research continually proves that inherent biases shape the way we deal with others. Team leaders who deny the existence of their biases and leave them unchecked inevitably pigeonhole their teams into their personal and limited worldviews. That’s bad for the company, bad for the team, and bad for the world.
Leaders of diverse teams cannot plug their ears and hope everyone will get along. They must be proactive in their acceptance of and advocacy for all the people under their supervision. These tips can help:
1. Showcase personality.
Teams don’t want leaders who act like blank slates. They expect to deal with real people who have real feelings. Diverse teams, especially, need to know that the people they work with aren’t automatons.
“I believe that people respond to things they can connect with, which are usually emotional things that trigger something deep inside,” said Eitan Chitayat, member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “So, don’t shy away from expressing truths that you feel very strongly about. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat, challenge the status quo — people are drawn to action, even more so when you express deep truths.”
If personal truths make team members uncomfortable, re-evaluate the source of those feelings. “When I say don’t shy away,” Eitan said, “I’m assuming that, hopefully, you’re coming from a good place and are expressing positive truths, with good intentions.”
2. Embrace intersectionality.
The first step toward combating bias is to acknowledge that people do not fit into neat little boxes. An Indian man in his 40s might simultaneously be Indian, male, a father, a veteran, and deaf. All of those factors contribute to the sum of his person. That confluence of identities is called intersectionality.
Don’t look at team members as members of singular groups. Instead, acknowledge all the factors that make them who they are. Consider how all the parts of team members’ identities could be subject to discrimination, and help fight against them. For instance, a gay African-American man might face obstacles relating to his race, his sexuality, or both. Leaders are responsible for helping team members overcome those challenges.
3. Don’t presume knowledge.
Even a person who lives in a country for a decade can’t fully relate to a born and raised citizen. Never assume cultural understanding based on past experiences with people from the same group. Not only does that fly in the face of intersectionality, but it tells the team that its leader sees them as members of groups, not as people.
When speaking to team members, think about how personal assumptions could skew the conversation. Fight the bias. Consciously look to everyone for input. Practice thinking about suggestions from others in a vacuum to avoid letting assumptions about the speaker taint the perceived value of the idea.
The world is closer than ever, and teams will only get more diverse as time passes. Don’t let this opportunity to learn and grow slip away. Tackle the challenges of diverse leadership directly, acknowledge gaps in understanding, and show team members that they deserve more than acceptance — they deserve respect.
December 18, 2018 at 05:33AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs