Valuing differences in thought, experience, skill, background, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. is what diversity is all about. Our differences not only bring new ideas and ways of thinking to the table, but create an environment that fuels innovation, engages employees and strengthens teamwork.
Fostering an inclusive work environment starts with respect. When someone respects you, it results in a personal feeling of being valued for what you bring to the organization and who you are. You can tell if a colleague respects you because they ask for your opinion because they want to not because they have to. When people respect one another, it facilitates open and honest communication and allows people to contribute a different perspective without the fear of being judged.
So how do leaders engrain this value in their organization? The same way they engrain other organizational values such as safety, ethics and teamwork. They need to walk the talk and set an example for the organization to follow. They can do this by:
- Treating everyone like they matter
- Asking people for their input and opinions
- Being fair and objective
- Showing appreciation
- Valuing employee’s time
- Seeking to understand other’s perspective
- Being open to new ideas
- Having the courage to do the right thing
Leaders that practice these traits send a message of respect by their actions. And when leaders respect and value people, everyone knows it. When they don’t, everyone knows it.
It’s not unusual for people to gravitate toward people like themselves with the unintended consequence of excluding others. Everyone has bias. It is part of what makes us who we are. Understanding our own personal bias can help us see past it to a broader spectrum of possibilities. This is a particularly important point for leaders in the workplace. For the most part, people who bring diversity to the workplace are not looking for special treatment. They just want to be respected for who they are, what they bring and given an equal chance for success.
Respect is the key to fostering an inclusive work environment and should guide our every action. If people can respect each other for who they are and what they bring to the table, everything else falls into place. Sound simple? Let’s do it.