Inclusiveness at the organizational level can lead to superior performance, but regardless of mission statements, training programs, and workplace policies, it is a leader’s behavior that has the greatest impact on whether people from all walks of life feel as if they’re part of the team. Through years of training and leading hundreds of men and women in the U.S. Army, I have found several simple habits that have helped me create an inclusive environment.
Get to Know Your Team SociallyBecoming acquainted with your team will expose you to the challenges they face as members of various social groups. You can use this insight to better address their needs and concerns as their leader. Set aside time on your calendar for individual coaching and mentoring sessions with them to connect and build trust, but also schedule team-building events so they form ties with one another, too. Research shows that increased exposure and interaction reduces bias and increases people’s investment in members of other social groups. Plus, by looking at the example you set in your everyday behavior, your team members can tell whether you are genuinely excited about having a diverse group or faking it. Everything from your body language to whom you follow and what you post on social media gives your colleagues clues to your authenticity, which makes it almost impossible to hide your stance on inclusion. If you’re clearly not all-in, they won’t be, either.
Acknowledge and Respect Team Members as IndividualsLet’s say someone new joins your team, and you ask him whether he has met a colleague from the same social group. Your intentions are probably good, but you may have inadvertently suggested that you don’t see him as his own person. Team members want to be assessed for their own contributions and talents; they don’t want their leader to rely on group stereotypes to size them up. However, leaders must also be cognizant of challenges faced by various social groups, which brings us to the next point.
Don’t Try Too HardAlthough most of us get that it’s important to learn about different cultures, social groups, and ethnicities, we are rarely taught how to apply that knowledge to build rapport. Clumsy efforts to demonstrate understanding can be risky. For example, if you try to imitate a social group’s jargon to bond with someone, it might be perceived as hasty generalizing or even profiling. In my experience leading diverse groups, people generally don’t want you to change who you are when you’re around them. Instead, get to know the individual and look for similarities in goals, hobbies, and passions to establish rapport.
Address Diverse Groups in Gender-Neutral TermsWhether you’re sending out a team email or running a meeting, address the group as “team.” It’s more inclusive than “guys,” and just as easy to say.
Look at EveryoneWhen you are in front of a team, particularly a diverse group, meet the gaze of as many people as you can. This gives people a sense of belonging. If team members notice that you make eye contact with a select few, they may assume you are comfortable with only those people.
Use Visual Symbols to Convey Your CommitmentEverything from posters in the hallways to keepsakes in your office can communicate your stance on inclusion, diversity, and teamwork. For instance, I like to display photos of teams I have worked with throughout my career. Anyone entering my office can see at a glance that I’m team oriented and that I care about diversity and inclusion.
It’s important that you authentically demonstrate to your team that you value diversity, inclusion, and their individual strengths and contributions. I hope these habits help you ensure that your “audio matches your video.”