There are two things I strongly advocate leaders do when they are interested in changing their workplace culture to become more emotionally intelligent and inclusive of women and people of other underrepresented groups.
First, I ask men to attend and participate in women’s leadership conferences. For many men (particularly white men for the U.S.), attending a women’s conference is the first time they have not been in the majority, and it’s eye-opening. I ask them if they feel a little uncomfortable being the minority in the room—they answer yes and I always add, “That’s how women and people of color feel every day.” They get it immediately.
Women and other minority groups will tell you they are familiar with the concept of “counting.” This refers to counting how many people of your gender or race are in a meeting you are attending. Both genders are working hard, but women are working significantly harder as they constantly have to deal with being one of a few in the room. This is also true for people of color. But this is something that is rarely experienced by white men in America. Typically in leadership meetings, men are the majority, and as such, make the rules.
Second, I consistently recommend that leaders take a trusted female colleague (or a person of color or a millennial) to coffee and ask the question, “Do you believe men and women (or other demographics) are having different experiences at the company?” Then be quiet and genuinely listen. Don’t interrupt, don’t be defensive or justify company policies; shut up and listen. After 10 minutes, ask a second time, “What else don’t I know?” After genuinely listening intently for another 10 minutes, ask once more, “And what else?” In that last 10 minutes, you will hear root-cause issues that you have never heard or imagined existed in your company. You will hear about differences that women and perhaps other underrepresented groups are experiencing every day within your company. These experiences have a direct correlation to work, performance, retention and advancement.
In her TEDxBasel Talk, Are You Biased? I Am, Kristen Pressner, global head of human resources for Roche Diagnostics, explains unconscious bias as our brains taking "shortcuts" or looking for patterns in order to manage the massive amount of information we encounter daily. These shortcuts can cause us to behave in ways that are not true to who we believe ourselves to be or want to be. They can lead us to make decisions based on preconceived notions that we aren’t even aware we have. Kristen’s advice to combat unconscious bias is called "Flip It to Test It." This is where you mentally flip whatever you’re dealing with for someone else to test yourself. "If [the result] feels weird, you might want to check yourself [for unconscious bias]," she says.
For example, Flip It to Test It works well in situations of microaggressions, which women experience daily in the workplace. As a man, ask yourself if it would make sense for you to always be asked to take notes at meetings and do the office “housework.” Would you feel valued if your voice was consistently talked over or if your ideas were dismissed until a woman brought them up in a meeting? Would it feel right to be referred to as a “working dad” whenever you were introduced professionally?
Listening, placing yourself in situations where you are in the minority and using Flip It to Test It are all excellent strategies for leaders to employ as they move their organizations to a more diverse and inclusive culture. Leading with emotional intelligence by listening increases empathy, which will lead to a sea of change in corporate structure.
Holly Dowling, global keynote speaker and inspirational thought leader, advocates for listening as a way to add to our knowledge banks and to lead people well. To quote her: “When you talk, you know what you know. But when you listen, you know what they know and what you know. It’s also critical to remember that listening is not about winning, it is about gaining an understanding. When you truly listen, the experience that you give someone else creates trust, increases motivation and recognition, and allows people to feel heard and valued. The greatest gift that leaders can give their team, or managers to their direct reports, is mastering the art of listening.”
Are you intently listening to discover what others know? Be an emotionally intelligent and inclusive leader by putting yourself in other people’s shoes and actively listening to gain understanding, build trust and communicate value to others.