I consult for multiple organizations, businesses, communities, retail, and service industries on diversity, inclusion, and engagement. No matter where I go, the first thing I hear about is fear.
The fear of “doing it wrong”, of not knowing, of being “wrong”, of not understanding, or making people feel bad. Fear has kept so many organizations at a standstill, waiting for the “right” way or the “perfect” way to become more inclusive.
I have had so many discussions about compliance and policy documents, where people believe that words can create action and a change in behavior. It often takes a long time to explain that inclusion is a journey, not a 5-page glossy policy document with great “diverse” pictures and diagrams.
Organizations often want to change the “numbers” in reports without understanding that the numbers ARE people. It’s their lives and stories, their lived experiences, their joys and challenges.
For example, during discussions with an organization looking for a Director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement, they presented the following:
- Be sure the candidate knows that the job is complex and affected by several levels of influence. The change will be very slow and the work will require enormous drive and patience.
- Be sure the candidate is aware that there are tremendous roadblocks, failed attempts, preconceived notions, and years of “this is how we have always done it” to overcome.
- Be sure the candidate is ready to fight backlash, pushback, interference, and lack of real control over outcomes.
Fear is a poor compass.
If you are starting this journey in fear, it will take a considerable amount of time before you can move to the core of Diversity and Inclusion — people.
It’s like putting out a fire with a thimble of water, you are bound to feel insignificant.
When we start in the negative, in fear, then recognizing the incredible opportunity and strength in creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces is a long journey. When we start with curiosity, exploration, and as Adam Grant would say “knowing what we don’t know”, then we are ready for any possibility.
Consider the last time you tried something you had never done before.
- What gave you the courage to try?
- Who supported your effort?
- What did you learn in the process?
- Did you do it again? Why?
I understand the fear, deeply.
I hear you when you tell me you are worried about the outcomes, the pushback, what happened before, and where you have been. I hear you when you say, “once we put ‘this person’ or ‘process’ in place we HAVE to get it right”. My question is if we never start, or we settle for checking the box instead of checking in with people, how can we achieve or see the incredible possibilities?
Start by building and cultivating trust. Provide conditions where people feel heard, valued, and have a choice in their professional lives. Provide opportunities for communication about who people are outside of their work, where they have been, what they do in their free time, and what makes them feel capable and confident.
I see organizations that understand the benefits of diversity but still struggle with how to create inclusive, psychologically safe spaces where people can come to work as their authentic selves. Although it is beginning to change, I believe we all play a role in continued progress.
Can you afford to wait until everything feels “safe” to try?
On the other side of starting is increased connection, engagement, innovation, communication, retention, adaptability, and innovative ideas, just to name a few.
It’s all right to misstep, that’s how we learn.
But it is time to start.