Diversity Is More Than “Checking Off a Box”

Tenia L. Watson, Executive Producer, “The Real,” offers insights into what effective leadership is – and isn’t – when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Photo Credit: Michael Desmond/ 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When it comes to inclusive leadership, this is a term many are confused about, especially in today’s workforce. With the rise of awareness for diversity in our boardrooms, the terms diversity and inclusion are often misunderstood. To begin, I think it’s important to break down the difference in the two terms to truly understand what must be done to usher in a positive change in society.

When it comes to diversity, many companies see it as a mandatory “checked off box” to show that they have minorities represented or employed by the company. Inclusion is when you take diversity to the next level – not only are minorities present or employed by the company, but their ideas and opinions are welcomed and sought after by the company. I once read a quote by a leading diversity and inclusion expert by the name of Verna Myers, that explained it this way: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance!”

As companies, if the goal is truly to reach and identify with as many people as possible, it all starts with diversity AND inclusion…and it starts at the top – with the one running the company.

So – let’s get into, inclusive leadership. This can be achieved when a leader of a group or company, aka the boss, creates a welcoming space for employees that promotes psychological safety. The space should encourage ALL employees in the diverse group to feel free and comfortable with sharing their opinions, thoughts, and ideas without feeling judged or ridiculed, but instead feeling valued and respected. It’s important for the leader to hear everyone out and take into consideration everyone’s take on the project at hand. Getting as many points of views as possible can only enhance the project & the ending goal.

A person displaying inclusive leadership also realizes and acknowledges that everyone in the diverse group may not always agree or perceive information in the same manner – people are framed by their life experiences, their environments & how they’re required to show up in society – so everyone is different, and it takes a leader having emotional & cultural intelligence to realize this extremely important note. It’s not about “right vs. wrong” but more of a willingness to listen & an acceptance of everyone’s journey and their view on different things.

“Inclusive leadership is not just having minorities in the room, but unfortunately, this is what a lot of companies believe.”

Inclusive leadership grants companies the upper hand because more thought will be put into making sure the project reaches and is properly received by the public. In recent years, there have been several companies that have been victims of our “cancel culture” over something they’ve released, whether it’s an offensive item in their clothing line or offensive words. These hurtful mistakes could’ve possibly been prevented with inclusive leadership – having someone in the room who felt comfortable enough or whose opinion was valued enough to speak up and say, “hey guys, this may be offensive to some people & here’s why…and here’s another option for what we could do!”

Inclusive leadership is not just having minorities in the room, but unfortunately, this is what a lot of companies believe, they will show pictures of a person of color or a woman in a room full of men to show they have “diversity” but they are not really open or interested in what that person has to say – it’s literally a “checked off box.”

I’ve been in rooms where I was the only Black person and I’ve also experienced my opinion or view on things not being welcomed or received. It’s not about always going with my opinion or suggestion, but more about understanding and really giving thought to what I have to say and giving it fair consideration – but with many companies, that doesn’t happen, so they continue to miss out on valuable insight time & time again, which ultimately does the public and society a disservice.

Inclusive leadership should be and HAS to be implemented across the board – it is crucial and beneficial to all parties involved. I once read an article about the six traits of inclusive leadership: Trait #1: Cognizance – realizing how other views & opinions is beneficial to everyone; Trait #2: Curiosity -Eager to learn more about others’ experiences and views, which will lead to overall growth; Trait #3: Cultural intelligence – Acknowledging that even though situations may be the same, not everyone sees the world through the same cultural frame; we experience life & all of life’s situations differently; Trait #4: Collaboration – Getting all the diverse members/experiences together & encouraging them to each bring their views, opinions and experiences to the table, showing that everyone has a part to play in reaching the overall goal; Trait #5: Commitment – valuing inclusion so much until you refuse to lead without it ever again; Trait #6: Courage – be comfortable with someone else bringing a different opinion or view than you and truly taking it into consideration, and even admitting you may have missed the mark on a situation, again it’s not about an ego, it’s about successfully reaching the goal as a team.

“The shocking part is, a lot of leaders in a lot of companies believe they are totally open to hearing other views – but when asked HOW they’ve ushered in that type of welcoming environment or encouraged their team to share their views, most won’t be able to give an answer, because they haven’t done it.”

If companies are truly interested in being inclusive and being more than just “lip service,” I think one of the first steps is to hold annual mandatory inclusive leadership seminars for executives & those in leadership roles. These seminars will allow employees to really think about and shed light on any biases they have and reveal how they can be open to different views from their employees. Now the shocking part is, a lot of leaders in a lot of companies believe they are totally open to hearing other views – but when asked HOW they’ve ushered in that type of welcoming environment or encouraged their team to share their views, most won’t be able to give an answer, because they haven’t done it, it’s just “lip service.”

As humans, it’s natural to think we “know it all,” but that is so far from the truth – the truth is, we don’t know it all and we are forever learning. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we can extend it from the boardrooms to everyday life in society. We must find a way as humanity, to have conversations with people who don’t look like us or with people who are from a different side of town than us – we are all unique and something so simple as listening to one another, can provide a great deal of valuable insight and introspect, but we have to be willing to do it. So, while diversity is great and needed, it must be paired with inclusion to really see change in our boardrooms and…the world.

 

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