As a person of colour and a female, it quickly became apparent to me, quite early on in my career, that my experience was slightly different from everyone else. In some respects, I had to work quite hard to make myself, and my unique perspectives, understood. As a young professional, I found it easier to ‘cover’ and not be entirely myself.
With the help of some really good mentors and coaches along the way, I realised that, as a person who a lot of the time stands out in a room full of people, I can contribute a different perspective. My difference is a strength.
The more diverse and inclusive an organisation is, the more ideas and skills it is likely to have. Studies have shown that it can really improve productivity in the workplace – as long as it’s managed and implemented correctly. Workplaces aren’t only informed by the qualifications of their employees; they also bring a lot of themselves into the workplace. Cultural background, life experiences, where they’ve lived and how they grew up – all of these things provide benefits to the organisation. It allows the organisation to make more rounded decisions.
But everyone on the team has to address their own biases and assumptions if it’s going to work. It can be easier said than done, but if you lead the way, address your own biases, and implement changes within your team, you can reap the rewards of a more inclusive culture.
Don’t trust your assumptions
A few years ago, I felt quite intimidated by one of my colleagues. I thought she was very confident and sure of herself; I didn’t know how to approach her. I mentioned to my director that I found her quite intimidating. My boss looked at me in disbelief: “Actually, she’s really shy.”
It completely changed the way that I saw her, and it got me to consider some other assumptions I’d made. Since then, this colleague and I have worked on projects together and had some really great conversations. It’s taught me not to trust any assumptions I might have of people. You need to at least seek out evidence for those assumptions before you take it as gospel. If you think someone is unapproachable, try approaching them. The worst thing that can happen is you confirm what you already thought. The answer is always no if you don’t ask the question or try something.
You need to go out and experience other perspectives. Work with colleagues that have different backgrounds and working styles – really try to understand their point of view. Find a mentor who is the complete opposite of you.
I have sought out mentors who are male, white, tall and in senior positions. It’s a way to open up channels of communication, you can learn their perspectives and help them understand yours. It’s taught me a lot about how my colleagues are thinking. Reach out, have conversations.
Face your own biases
Unconscious bias training is one of the most valuable things you can do. It is incredibly revealing – you’ll learn things about yourself that you’d never uncovered otherwise.
I’m the co-founder of the University of London’s racial equality group. One of the things we’re encouraging and implementing, as part of the inclusion agenda, is active bystander training. It ensures that people have the knowledge and encouragement to be able to call out behaviours and transgressions.
Inclusion is everybody’s business. Anybody who wants to cultivate a progressive culture in their teams or organisations needs to practice inclusion. Successful organisations weave inclusion into fabric of the organisation.
You may also be interested in:
- Diversity is the magic bullet to successful projects
- Joining the dance? Creating an inclusive profession
- Disruption demands projects, projects demand diversity
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