What If Your Manager Is Not Inclusive?

If you don’t have an inclusive manager, how can you further engage them in DEI work?

In a recent virtual training, I was asked an anonymous question while we talked through some inclusive leadership skillsets. A participant asked, “But what if my manager isn’t inclusive? How do I foster change and inclusive behavior without their engagement?”.  

According to Change Catalyst, 45% of employees’ perception of inclusion is tied to their relationship with their manager at work. Yet, according to Better Up, only 31% feel that their managers are inclusive. While it’s unfair to ask marginalized groups to do extra work to close this gap, we’re sharing a few ways that research has proven to get better buy-in and engagement from your immediate leaders (beyond DEI!). We’ve learned that it is important to practice the following with your leaders:

  • Share your story
  • Ask for the support you need
  • Influence up and around you

In another recent virtual engagement I participated in, a male leader was nominated by his colleagues to share his story and experiences as a great male ally, and he shared an excellent nugget. He said, “In the wise words of Adam Grant, don’t work for a**holes.” This is a critical piece of this conversation, because if you have tried all of these tactics, and you are still not gaining the support you need from your manager because they are unwilling to listen or grow, it might be time for a change!

Storytelling evokes empathy from non-inclusive managers 

Humans are wired for stories. This is why we remember stories 20 times more than facts and figures. One of the best empathy bridges for our social species is to share stories with one another. Storytelling dates back as a practice to our hunting and gathering days. Many civilizations have one thing in common – a fire circle where people gathered together in the evening to share stories. This enhanced our evolution by talking about potential threats and obstacles that others had faced to learn together from everyone’s collective experience. Stories are what bond us together as humans.

This human need to connect doesn’t stop in the workplace. If you’re having trouble connecting with your manager, think of a story about yourself that might resonate. Maybe it’s a personal story, or a professional story, or a story about your career goals and aspirations. Think about what positive signs you’ve seen from your manager before, what their interests are and find a story that might resonate with them and peak their curiosity to learn more. 

A good story has three key pieces. A strong beginning with the who, what, where, when, and why, followed by a murky middle with a notable change or climax, completed by a resolution that explains what you learned or why you shared the story. A good story should not be long. Three to five minutes is plenty of time to tell a good story. If your manager is interested in learning more, they’ll ask thoughtful questions and you can share other details or attributes of the story. I find stories best told in person in side-by-side communications where you’re sitting together over a coffee, going for a walk, or a drive. In the hybrid work environment this is much harder to create, yet possible via video in lieu of in-person time.

Ask for the support you need

As with any relationship, setting clear expectations and boundaries is healthy. It may feel like your manager has power over you and some of that feeling is real, but you are still an independent human living your life and it is possible for you to leave the workplace if necessary. Reminding yourself that while your manager has the ability to influence work expectations in activities you do, you are ultimately in control of your decisions and actions.

As humans, we have cognitive bias. Essentially, we think everybody knows what we know. This often applies to the kind of support we need from our managers. If they don’t proactively ask you what kind of support you need, try to instead proactively surface your needs with them. 

I personally like when my employees tell me; “I work best under these conditions” or “I like this type of coaching or management style”, “here’s what works best for me and here’s what I struggle with”. Having an open-ended conversation about our strengths, our weaknesses and how we work best together can go such a long way to set the tone for an inclusive team and workplace. 

Influence up and around

If the strategies of storytelling and the clear ask for support do not work, it is time to find other allies around the organization. You can’t always want inclusion for someone. If they are opposed to deeper conversations, or unwilling to listen to your story or your request for support, it might be time to look elsewhere. That doesn’t mean you have to look for a new position or jobs necessarily. In the short term, find other allies. 

To find allies think about:

  • Who are the people at your organization that are supportive?
  • What nodes of influence can you tap into around the organization?
  • Who is in your manager’s network that could help you navigate the relationship? 

Once you have your allies in your corner, ask for support there. Think about how they might help you influence your manager. Longer-term you may want to consider another role or identify other managers that might be more supportive. 

Not all managers are inclusive. Yet, with some prompting and coaching, I believe more can learn to be more inclusive. We have to meet our allies where they’re at. Storytelling, asking for support, and finding networks of allies can increase your chances of success.

Want to do better, and not sure where to start?  Contact us today to learn more about customized solutions for your organizations. We’ve also developed the Lead Like an Ally virtual self-paced training program, perfect for organizations struggling with where to begin their DEI journey. You can also check out all of our solutions here.