Gray Scalable recently hosted a panel discussion on,”Bringing yourself to work when your ‘self’ is different.” We brought together a group of thought leaders - Brianna Holt, Dara Williams, Oscar Diaz and Yvonne Dodd - and the panel was moderated by our head of Tech Recruiting, Nissa Booker, who led everyone through a powerful discussion of personal stories on navigating less-than-inclusive spaces and tricky office politics, as well as strategies to create environments where everyone can truly thrive while being themselves. Read below for some key takeaways from the conversation - you can also watch the full recording here.
A diverse workplace is only the first step - to be truly inclusive and successful, companies need to build and cultivate environments where everyone has the tools, resources and help to be comfortable, supported, and able to do their best work. Here are some tips to help you support and encourage employees who feel like the odd person out at your organization.
Be proactive. Dedicate time to learn as a leader, to research and read - take advantage of existing webinars and online resources. We don’t always have to recreate the wheel, there are tons of strategies and methods that have been tried and tested by others; use their experience and knowledge to your advantage. If you have the budget, don’t shy away from looking for external help to supplement your knowledge. Invest in DEI coaches that will help you and your managers grow. Make sure to look for coaches that will push you to develop the muscle of thinking in a different way and challenge your norms.
Lead by example. So much of the everyday culture and environment at an organization relies on leaders setting a strong example. Yes, everyone should be free to be themselves, but that often means something different to each person - be mindful that not everyone wants to share every part of themselves in the workplace, and create space for that. As a leader, it’s important to allow your employees to determine what their boundaries are for sharing, and to support those boundaries - not just in your 1:1s, but in every interaction individuals have within the company. Raise this topic in team meetings, as it’s up to you to set the tone for what bringing yourself to work means. Remember that the goal is connection and being compassionate, rather than knowing every detail of people’s personal lives.
Get to know your team. You have to authentically build relationships with the individuals on your team, especially when you have new employees. It’s crucial to make yourself available and show that you want to get to know them - have a virtual lunch or breakfast, set up regular 1:1’s (more frequently as they’re getting started and then in a regular cadence once they’ve settled in).
In your early meetings, make a concerted effort to get to know what your team members are about as people, learn about what their triggers are and what motivates them. As time goes on and your employees settle in, make sure your 1:1’s aren’t all business - allow for time for the two of you to connect. For some of your quieter employees who may not feel comfortable speaking out in larger group settings, this is their time to talk to you.
Be an advocate. The role of people leaders is to be brave. Pick your battles, and advocate for people: call out when your employees do good work; lift up and acknowledge the behind-the-scenes quality work, not just the obviously visible high-performers; bring attention to people who said something great and weren’t acknowledged for their idea. This type of consistent advocacy will help your team get noticed by others in the company and on the leadership team and help set them up for potential future projects and promotions.
Acknowledgement is key. Acknowledgement doesn't just mean a pat on the back for the work your team is doing, or calling attention to things strictly inside of your organization's bubble. It’s equally important that you acknowledge what people are going through outside of work, in their different communities, and in society around them. Create safe spaces for people to discuss the things that are happening in the world. Acknowledge that people may need a mental health day and proactively offer it to them. We have expectations of productivity that aren’t tied to realistic outputs - we’re in a global pandemic and a time of social upheaval; mental health is affected, and our capacity for output is affected.
Ask for feedback and hold yourself accountable. Challenge your team to hold you accountable. If you are a leader from an underrepresented group, make yourself available to other folks across the company even if they’re not in your direct reporting structure. Share your privilege by giving them access to you as an ear and a shoulder to lean on. Don’t be scared to say or do the wrong thing, and as a result wind up doing nothing instead. Be ok making mistakes or having tough conversations.
Our goal at Gray Scalable is not only to build strong teams, but also to help our clients create people-first environments where everyone can thrive while being themselves. Stay in the know about future events, Gray Scalable updates, and helpful content by joining our mailing list. Sign up today!