How Do Leaders Promote Inclusion?

Posted In: Leadership
Posted On: 4/24/2017

There is a lot written about the power of a diverse workforce and its positive impact on a company’s performance.  And studies have shown that we all have unconscious biases when it comes to making hiring decisions.

In the last week, I had the chance to attend two amazing discussions about this topic, and I came out of both with a renewed sensitivity about my own personal biases.  

Let me start with the first discussion that was sponsored by the Temple Grandin School. The topic was Neurodiversity Where We Live Work and Play and the panelists were extraordinary, all experts in the subject of the autism spectrum:  Dr. Temple Grandin; John Elder Robison; and Steve Silberman.  I will not be giving this excellent panel its due, but I want to focus on one small, yet impactful point and the realization it awakened in me.

This part of the conversation was around the importance of people with autism having real jobs.  Most of us need a job where we can showcase our skills and build our confidence.  But a person who has autism may very well not have the social skills to make it past the first interview.  Something as seemingly small as not making eye contact could disqualify the candidate before the interviewer even explored their strong, underlying skills.

Back to me. I had to ask myself: Am I more drawn to people who are high energy with strong social skills? Am I missing the opportunity to really hire great people because I have a bias towards initial interpersonal interactions?

The second discussion was at a board meeting for the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado.  Assistant Dean Kristi Ryujin and Assistant Professor Stefanie Johnson were fielding questions from the board, and I asked about the role of feedback in creating an inclusive environment.  Dean Ryujin shared a story about a case competition where a diverse team did a horrible job strictly because it was their first time and therefore, they had no frame of reference about what a great performance looked like. Unfortunately, the judges were afraid to give them constructive feedback and the team left thinking they did an okay job.  (Luckily, the team got feedback after and went on to great success).

Back to me.  I had to ask myself:  Do I avoid giving important feedback for fear of hurting an employee’s feelings? Does it do more damage to an individual if they don’t know how they can improve?

These two discussions prompted some thoughts on how we as leaders can better promote inclusion in our organizations:

  • Understand our own personal biases when interviewing and working with others;
  • Proactively dig deeper into what a diverse candidate may offer;
  • Provide opportunities for all employees to share with the team what they excel at, building confidence and acceptance;
  • Be generous with feedback both positive and constructive; and
  • Don’t be afraid to be a little uncomfortable surrounding yourself with people who don’t look and act just like you.

By the way, I don’t think any of this takes a lot of extra time. Just a little extra caring.