I once worked as a temp at Shell. Please don’t judge me. I had just moved from Dublin to Manchester and really needed a job! My role was to do data entry. I would receive invoices that had been paid and enter them onto the system. After the initial learning curve, I got faster at doing the work and often about 1pm I would be wandering around the office asking people if I could help them with anything. After a few days of this, my supervisor called me into her office. She told me that I was making them look bad and that I needed to ‘slow down’.
I was 28 at the time and my supervisor had been there longer than I had been alive. So I listened. Well, I tried. I found it hard to try to be more inefficient as it went against my work ethic, my abilities and my sense of accomplishment. Luckily, shortly afterwards I got a job in my actual line of work as a counsellor for young people with mental health issues (have I redeemed myself with you now?!) However, I have never forgotten that experience. In that office, there was no room for me to be myself. My ability to work fast and get things done was not welcome. In fact, it was a detriment for them.
I was reminded of that experience this week as I worked on a workshop for the Regional Diversity Roundtable’s Conference this year. I was facilitating a session on Organizational Change and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. One of the exercises I asked the participants to do was to tell a story of when they felt they really included. We would be creating a collective picture for the group of what inclusion really looks and feels like to help us identify where we need to get to in organizations. And what really stood out for me was this story of when I felt completely excluded and truthfully, unwelcome.
I am a white woman and the people in the office at Shell were also all white women. And yet I stood out. It gave me a very small insight into what it must be like for people of colour to enter cultures like that and whether they would ever be/feel included. We often judge people for ‘assimilating’ into organizations. The idea of standing up and standing out has been a rally cry for women and people of colour for many years. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t feel nice not to be included. It’s hard to go to work every day and not be invited to go out for lunch or sit with everyone else. It feels pretty rotten to have your ideas knocked back every time you offer them because your supervisor doesn’t like you or ‘get’ you. So, like I did at Shell, we sometimes try to damper down our skill sets, or our feelings just to feel part of the overall group. We’re at work for most of our day. It’s important that we feel part of something.
However, we give up a little bit of our soul when we make ourselves small in order to fit in to the overarching culture. We aren’t as shiny. And here’s the irony: we are likely to be skipped over for promotions and leadership positions. Because we are not standing out.
We can’t win.
So, rather than relying on every individual to ‘fight the good fight’, the culture needs to change in order to ensure that we are not missing out on or losing some of our very best employees. We need to make room for everyone. As Mahan Tavakoli says in his article ‘Creating a Culture of Inclusion to Attain Organizational Success’:
“When an organization creates a culture of diversity and inclusivity, it fully engages its workforce and creates an environment that supports increased productivity, enhanced collaboration, and inspired innovation.”
Changing an organizational culture is not easy but as we can see from this quote, it’s crucial for business success. There is no ‘magic bullet’ and it won’t happen overnight but to create and sustain an inclusive organizational culture that promotes and celebrates diversity and equity, we need to build organizations with cultures that:
- Embrace change
- Are committed to learning
- Make room for differences of opinions and approaches
- Share decision making
- Learn from failure
- Can deal with conflict
In doing the workshop and thinking a lot more about inclusion, I am committing myself to getting better at looking for the potentially unseen talents of my staff, check my biases and to challenge myself more about hiring people ‘like me’ whether that be in terms of culture, ideas or abilities.
What will you do to create a culture of inclusion in your organization?
This week’s blog was written by Lianne Picot. Lianne is the Executive Director of Peel Leadership Centre, an organization growing leadership and organizational capacity in the non-profit sector. Lianne is passionate about great leadership, storytelling and creating opportunities for transformational learning. Connect with Lianne at email@example.com.