10 ways you can help diverse employees feel like they belong

by | May 2, 2019 | Diversity recruitment, Leadership Development, Organisations, The Inclusion

Jordanna Phillips, a member of our Arrival Network, recently wrote about how challenging and isolating it can be when you come from a different background in a predominately white, middle-class workplace. She spoke about the disconnect from her colleagues to the world that she grew up in and that the lack of awareness of different cultures made her question whether she belonged there at all.

Belonging is about creating a culture, environment or experience that allows people to feel accepted and wanted. This is a very deep and very real human need. It’s impossible to fully comprehend and understand all different backgrounds. That’s not what we’re advocating in this article. But rather how making diverse talent feel welcomed, valued and a vital member of the team, goes a long way to bridging the disconnect and increasing awareness of social and ethnic differences.

To celebrate 10 cohorts of Leading with Purpose coaching programme with Skanska, we’re sharing 10 tips on how to make socially and ethnically diverse people feel like they belong in your organisation.

1 | We’re all human

Remember that we are all different and have different priorities, focusses, motivations and values – that’s what makes us all unique and human. However, whilst two people may have radically different life experiences, they may actually have surprisingly similar values. See beyond the superficial differences and you may find a surprising amount in common.

2 | Invest in Relationships

Our talent has said that sometimes colleagues can make judgements about them, without really knowing who they are. Or colleagues make comments not thinking about the potential impact. One way around this is to give talent the opportunity to talk about themselves on their own terms. Whether a new joiner or an existing team member, giving people a chance to share who they are can really help. This might be a short presentation for a new starter or a team activity, the more people get to know each other, the better.

“Being only one of a few diverse individuals can feel isolating and exclusive. Not having much in common with colleagues, makes it harder to form relationships and gain opportunities.” – Arrival Network talent member, Equal Opportunities Survey

3 | We all communicate differently

Remember that socially and ethnically diverse talent may not feel comfortable speaking up in a work environment. If they are the minority, or, as is often the case, the only non-white person in the room, that can be an intimidating experience requiring superhuman levels of confidence. Sometimes the talent may have grown up in homes where it was not polite to express viewpoints without being asked. Managers need to build up their confidence by asking directly for their viewpoint by saying things such as “I really want to hear your perspective”, then asking clarifying questions, genuinely listening and understanding and then following through.

3 | Constructive feedback

Hold regular 1:2:1s, with constructive feedback. This gives plenty of opportunities to talk about life beyond work, helping build better relationships for everyone. When giving feedback it is crucial to frame it around specific examples and offer suggestions on how they could approach the situation differently, rather than general comments about behaviours that need changing. Make it personal to them. It takes more effort, but it’s worth it.

4 | Don’t judge or assume

Don’t judge someone’s potential to add significant value by the scale of their declared ambitions. When people come from a diverse-background, they may have different views on work ambition or how they express them than you. Don’t negatively judge their approach or make comments that assume they lack ambition just because they want to approach their career path in a different way to typical ‘grads’ or yourself.

5 | Focus on performance, not polish

Assess your people on results and output, not fit. Time and again, we have seen great talent be overlooked because they didn’t speak the way everyone else does or knew how to navigate career politics. Less competent people were promoted above them. Their response? They left the company.

“A lot of young people quit simply because they don’t feel there is enough being done to make them feel accepted or comfortable in their workplace.” – Arrival Network talent member, Equal Opportunities Survey

6 | Be mindful of cultural social differences

Check-in before making any decisions that impact them – such as where to go for a team social or when celebrating holidays. Be mindful and make sure that they’re okay with plans or whether they would have any concerns without isolating them or making them feel like a nuisance. Ensure your social events are inclusive and varied so that all team members feel involved and can enjoy the experience.

7| Ask them for feedback

Find out how you and the team are doing in terms of making them feel included and a valued part of the team and company. Then address it. Also, find out what you are doing that is working well and keep doing that. No one expects their manager to be perfect, so keep asking them for their feedback, it will help them to feel that their opinion is valued and increase the performance of your efforts and find out what isn’t working.

8 | Think about what diversity and inclusion really means to you

If you are going to talk about diversity, make sure you know what the benefits could be to your team or part of the business, so it isn’t just theoretical or occurs like the ‘bla-bla-bla’ company line. Also, don’t just talk about one or two segments of diverse populations. Otherwise, it will just become white noise and anyone who doesn’t feel included will disengage. Really think about what the diversity dividend is and could be for you and your team. If you have a diverse team or are on the journey to becoming more diverse, talk about the benefits.

9 | Don’t try too hard

Sometimes we might try to create a connection by emphasising times we have felt excluded or different ourselves. That can come across as a bit patronising and may misfire, it also moves the focus away from them, to you. Unless you have really experienced something similar, it can be better to ask them what it is like for them.

10 | Don’t assume that just because they are diverse that they can speak for all diverse people

If they are the only diverse person, they are often treated like the spokesperson for all diversity. This can feel overwhelming and isolating and can actually reinforce difference and not create inclusion. Ask their opinion as a valued team member, but not as a spokesperson for all diversity matters. It may come across like you’re trying to ‘show pony’ your diverse team members.

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