The need to tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in a virtual and hybrid work environment has created an unexpected challenge for many leaders in the HR world.
Overcoming this hurdle means shelving empty statements for real, focused solutions. Working to make real solutions is how organizations can attract the best people and talent. Oftentimes, word on the street gets around and the reality of organization comes to light, no matter what you say in public.
“I work with quite a few companies on DEI but, at this time, most are a work in progress” says Nancy Lewis, president of learning and development company, Progressive Techniques. “Unfortunately, for some it’s just window dressing rather than putting [in] serious efforts.”
Wade McNair, who leads learning and change management efforts at his own consultancy, myKube, agrees: “What I am seeing in the DEI space is mostly talk, but there are some great initiatives working their way to the front of organization and talent strategy. One of my clients in the entertainment industry dubbed 2022 as the ‘year of people development’ at every level of [an] organization. I’ve also recently noticed promotional material on DEI with the new catch phrases ‘belonging’ and ‘well-being’ but no real detail on how, just a lot of ideation, at this point.”
To give more substance to ideas, I’ve outlined a few “how” strategies to increase your virtual team’s or company’s “belonging” and DEI. Here are several practical activities your organization can use now.
Show that you’re committed to the team
Start by showing your commitment in your own efforts. Begin by turning your camera on during meetings, thereby inviting your teammates and reports to fully show up for group sessions. As we insert our own humanity with expressions, hand gestures, etc., we get as close to “eyeball to eyeball” communication as we can.
This challenge helps build a virtual culture where people have a chance to be known authentically for the unique individual they are.
Do a little bragging
Start with one minute per person in your group and ask your team to consider their most valuable contribution in the last week. It doesn’t have to be a gigantic milestone, but rather something they did exceptionally well; something that they did that truly reflects the way they are wired.
What is this significant “thing” they did that helped your team or company move toward its desired outcomes? You go first. For example: “I handled a crabby client better than most could. I kept my cool, drove toward the next steps, and left with the relationship intact.” Value and celebrate individual results and team efforts, regardless of title, location, or experience. This game creates a culture that’s inclusive while focusing on contributions and forward momentum.
Share and combine visions
You’ll have better success at creating your envisioned culture and reaching your desired destination when a team knows what to expect. Are you all on the same page? Are the business objectives and values of your organization and team known? Review this with them on a regular basis to help create an inclusive culture where every person is invited to contribute to making the vision reality.
Break the ice with a unexpected challenge
Share it with the team the day before meeting with a focus on “who they are” in real life. Begin your next team virtual session with the invitation for folks to share. For example, “What’s your passion outside of work?” or, “What is your best memory of a holiday or birthday celebration?” Our uniquenesses are revealed in this inquiry, often revealing aspects of the many ways we are diverse.
Help make people feel comfortable by going first and sharing your interests, challenges, and dreams, as the first component of setting a positive tone. Then take time to listen to theirs and observe everyone’s reactions. Ask questions. This activity provides permission for the team to connect with each other and inquire about parts of who they are rather than make assumptions. Make time for one-on-one’s for those who appear not to be gelling with the team. This will go far toward developing an ethic of care and a sense of belonging.
Try a “10 in the tank” activity
Pair people in virtual breakout rooms, with the task to ask one question to each of their colleagues. Emphasize the necessity to listen.
After three minutes, have your team members switch roles. Return to the large group where each person is invited to share (chat feature or by voice—depending on group size) and share what they learned about the person’s positive character or trait (like, adventurous, courageousness). Think about what you can learn from that person each day; invite your virtual team to approach each person as a “10,” from whom they can learn something of significance. This activity helps people view work relationships with the mindset of a team built on trust and humanity, and authentically value all people.
We all have biases and innate reactions/impressions to people in a virtual environment. Once you’ve tried some or all of these activities, a next step would be to invest in an implicit bias course so you can spot these in yourself and your team and learn how to shut them down. And remember, when conducting any of these activities, improving DEI in a virtual world starts with developing a culture steeped in respect.
Heidi Scott, PhD, is the chief learning officer for HR.com.