Women want to be heard, cultural roadblocks be damned.
We saw this after the November 2018 midterm elections when 117 women — a historic record — were elected or appointed to Congress. We saw this with the launch of the Time’s Up Movement, aimed at addressing inequality and injustices in the entertainment industry.
We also saw women making significant strides beyond social activism: last year alone, there were 1,821 net new women-owned businesses launched every single day, with women of color founding 64 percent of those new businesses.
That’s a HUGE accomplishment.
To say I am proud to be a female president at a women-owned organization would be an understatement.
I am also proud of the many women who inspire me regularly. There are so many I could shout-out, and I am going to highlight a few:
There are so many more that I would love to share, and I’ll do that more in the next few days.
In honor of International Women’s Day, and to celebrate this year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter, I’m challenging all business leaders to take a deeper look at how they can continue the momentum we’ve had and make a strong commitment to diversity in the workplace.
For encouragement, check out these statistics on balance in the workplace from Randstad US:
We took some large steps in 2018, but as you can see from this data, there’s still room to grow and improve so that employees can proudly say their organization is #BalanceforBetter.
A great first start to cultivating a more diverse organization is by creating a space where every single employee feels that their voice matters.
Below are four ways you can foster more diverse voices within your company, and begin to bolster a stronger, balanced workforce:
1. Invite more than your usual team members to meetings
No one person has all the answers in your organization, and you can most likely predict your team members’ views on topics.
Because of this, it is incredibly important to include more than the typical individuals you regularly invite to meetings. Imagine the unique, diverse ideas that could come from employees you don’t normally think to ask to share their thoughts.
It’s important to remember that these people most likely won’t be the ones with the most direct experience with whatever your meeting is focusing on — they could be from completely different teams and departments, as well as various levels of seniority.
Their perspectives are useful because they will be coming from a place contrasting to what you expect.
Also think about including those who will be affected by any decisions that may come out of the meeting and those who have perspectives you don’t usually think about hearing such as customers, outside experts, and decision makers.
The more unexpected people you bring to the table, the more likely you will champion creative outcomes you never would have reached if you stuck with the status quo.
By going outside the usual suspects in meetings, you’re showing everyone at your organization that their opinions and ideas matter and you are open to hearing them.
2. Encourage every team member to share their thoughts and emotions
We don’t know what people are thinking unless they tell us. Even if they do, there is no guarantee they’re telling us what they really think.
This is why it is especially vital you embolden your team members to tell you their perspectives, especially if they differ from what you see or the direction you are leaning.
There’s no better way to convince people you care about their opinions than by asking for it and then truly, presently listening to what they have to say.
Also, be sure that you hear from every single team member during all variations of conversations.
If someone says, “I don’t know” when you ask them their opinions, or “I have nothing to add,” challenge them by asking what they would add or say if they did know or had something to add.
When you aren’t sure what someone’s comments mean or what they’ve said is incomplete, encourage them to describe further so you fully understand and hear their point of view.
The key here is showing that you want to hear and understand what they have to say and that their voice matters.
3. Check your bias at the door
The metaphorical phrase, “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” has endured as long as it has for a reason. It speaks the truth and it resonates with people.
In this sense, it is incredibly imperative to remember that employees shouldn’t be judged by the generation they represent, the religion they practice or don’t practice, the gender they identify as, or the socioeconomic status they were raised in.
What organizations can do is ensure employees become skilled at culling insights from people of all backgrounds and encourage employees to interrogate their own conscious or unconscious perceptions of reality.
Focus then shifts to the ideas, thoughts, and thought processes of the individual, rather than judgments you have because of an unconscious bias you may have.
Building a work environment where diversity of thought is valued begins with the commitment to enter into conversations without making assumptions by interrogating our own personal context.
The goal is to learn rather than to convince.
Curiosity not only encourages innovation and increases the likelihood of well-rounded decisions, it more accurately represents the people present.
4. Practice inclusion without illusion
Don't just implement inclusion initiatives for the sake of best practices. Do so out of genuine curiosity and interest.
Inspire employees to check in with themselves regarding their approach — if they don't believe another's input to be valid or worth hearing, chances are, the other person will be able to pick up on it and see that their thoughts are being brushed under the rug.
Remember that every opinion has value (regardless of organizational level) and listen with an open mind.
An added benefit to inviting diverse perspectives is that on an individual level, we feel appreciated and heard. Knowing that our own perspective is being considered, regardless of the outcome, is a good feeling.
Leaders need to leverage the strengths that vary from person to person as well as our unique contexts, preferences, and life experiences.
Remind contributors to bring all of who they are to the conversation because their unique experience of the world is valid. Every perspective matters.
We need to continue moving in a direction toward a common goal in our organizations, and when everyone feels supported and free to contribute their perspective to this goal, we can get there more efficiently, more effectively, and more successfully.
Who are the women you want to recognize for all that they do for you? I’d love it if you used the hashtags #BalanceforBetter and #leadFierce together to tell me all about them! I can’t wait to read about the strong, influential women in your lives and to give them the credit they deserve.