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“I” is for Inclusion – 5 Tips To Do It

Diversity and inclusion are vital, but can be seen or used as corporate buzzwords on websites and brochures to attract employees of diverse backgrounds without real substance behind it. Internal initiatives can be presented with utilitarian intentions, such as enhancing profitability, rather than emotional intentions, such as strengthening staff. Diversity and inclusion often resonates with employee-owned companies – the employees are the owners, after all – but these two words can also insight fervor and fury, especially when there are more feelings than facts or questions than answers.

 It’s natural to be upset about injustice, regardless of whom you believe to be the perpetrator or victim. Your feelings are warranted because they are based on your own lived experiences.

Many of us are familiar with and have experienced racism and discrimination in different forms. We understand the basics of diversity, so what does inclusion look and feel like in the workplace?

 Here are few examples:

 1)  Keep your eyes and mind open. Consider forms of diversity that are not rooted in race or other visually-apparent elements. We are more than the skin we’re born with and the clothes we wear.

 2)  Roll out the welcome mat/Accept the invitation. Invite and save someone a seat at happy hour and dare to include them in the conversation. They are probably just as uncomfortable as you are; it’s OK to make small talk.

 Are you on the receiving end of an invitation and feeling skeptical about their intentions? Accept the invitation with positive expectations. If possible, bring a friend.

 3)  Check each other’s blind spot. If someone seems to be making a negative projection about someone’s ability or character that may be rooted in unconscious bias (not reality), gently call them out. Yelling or using hurtful words are unnecessary. We are here to build relationships, not ruin them. Try using language such as “I don’t understand why…” or “Why do you feel/think that way? I’ve noticed (insert example of why their belief may be misaligned).”

4) Question your hiring practices. When hiring, many companies actively move toward interviewing a diverse pool of candidates. This an incredible step, but I encourage leaders to take it a step further. Consider the established qualifications. Does the role really require an advanced degree? Does the criteria unconsciously eliminate people of different socioeconomic and/or cultural backgrounds?

 5) Be slow to anger and quick to inquire.  Be open to having conversations about inappropriate behavior rather than internalizing the hurt feelings or avoiding each other. Inclusion is a two-way street. Giving people a chance to clarify their intentions or express their need to be handled differently in the future is vital to shifting the workplace culture.

By taking one or several of these steps, we can start to embrace not only a diverse culture, but an inclusive one as well.

A Moment of Reflection – July 2021

Taking a moment to reflect on the grace and favor God has given me.

About 10 years ago I had a bachelor’s degree, a part-time job hustling full-time hours in retail with no benefits and recieved food stamps before landing 18 months of pb&j money at contract gigs.

I was also in an abusive relationship – like soooo toxic I paid for my own engagement ring. Talk about self esteem in the toilet.

There was a body found at the front of my neighborhood where I rented an apartment.

Now…

I live in a nice house I own with my husband – he proposed properly and totally adores me. I thank God for him.

I have a much better job and even better relationships with my family and friends. I’m able to afford to make payments on my student loans.

I remember walking into a store 15 years ago balking at the prices of things like the sofa I’m sitting on. Asking who could? Who would? Why?

It gets greater though, God has blessed me to be available to help my family when they need me in terms of time and finances without sacrificing my own joy.

God, I thank you for your generosity, love, and grace. I have been afraid to share these ugly parts of my story for a long time.

Other women’s stories have encouraged me to own mine so that those who are where I was know it’s okay to shed old experiences, expectations, things, relationships, and thoughts to become who you truly are! Keep going, growing is important and uncomfortable sometimes.

Growth: Comfort is the Enemy

You said it in the interview. “I’m looking for an opportunity to grow.” It sounded good; you even said it with conviction, but did you really think about what you just asked for?

I didn’t, until I felt it. The slight headache that rests just between your eyebrows as you grumble bad words and wonder what you just got yourself into is what growth feels and sounds like for us honest folks.

It’s a lot like climbing a mountain. You can imagine what the top looks and feels like- the fresh crisp air, the warmth of the sunlight and amazing view. Plus, there isn’t a huge crowd.

It’s so unfair how people use imagery of mountain tops in correlation with success and ignore the climbing part. The part where you are gasping for more of the thinning air, trying not to trip on loose rocks, and wondering if you should leave the people who started with you behind because they have given up is a lot like growing.

Plus, your feet hurt.

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The whole process can be downright uncomfortable.

So the next time you are outside of your comfort zone, remember it is because you are growing and growth is critical to your success. Keep Climbing!

When Mentorship Isn’t Enough

I value mentorship highly. It has illuminated my path forward professionally in more ways than I probably have capability to notice or time to enumerate. Mentors offer insights and ask/answer questions that help you navigate the road forward professionally (and at times personally).

Conversations with mentors can broach a variety of topics. Here are a few examples:

  • Am I being sensible in my choice not to accept “x” as a condition of employment?
  • What skills should I focus on developing to add value to myself in the marketplace?
  • How do I nicely tell the office bully to bug off?
  • What conferences or professional organizations should I join? How do I maximize membership benefits?

A mentoring relationship can last a few months or many years. The choice is really a mutual one.

However, mentorship often teaches the who, what, when, and the why but, sponsorship is truly the “how” for many of us. How do you advance in your current organization – sponsorship. How do you land that next job – sponsorship. How do you get that speaking opportunity nobody would have put my name in the hat for – sponsorship.

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Sponsorship is the decision for mentors to invest in your growth at the next level by leveraging their own reputation through deliberate advocacy for your ability to take the next challenge. If possible, they will even coach you through the transition, empowering your success.

When you lack sponsorship it can leave you wondering if your next move will ever happen. You can be brilliant and well-qualified but, most meaningful and worthwhile opportunities in my experience have come via my mentors turned sponsors.

For example, one of my sponsors placed an internship application in my hands in college and told me to apply – she has a friend who will be looking for my application. Some of my greatest lessons to date about character and maintaining professionalism in the face of the best laid plans going up in flames came from my work with her.

Another mentor turned sponsor knew a few people at the company I was interviewing with and she called three people to tell them about how amazing I am prior to the interview – I got that job.

Still, others on good faith have recommended me for speaking opportunities that may have not seemed like my lane because they believed in me.

As a student of excellent mentors and sponsors, I continue seeking opportunities to be a positive influence in the lives and careers of people around me.

Do you have the ability to act as a sponsor for one of your mentees? Have you shown appreciation for your sponsors? There is nothing stopping you.