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When we were in the development phase of Lead Together, we felt it was important to include a chapter on diversity and inclusion. Even though this is a vital topic for leaders to address, as three authors with positions of historic privilege, it was a topic we stepped into with caution.

In this blog we share some of our thinking and perspectives, giving readers insight into why diversity and inclusion is so key in organizations that choose to embrace greater levels of accountability and self-management.

Travis Marsh:

This was a tough chapter to take on. We were thinking, “What’s our place in this conversation? As three white, western educated authors? How do we have a voice in here?” That’s why it seemed so important to say, “We’ve got to think about everybody’s experience, not just our own,” It just felt like a crucial thing to do.

Stepping back can also can unlock some interesting ideas, because the diversity of perspective comes from people’s lived experiences. Susan expressed this beautifully in a recent session, highlighting that if you look at the business needs and the insights that are required to make your business, you’ll naturally end up with a diverse set of people.

I was working with a client that’s in the pinball space, which is traditionally a very male dominated industry, both from a players perspective and the people that work in the business. They made a concerted effort to grow a more diverse team along gender lines. Now they’ve got people that are leading female pinball leagues, and there’s an entire segment of market that’s opened up. By elevating some other voices that have traditionally been minimized in that industry, there’s a whole breath of fresh air and new ways of engaging.

Another interesting aspect in putting the chapter together was that finding companies that were proud of their diversity journey was really hard. Most people that start to get into it, realize there’s a lot farther to go. Looking in the mirror and realizing that there’s bias everywhere can be really sobering.

What are your thoughts on bias and meritocracy? How do people use those words and how does it show up in organizations?

Susan Basterfield:

Meritocracy is clearly a vestige from traditional organizations. It’s that idea that everybody is equal from where they are currently. If you have five people in the room, that all went to the same university, and had the same teachers and are now in an organization that somehow their experiences are equal. That’s just patently not true.

We talk a lot about our whole selves, and to imagine that we are just this narrow, thin slice of ourselves based on our last experience, or our last rung on the ladder is just in my mind, foolish. We all have different individual lived experiences that have been influenced by the predominant systems. Lived experiences that have been influenced by racism, inequality, gender bias, all of these different things and to imagine that isn’t the case – that’s not reality. Not only is it disingenuous, but it’s dangerous to our assumptions about what is possible from looking at organizing differently. If we’re not willing to go there, if we’re not willing to put anti-racist practices in place in our organization, then we are merely papering over the cracks and doing the convenient thing instead of the thing that’s really going to shift the system.

We all have biases. I have biases and I’m intentionally doing my anti-racism work. Almost every time I scratch below the surface, I see something else that that I’m absolutely ashamed of, that I’ve done to perpetuate existing systems of pain and suffering. If we really do intend and imagine that leading together, is going to shift the way that we think about work, we need to be able to do this work intentionally with our teams and our organizations.

How can leaders be more intentional about ensuring that we’re fostering diversity and inclusion within our organizations?

Brent Lowe:

Susan has used the word intentional multiple times in the last couple of paragraphs. The process of fostering diversity and inclusion does start with the leader being really clear in their own intentions, their personal intentions, and having the willingness to look in the areas where they have been unconsciously biased in the past. We’ve all been biased, it’s a function of being human. Leaders won’t be successful in asking others to overcome their bias if they don’t embrace the process first in their own lives. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic. It is the small micro practices.

A great example is that for me as a white male, being in a room, it tends to be pretty easy for me to speak up. I can go in with an intention of and a knowledge of that fact and choose my language to say, “You know, what, I think I’ve spoken enough, I’d really like to hear from Susan” or other individuals that are in the room that maybe don’t speak up as much. Its important to create space for those individuals up front and not filling the room. Often I’ll hear people say, “I’m known to talk a lot,” and then they’ll continue to go on and talk a lot, rather than being able to say, “ I’m known to talk a lot but today I’m going to choose to listen,.” That that took 10 seconds to say, but the impact that little micro practice can have in a room is pretty dramatic. I think for leaders just being clear on their intention, and finding small ways to model that intention can have great impact in their organizations.

What could greater diversity and inclusion look like in recruiting practices?

Travis Marsh: 

The interesting thing on the recruiting process is oftentimes when we’re thinking diversity it’s around the demographic recruiting policies like gender and race and maybe sexual orientation. That’s really just the tip of the diversity iceberg. There are so many other things that are less visible like introverts or extroverts, or preferred work style like work from home or working in a group. All of that comes back to the recruiting process, so where do you start?

A powerful thing that that can be helpful is asking, “What would be at an intriguing difference?” or “What cultural contribution could somebody bring to the table?: instead of the usual “Are they a culture fit?”

Recruiting for culture fit is often an insidious way of saying, “Are they like me?” Or “Is this somebody that I’d want to go hang out with or grab a beer with?”
The best companies are looking for cultural contribution. Buffer did a very intentional exercise, where they looked at the language used in the early stage of the recruiting process. They realized that they were using a lot of words like, “we want a rockstar” or a “Ninja”. Those happen to be words that men resonated with a lot more strongly than women. The result was they were getting a lot more men coming into their pipeline when wanted was a broader representation and more quality people. There are actually some great gender bias detecting tools online, that you can put your job listing through to detect whether or not it’s gender coded. It’s a small thing that can open up the playing field. A little bit of attention goes a long way.

Changing how we think about diversity and inclusion means taking an introspective journey.

Who are we surrounding ourselves with?

Are we inviting those around us to fully contribute their unique gifts in their unique ways?

Building the strongest teams requires diversity of thought—a diversity that we’re not likely to create without conscious intention.

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