Editorial Note: SILC is delighted to share this article that the author, a presenter at our Annual Conference, originally published on Forbes.com as a Forbes Councils Member.
The author, Deborah Goldstein, is a recovering restauranteur. Moving on from the restaurant business to pursue a more integrated life, Deborah soon found herself on her current mission to support individuals and companies as they identify and then strive towards their greatest aspirations. As the founder of DRIVEN Professionals, she specializes in Women's Leadership, Intentional Productivity, and creating workplace cultures of inclusion and trust by implementing her self-designed platform GRACE in the Workplace℠.
Research now confirms that workplace inclusion is the company-wide effort that can most dramatically affect the bottom line, either positively or negatively. Quite simply, co-created ideas tend to be better than ideas created by a segment of the population. For these ideas to be shared and massaged into game changers, contributors must feel safe and heard, not fearful, stressed or ignored. This, like many studies in workplace culture, is based on science and logic.
For instance, a mind fogged by cortisol, the stress hormone, doesn’t think clearly. By contrast, employees who feel valued, safe and included are experiencing a more consistent flow of oxytocin, the comfort and belief hormone, and are less likely to leave their positions. The latter yields productivity, engagement and the sustainable workforce that 21st-century companies strive for, while the former disrupts the flow of a team and can be extrapolated as being more detrimental than replacement and training costs.
Whether or not these facts are new to you, the billion-dollar question remains: How can you create inclusion in your firm? Here are three small steps that can add up to a giant impact.
“If you have a brain, you have bias.” It’s been said in various ways by different neuroscientists and business coaches. Yet company leaders are not quite sure how to deal with it. The ones I’ve interviewed are convinced they’re not doing enough to suppress workplace bias.
My answer: Don’t suppress it. Instead, create a safe environment to explore how professionals have arrived at their biases.
To help with this experiment, think of bias as one’s personal “terroir." This French term derived from the Latin for “land” is usually applied to wine and refers to the soil and climatic elements that converge to yield grapes that deliver the flavor of a specific location. If the terroir is ordinary, the result is jug wine, but if the terroir is special, so is the wine, and collectors will spend big bucks on a single bottle.
By comparison, the brain’s terroir consists of one’s ethnicity, social class, geographic location and gender. Just as two vineyards sitting side by side may create entirely different wines from their contrasting land composition, two people growing up as next-door neighbors can develop different biases based on something as fundamental as their contrasting ethnic traditions. This could even be true for two individuals raised in the very same household, based on gender. The point is, we each look at the world through different eyes and for legitimate reasons. Embracing this truism is the first step toward workplace inclusion.
Recognize Your Blind Spots
Despite my mother’s claim to have eyes in the back of her head, we as humans are not all-seeing. Drawing conclusions based on our own biases is a more realistic explanation of our apparent shrewdness and is completely natural. But we make a mistake when we assume everyone else sees and feels things in the same way we do.
Here’s how to prove it to yourself and resolve your social blind spots: Ask a friend or colleague to jot down five or six endeavors that would constitute an ideal day off for them. Write down some of your own as well and compare notes. The odds are that although you’ll have one or two activities in common, most will be drastically different. Take this into consideration before you respond to the next Monday morning inquiry about your weekend with, “It was perfect!” That colleague might be imagining you sleeping in, watching a football game and eating nachos, while you’re silently reminiscing about catching that sunrise, taking that adventurous hike and preparing that meal over a campfire.
Understand How 'Words Create Worlds'
That last exercise constitutes a low-stakes experiment about how the simple words “an ideal weekend” conjure up very different scenarios and can expose our blind spots. It’s strange how words can tell different stories based on the listener’s interpretation.
As author and organizational anthropologist Judith E. Glaser eloquently put it, “words create worlds." Why not put this profound knowledge into action?
Consider a word that’s been popping up in companies’ mission statements, like "respect." Challenge yourself to do the “ideal weekend” exercise with your team by asking what respect means to each of them. Have a conversation about what they write. Ask yourselves how you can adopt meeting protocols to represent respect. Would you change the way projects are assigned? How about the way feedback and reviews are conducted? Make sure each person has a chance to share their words, uninterrupted. The next thing you know, you’ll be having an inclusive conversation that will result in a more inclusive environment.