Creating a culture of belonging starts with being vulnerable.
The world we find ourselves in is full of the unexpected and the outrageous. Between an ongoing pandemic, social outcry and political divisiveness, the national mood has been fraught. And as leaders we must recognize that affects the culture and community of our organizations. Unrest around race and global LGBTQ issues has served to catapult diversity and inclusion to the forefront of workplace discussions in the past year. And for good reason. This new year presents the opportunity for leaders at all levels and in all industries to evaluate how we can tackle inequity, systemic racism, gender bias and identity inclusion to make positive change.
At Bader Rutter (BR), we kicked off our efforts in October 2019 on National Coming Out Day, and in 2020, our dedicated D&I Leadership Council made great progress. While there is always more to be done, long-ignored topics are now being addressed honestly and directly.
To further our mission, BR made a public commitment in 2020 to Learn More, Listen Harder, Change Faster and Give More. We shared resources with our colleagues to help us gain new perspectives on a range of D&I topics, and we donated our time, talents and money to 19 organizations in our community and beyond.
Starting programs within organizations brings challenge and opportunity. Here are some of our key learnings that can guide other leaders to create D&I progress in their own organizations in this new year:
Be prepared to not have all the answers.
This is a difficult but powerful truth. When you begin an organizational grassroots D&I journey, you will feel brave and confident. But then doubt will set in. You will worry whether you’re doing it right. “Is this the right word?” “What if I offend someone?” When every word matters, every decision can become difficult. And that’s OK. Just as it’s also OK to have feelings. If you let “the good” rule your decisions, progress will be made.
Be ready to change direction on a moment’s notice.
We entered 2020 with a full plan to kick off our commitments to D&I during Pride Month in June. But then the racial unrest sparked by the George Floyd killing in late May forced us to reprioritize. With racial justice such a prominent issue, we knew our team needed us to act on this topic. So, as you work on D&I, keep your eyes and ears wide open. Know that things can change in an instant. And be OK with pivoting from your original plan.
Be ready to be uncomfortable.
For me, this is the greatest skill 2020 has helped me practice as a leader. Everything you do, say or implement will come with hard questions and strong opinions, many of which you won’t anticipate. Avoid becoming defensive and simply allow people to speak their truths. Remain open-minded and willing to hear every opinion. For leaders in these discussions, listening is far more powerful than speaking.
Be aware, find balance and remain objective.
Recognize your personal feelings about diversity, inclusion and our current social climate. Those opinions can influence the decisions you make for the entire organization, both positively and negatively. Actively work to balance your personal feelings and emotions with the larger organization’s best interests.
The simple fact is that discussions around diversity and inclusion generate as many questions as answers. But no one expects anyone to have all the answers in these types of conversations. Social issues involve group dynamics, collaboration and cooperation, so the only way to figure them out is to work through them together. And when we are together, we are stronger. And our forward progress, as slowly, imperfectly and fitfully as it comes, helps create better work environments.
These intentions put good into the world.
As a leader we must focus on the things we can impact versus the ones out of our control. In our efforts around belonging, I will reflect the most on the good we worked to put in our organization and world. And we plan to double down on these efforts in the future. If the past has taught us anything, it’s that a world with an abundance of good would be very welcome indeed.
About the Author
A member of the Bader Rutter Executive Leadership Team, David Jordan leads the BR Business Consultancy Group. His eclectic group includes MBAs, a former CMO from an entrepreneurial investment group, a veterinarian and the former commercial operations leader for a multi-billion-dollar business unit of a Fortune 500 company. The BR Business Consultancy Group consults with both inline and specialty clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to innovative startups in food & beverage, agribusiness and pet care.