Embracing Inclusiveness

Highlights

  • Most leaders describe themselves as “almost always” or “always” supportive of diversity on their teams. Yet, many find that achieving true inclusion is challenging,
  • Organizations face many challenges when trying to create an inclusive environment. One of the biggest is unconscious bias.
  • Unconscious bias explains why leaders work hard to recruit a more diverse set of people into their organizations but don’t take full advantage of their perspectives and talents. 
  • Embracing inclusiveness means helping people work effectively outside their comfort zones. One highly effective way of doing that is by helping people to build trust ladders.

Most leaders recognize that diversity and inclusion are important as they can lead to improved problem-solving, better decision-making, and increased innovation. They typically describe themselves as “almost always” or “always” supportive of diversity on their teams and believe that people’s behavior is inclusive. Yet, many find that achieving true inclusion is challenging.

Unconscious Bias

Organizations face several common challenges when trying to create an inclusive environment. One of the biggest is unconscious bias. We are all biased, and biases affect our perceptions and behaviors even with the best intentions. These biases can lead to the exclusion of specific individuals or groups, whether intentional or not. They happen because our unconscious brain is wired to sort through a vast amount of data quickly and then trigger us to act without having to think through every possible scenario.

This ‘hard wiring’ has benefits when people encounter ‘fight or flight’ situations — when our hunter-gatherer ancestors suddenly came across a pride of saber-toothed cats as they were gathering vegetables reacting slowly would likely end badly. Modern humans also rely on unconscious bias to size up situations fast. Is that person running towards me a threat or simply getting exercise? But this wiring is problematic when it causes us to automatically discount the value of others because their point-of-view, appearance, or professional presence is different from our own or what we expect.

Unconscious bias explains why leaders work hard to recruit a more diverse set of people into their organizations but then don’t take full advantage of people’s different experiences and points of view.  Combating unconscious bias requires continuous effort and commitment. It’s not a one-time task, and it’s an ongoing process. What is often missed is that avoiding unconscious bias, embracing diversity, and practicing inclusiveness – ensuring everyone who gets invited to the dance gets asked to dance – requires a deep understanding of human behavior.

Making Sure Everyone Gets Asked to Dance

Unconscious biases push us toward what is familiar and comfortable. Embracing inclusiveness means helping people work effectively outside their comfort zones. One highly effective way of doing that is by building trust ladders. We make trust ladders by seeing and closing gaps between what we expect and what we experience in meaningful relationships.

By making experience–expectation gaps visible on a team – giving people a safe way to express feelings of exclusion – and then having the team work together to close those gaps, you create more inclusive, engaged behavior and shared understanding. As expectations increase and experiences improve, people take another step up their trust ladder. They feel respected and valued for being who they are; people trust that they can speak up and be fairly treated.

Developing leaders and building teams that avoid unconscious bias and embrace inclusiveness is a challenging task that requires a deep understanding of human behavior and a commitment to creating a culture where every team member is asked to dance. Leaders can make a strong, inclusive, and productive organization by actively seeking out and recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds and challenging unconscious biases.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeb Hurley is a behavioral scientist and leading expert in team dynamics. Jeb’s work connects neurobiology, psychology, and technology with team effectiveness and performance. His leadership experience includes multiple founder, CEO, and global F100 VP/GM roles and over thirty years of developing teams and coaching leaders. Jeb holds a doctorate in organizational leadership and is the author of two books on team dynamics and leadership.
Learn more about Jeb’s work making good teams great at www.brainware-partners.com.