The Kaleel Jamision consluting group, diversity management consultants, have created an incredibly powerful framework on how to leverage diversity in the workplace. In the course of this blog article, I will give you a quick overview of their key points.
1. Create a safe environment
This means getting rid of the all so common office politics. You need to create an environment in which everybody feels safe to share their ideas with others. Stealing these ideas, or using them against you behind your back, are both things that should be clearly framed as unacceptable behavior. Policies and procedures need to be in place which support this. These policies, alongside more informal norms and rules, should be discussed interactively within the work groups. Part of this is to create a situation in which everybody feels like their voice is heard. And to do that, you need to listen actively. Great results come from great team effort, in which different perspectives come together and create something more meaningful than just each individual’s ideas. So, instead of looking for the mistakes of your co-workers, see how their ideas contribute to the solution of the problem, and how you can link their ideas with your own. Teamwork isn’t a war of who shines the most with their unique ideas; it is a collaborative effort that results in something every team member has contributed to.
2. Learn to tolerate uncomfortable situations
You can only truly appreciate diversity if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone. Different people’s point of views will inevitably be different from yours, and you will need to learn to accept that. That also means that the group needs to start addressing conflict in a positive manner. When I say this, I don’t mean that you should tolerate conflict. No. What I mean is that conflict should not be ignored and swept under the rug. Your team needs to be able to discuss problems in a constructive manner – one that results in a common understanding. That doesn’t mean that everybody needs to agree, it just means that people understand where the other party is coming from, and that their perspective is equally valuable.
3. Involve everybody in the decision-making process
Make it clear to everybody that they should not only speak up themselves, but that they should also speak up if another team member is being excluded from the discussion. That refers to both: when they are present, but do not get to speak, or when they are excluded from the meeting altogether. However, you also need to keep in mind that some cultures do not encourage speaking up against the mainstream opinion, or they do not encourage lower-ranking individuals to disagree with their superiors. It is of crucial importance that you develop means for these individuals to contribute to the discussion as well. This can be done, for example, by letting them contribute their opinions before, and after the debate, or by explicitly taking turns so that everybody must add their two cents.