Contributing to Well-Being in an Inclusive Workplace
By Jaya Koilpillai Bohlmann, M.A., APR
If your teams are composed of highly qualified people of different ethnicities, ages, education levels and beliefs, then you’re hiring well. Nicely done! Studies show that companies with diverse workforces perform up to 35 percent above average.
When you make sure everyone, regardless of their background, is happily engaged in the workplace, that’s inclusion, the partner of diversity. Inclusion does not mean making everyone believe, think and act the same; it means unifying disparate strengths and talents — and the people who own them — to meet organizational goals in an environment in which all employees feel empowered to be themselves. The biggest blocks to inclusion are misunderstanding, bias and prejudice.
In the United States, we think of assertive behaviors — speaking up without being asked, self-starting, questioning authority, talking more than listening — as signs of leadership and competency. Studies show that extroverts experience greater workplace well-being than introverts, as shown by the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, one of the most-widely-used psychological assessment instruments.
In other cultures, however, extroverted behaviors reflect poor manners. Rather than speak up, people might wait their turn to talk or offer their opinions only when asked. They may not question their boss and be respectful of hierarchy, process and structure.
Managers who understand their employees’ tendencies toward introversion and extroversion can avoid labels such as “shy” or “not leadership material,” and can coach employees to maximize their natural strengths.
Understanding bias and prejudice
To manage yourself and others in a diverse workplace, be aware of any implicit biases. These are often hidden from our conscious thinking but can show up in our behaviors.
For example, we may feel uncomfortable around a person who is different from us for reasons we can’t quite name. If these feelings lead us to avoid, misunderstand or mistreat them, then it’s time to examine the root of our feelings.
Red-flag behaviors include not hiring someone for vague reasons like he or she’s “not quite a good fit.” Other behaviors include labeling personality or cultural traits as professional liabilities such as interpreting introversion as shyness or lacking in leadership skills.
In addition, there’s bullying or harassment. Bullying involves interrupting, public or private shaming or put-downs, and saying negative things about someone behind their back. Bullying can easily lead to harassment.
Keeping an open mind
You can gain critical self-knowledge about biases through an open mind, open heart, training, time, and the courage and willingness to change.
Assessments and tools are available to help. Implementing changes based on these assessments is best supported by a trained, certified coach, especially one with diversity experience.
To contribute to well-being in a diverse workplace:
• Be sure to have representation from as many groups as possible. Diverse teams bring a diversity of perspectives and experiences, which can lead to innovative solutions and better results. For agencies, this means hiring from the corporate and nonprofit sectors, not just other agencies. For corporations, this means hiring from outside your industry. You’re looking for transferable skill sets and great people — not just people who are like you.
• Treat people as individuals, not as embodiments of their résumés. The value of people is in their personalities, ways of thinking, backgrounds and approaches, not just in the external facts about them.
• Create a culture of open communication. This can help bridge the gap among groups regarding communication and feedback preferences, beliefs and expectations about diversity, attitudes about jobs, and career movement.
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