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Stay ahead of the diversity curve with these proven strategies

I am constantly asked for tangible tips to achieve gender equality in the workplace. To which I often respond with a shrug and, “it’s not that simple.” We cannot undo centuries of inequality with a checklist of strategies.

What I have come to learn is that I need to meet people where they are at. That means giving some starting points. No matter where you or your organization is at in your journey to equality and engaging allies, I offer these ideas that I see work with my clients.

1. Measure progress on diversity and equality

This seems obvious. Yet, many organizations do not have goals, let alone measure progress. The fear of being vulnerable and sharing your imperfect numbers stings. You are not alone. Most organizations are hovering around 20% of their C-suite consisting of women. Rip the Band-Aid. Air your dirty laundry. People will respect you for it. This gives you the benefit of being on the offensive vs. the defensive.

Be sure to have a measurement plan in place with regular review of progress made. I am not advocating for mandates or hard number goals. You do have to inspect what you expect. If you are not actively gauging progress with metrics like % of leadership, % of promotions, % pay equality, etc., you are behind.

2. Share your diversity story as leaders

My ally in diversity, Jennifer Brown, advocates that everyone has a diversity story. I believe her. And, it is imperative that leaders are sharing their stories. Even Caucasian, straight, white men have a story. I have stood in countless rooms with leadership teams of men pouring out their stories. It is vulnerable. It is human. It brings us all together.

Simply ask yourself, when was a time I felt different? A time I did not belong? A time when I had to be a different version of myself to blend in with a group? Own your story, and share your story with your team. It will build trust and create a safe place for a deeper dialogue.

3. Conduct candid conversations about equality

Diversity is a candid conversation. If you are not having real discussions about gaps, issues, and challenges holding your team back from achieving a more equal workplace, then you are missing out. If candid conversations are only happening behind closed doors, or people fear talking directly about difficult issues, your chances of success are much lower. Lack of candor will stagnate your movement along the diversity curve. People need safe places to share what they see and hear, and know that people are held accountable for their behavior.

Diverse teams say what they mean without being mean. They assume positive intent. They focus on behaviors vs. personal attacks. They engage allies to have candid conversations.

4. Be curious to learn from others that do not look like you

Quite possibly one of my favorite leadership mantras. To be inclusive and welcome people different than the majority, you have to be curious to learn from them. That means parking your assumptions and not pretending you know what it is like to be them. We all have our own privilege and it is impossible to unsee it.

The old adage – “put yourself in their shoes” – is impossible. Be curious what it is like to be in their shoes. You do not know what is like to be someone else. All you can do is listen to their story, empathize with it, and ask questions. That is what curious people do well.

5. Check your unconscious bias

We all have bias. I am certified in it and I have it. Our brains are hard-wired to recognize patterns and make assumptions based on what we have experienced that feels like this. Often, those patterns identify people that look a certain way as markers. Despite your very best of intentions, you likely judge people based on their visible diversity differences like race or gender, or visible disabilities. We are likely to surround ourselves with people that look like us.

Be self-aware about your own biases. Take the Harvard implicit bias assessment, or ensure your organization is trained on it. Educate your team about how to spot it in yourself and correct it in the moment. It takes simple interventions to adjust behavior over time. The more leadership models those adjustments, even on the fly, the more the team knows it is okay to be make mistakes, as long as they are prepared correct them.

6. Require a diverse interview slate before interviewing candidates

I have a client that set this bar when leaders and recruiters would constantly bring candidates that all looked the same, primarily white males. Routinely asking for diverse talent – gender, race, industry etc. – they would continually get the same slate. Suddenly, when they paused interviews until diverse talent was a part of the pool, candidates appeared. If you are struggling to get diverse talent to apply for your positions, I promise you they are out there.

Organizations strong at diversity do so intentionally. That means diversity is a decision filter on everything they do from recruiting to hiring to promoting to leading. It is embedded in the employee experience. Inclusive cultures require this.

7. Set a standard that every meeting has a diverse perspective

When preparing for a meeting, or organizing the invite list, be sure to think about diversity. If the people in the room look and think alike, the ideas will be alike. That means the ideas are not as good, the decisions are not as good, and the outcomes will not be as good. If you want to beat your competition, diversify your meetings. Demand debate. Set the expectation that the status quo is not acceptable.

Challenge your team with empathy and grace. If there is a room full of non-diverse minded people, simply ask, “Where are the ____ people? Seems like we are missing some perspective here.” Reminders over time bring awareness and it will require people to think the next time they set up a meeting. No one wants to be called out again for not being inclusive.

8. Broaden diversity to mean more than race or gender

We like to liken diversity to diversity we can usually see – race, gender, age, national origin, or ability. Yet, true diversity is in the eye of the beholder. Things like sexual orientation, industry, functional area, work experience, geography, education, economic background, family, religion, and political associations all matter. We are far more than what you see on the surface.

That is why we ask our allies to see beyond what is physically different and be curious to learn more about how we are alike and different. We learn more from people different than us. Make it a goal to have a conversation with someone that is “different” than you and plan to learn from them.

9. Call out bad behavior in the moment

Subtle, yet powerful callouts work. Be kind, while being candid. It is an art. Try on phrases like, “when you said this…what did you mean?” or “when you did this…it created this perception…help me understand what your intent was.” To withhold information that could help someone be better is selfish. If you care, say something. People cannot fix what they do not know.

Set a cultural expectation that call outs are normal. The more frequent it becomes, the more sustainable it is. If you care, call out the behavior. If you do not care, say nothing. That is the sure fire way to ensure that behavior happens again.

10. Ask diverse talent for referrals

If your talent pipeline is non-diverse despite the best intentions, ask your diverse talent for recommendations. Diverse people know diverse people. They will broaden your network just by shear networking. We surround ourselves with people like us. Diversity brings diversity. Share the love with those outside of your normal hiring practices – diversity the campuses you visit, the recruiters you hire, the job boards you post on.

You cannot become more diverse doing the same things. To be more diverse requires changes in behavior. It does not just happen. It happens when you change how you make decisions and behave.

Like these strategies?

Hire us to give this as a talk with interactive Q&A. Bring your real questions and scenarios and we can brainstorm live how to improve gender equality and allies at your organization.

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