Trust is the key for an inclusive workplace

While many companies have been focusing on DEI for several years, there is still room for improvement. If this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer’s results show one thing, it is that there is no doubt that the current trust dynamics create an opportunity for leaders to step up on issues that affect society such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Having worked in and with various industries for many years, I know that diversity doesn’t mean a thing if company’s do not offer an inclusive workplace. Diversity is the who and the what, and inclusion is the how. What makes people feel included in their organization? Many things of course. Trust is definitely a key component. And trust comes down to leaders, because what leaders say and do makes the difference on whether an individual truly feels included. Why does this matter? Because when we feel included, we speak up more, we collaborate more, and we go the extra mile making a difference to the organization’s performance. (read more on how you can become a more inclusive leader)

 After a rough start to my career, experiencing severe sexual harassment in my first job straight out of university (and without any support from peers or HR, leaving me no choice but to leave the company and that in the middle of a recession), I quickly became aware of the value of trust in my next jobs. Yes, I was young and female, but this never mattered to my managers because we all were working towards the same goal. They recognized my talents and showed me they believed in me, leaving me feeling included. These trusting relationships helped me grow and explore my potential. I have been blessed to work with leaders who possess humility, empathy, ambition, and audaciousness.

 So how can you – as a leader – become more inclusive? 

  • Have the courage to hold brutally honest discussions. Ask for feedback on your behaviors that support or inhibit inclusion. Things like: Do you give equal speaking time to all meeting participants? Do you acknowledge everyone’s ideas and input? Do you make sure that people are not interrupted when talking? Do you refer to just one gender when giving examples? Leading this conversation is a first step in achieving change, getting an accurate view of your inclusive leadership capability and shows that you are putting people first.
  • Recognize and openly address biases. We all have them. Share stories about your growth, what you have learned about diversity and inclusion. The positive and the negative. This shows your humility and, with it, builds trust. Ask others to share their stories too.
  • Become more accountable on how well you are faring with diversity and inclusivity within and outside of the organization. And remember that there is a difference between activities and actual outcomes. Data is a great place to start. Noting the recent Edelman Trust Barometer, PwC US Chairman Tim Ryan explained in a blog post why his company has taken the somewhat unusual step to make its data on diversity public.
    “… I’d suggest that with trust in business running high, there has never been a better time to be transparent about our data as a way of holding ourselves accountable for the progress we seek to make…There’s no substitute for clear, widely shared information in that endeavor. Uncomfortable though transparency may be at first, I’m convinced that vulnerability is a necessity if we want to lead effectively on diversity—and as the business community has the greatest share of trust we’ve had in recent memory, now is the time.”
  • Leverage diverse thinking in your organization. Immerse yourself in uncomfortable situations, spend time with people outside of your usual “group”, address DEI topics even if they make you feel uncomfortable, ask more open-ended questions, take time to raise your self-awareness (for instance through executive coaching or psychometrics). There are many things you can do as a leader to expand your horizons and disrupt pre-conceived ideas.

And overall, don’t forget to ask yourself regularly: “How do I inspire trust? And how can we all enable mutually beneficial conversations that allow us to continue to grow and flourish?”

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