Over the last few years, business leaders have stepped up to show their belief in the importance of diversity and inclusion by making public commitments, dedicating money and time to training and development, and making charges to a more equitable workplace.
In an unexpected turn of events from the coronavirus crisis, many of these professed commitments remain unfulfilled, lost to incomplete crisis management messaging and sounding like empty talk.
As we all work hour-by-hour to unravel an intricate web of economic, psychological, and daily living needs, leaders may gravitate away from diversity agendas.
This doesn’t cancel out the fact that complex problems frequently meet sustainable solutions with varied cognitive styles. We’ve seen social diversity is a predictor of innovative thinking and problem-solving.
Sidelining diversity and inclusion agendas leaves important questions and issues on the table. These sub-populations are still waiting and hoping for solutions while they see their lives and well-being put in jeopardy.
Why leading with inclusion is critical
Crisis demands clear, focused, directive leadership. Employees expect their leaders to create conditions for longer-term solutions. Conveying an inclusive message can increase your impact and does not need to be difficult.
Facing only the problem right in front us, without paying attention to what comes next, only increases challenges later. The easiest way to preempt this cycle is through thoughtful, careful communication.
First, remind people that you value them as employees but care about them as human beings, as well. From there, communicate your awareness of the current challenges and its disproportionate impact, especially revolving around people’s identities and experiences.
Furthermore, assure your employees their perspectives and experiences are critical to the survival and performance of the business. Certain resources and support tools may ensure engagement.
What we can do now
Begin by considering your diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda prior to the pandemic. What do you want to be known for as a business? What do you personally want to be known for as a leader? Review your correspondence to date. Ask yourself the question, “How can I make sure that our commitment to all of our people, mindful of all identities, is clear through all communication?” “How can I create the conditions to build the benefits of inclusion and diversity through this crisis and after?”
Finally, “How can I provide the right mix of support and engagement for members of our business community who may be disproportionately affected?
What does an inclusive leader look like
Successful inclusive leadership demands that leaders demonstrate three characteristics: curiosity, courage, and connection.
Courage requires the display of authentic vulnerability. Acknowledge where you’ve missed or made mistakes in communication so far. Share insight to your feelings, which parts of your identities are being tested and affected by this crisis, and how are you building resiliency.
Curiosity requires openness, receptivity, and genuine investment in understanding others’ experiences. Ask your team to share what they are going through. What are they finding helpful? What would they like more or less of? Ask them how you incorporate their experiences into your own thinking, planning, and communication.
Connection demands understanding your own perspective and how it is shaped by your experiences, to then enable you to understand and relate to others. As a leader, building diversity depends on your willingness to meaningfully connect with other to meet their needs, emotionally and practically.
The responses from your team members will demonstrate their belief in you and your commitment to diversity and inclusion. It is up to you to show them you see the range of their experiences and will lead from a place of acknowledgement and care.
Eric Pliner is the CEO of YSC Consulting, a global leadership strategy firm.