By Angela Joens
“What the world needs now is love sweet love.” That song keeps playing over and over in my head. And then my mind goes to what can I do to make it better. How can I help show others that unity and inclusion is positive, valuable, and important?
I believe that people from varied backgrounds and experiences have unique skills and gifts to help our lives and our work to be more productive and successful. Diverse teams bring broader ideas and new perspectives. Different opinions help you and your team view the project or the challenge in a new way.
I currently manage six teams and 50 individual contributors who are talented, unique, interesting, and dedicated. As I build a team I purposely look for people who are not alike. I always encourage my team leaders to hire people who have different skills, ideas, and experiences from their own. It is easy to go with the safe choice but I want them to make the choice that will make their team more valuable. I always joke with them that no team needs two Angie Joens’ – one is more than enough. But the idea is sincere – too many of the same people can lead to a lack of creativity and innovation.
Now – I do not proclaim to be an expert in diversity and inclusion. I know that I possess my own unconscious biases but I counter that by taking classes and reading and working daily to stay aware. It is important to me personally and my organization is extremely committed to it and it is an important part of our strategic plan.
Here are some ideas about how to build and lead a diverse team or organization:
Think about diversity from the start. Create position descriptions that are inclusive. Biased language in job descriptions discourages diverse candidates from applying. That is one of our goals for the next fiscal year – we are reviewing all position descriptions to ensure we remove all bias.
Ensure all aspects of diversity are represented. We have to look at all manner of diversity when we build our teams. We need to go beyond race, religion, gender and social orientation. What about age, language, personality and disability. Last year we hired a young professional who is deaf. When I asked her why her my why UC Davis question, she said – “everyone told me I should stay in the deaf world but I want to prove I can excel in the hearing world.” Her words spoke straight to my heart and I knew someone with that drive and motivation would be an asset to our team. And she is excelling in every way and challenging and pushing her team members to do even greater work.
Learn more about your own unconscious bias. If your organization does not offer classes – check out Project Implicit – a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers whose goal it is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data via the internet. Project Implicit has tests you can take to find out your own blind spots. They also provide consulting services, lectures, and workshops on implicit bias, diversity and inclusion, leadership, applying science to practice, and innovation. Check them out at www.projectimplicit.net
Listen to your employees. This is one of the most important skills for a leader to have is to actually listen. My dad use to tell me, “Angie you were given two ears and one mouth – so listen twice as much as you speak.” So many of us fail to listen or give the space to listen to our employees. When you better understand who they are or what challenges they face you can more effectively meet their needs. It is not difficult to do but it does take time – make the time. Create an open-door policy and a culture where sharing and honesty is encouraged and embraced.
Continuously evaluate your efforts. Make time to ask your employees how you are doing. Ask them if there is more you could do to make them feel valued, supported and heard. I like to do this at my mid-year and annual reviews with my employees. They know I really care about being a good leader and I want honest feedback.
These organizations can also serve as great resources and are a good place to start:
Listen the world needs more love – it always has – but now even more so. We achieve this by being open, honest, and embracing people for all that is uniquely them. As a leader it is our duty to keep the focus on diversity and inclusion. If we want to ensure success for our organization and for the individuals that we lead we need to recruit team members that can share their unique experiences, gifts, and skills. We need to keep learning. We need to keep asking questions. We need to make space for open dialogues. And, most importantly, we need more love!