zebras

Diversity and Trust. Can they co-exist in a great workplace?

What makes a ‘great’ workplace?

Is it possible to transform where you work into where you want to work?

Making the grade as a ‘Great Place to Work’ means that your employees believe in the management; they feel respected and fairly treated, i.e., they feel a high level of trust. It may sound simple, but building trust at work, especially in a diverse workplace, is complex.

Experience shows that we trust people who are most like us. Those in our circle of trust are almost always people of similar age, background, education, race, marital status etc.

When hiring, many organisations look for “culture fit”, people who will be instantly trusted by the majority simply because they’ll slip into an easy work routine, collaborate positively and make a harmonious workplace.

The problem is that by hiring people just like us, we produce sameness and groupthink – the very opposite of what we need for the innovation age.

By fast-tracking ‘trust-building,’ we sacrifice the benefits of ‘difference’ – different ideas, insights and contrary opinions; different knowledge perspectives and types of thinking.

The industrial age sought consistency through standardisation, delivering consistent quality and productivity for a stable market and predictable customer. Today, the innovation age presents very different challenges. Organisations today seek a point of difference – that unique product or service, that way of reaching the broadest customer base.

The surest way to find the ‘magic’ is to have smart, diverse teams with an abundance of ideas and insights.

Whilst it might feel more comfortable to be in a homogenous team, research suggests that working in a non-homogenous team “challenges your brain to overcome stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance”. In short, non-homogenous teams are not only more interesting and diverse, but they are also smarter.

How can your organisation reconcile the benefits of trust and the power of difference?

Is it even possible to:

  • Overcome tribal bonds and treat people whose responses we can’t quite predict in the same way we treat those whose responses are familiar.
  • Ensure we give the same quality of feedback to people outside our trust circle as we give to those like us so that they, too, can grow and develop.
  • Make ourselves listen to different ideas rather than just hear the ideas we might have thought of ourselves.
  • Allocate work to the person who will add the most value rather than the person we believe we can most rely on.

In the innovation age, these are the challenges to balancing trust and diversity.

It’s one thing to have notched up the numbers, but if the dominant group is consciously or not consciously biased, how will others really feel they belong, and how will we reap the benefits of difference?

With genuine effort and commitment, courage and a strong sense of purpose, you can achieve the balance and create systems with built-in strategies for inclusion.

Consider how you:

  • Interpret merit.
  • Interview to avoid bias.
  • Give equal time and thought to all feedback.
  • Avoid assumptions when allocating work.
  • Offer flexible work for every employee, not just one group.

The key to successful diversity and inclusion is not about favouring one group over another, it’s about giving every employee the same opportunities and treatment.

As leaders, you’ll need to provide concrete reasons for balancing trust and diversity to show how it eases pain and creates gain.

As individuals, you’ll need commitment and purpose to make the systems work and foster a diverse workplace where all employees learn to trust different people.

Here are some practical ideas:

  • Focus on what individuals have in common.
  • Learn to listen, to really hear and absorb the stories and ideas of others.
  • As an organisation, aspire to diversity and inclusion.
  • Speak up when you observe something that’s not right.
  • Constantly and resolutely address your own biases.
  • Promote understanding by learning what is important to individuals from other cultures.
  • Understand that not everyone experiences life as you do.
  • Appreciate being challenged and be open to new thoughts.

If you focus on diversity and inclusion so that every employee feels they belong, not only will your trust quotient skyrocket, so will your performance.

A note about the image:

Zebras and ostriches exhibit diversity, trust and teamwork. Zebras have a great sense of smell and hearing but poor eyesight. The ostrich has great vision but poor hearing and sense of smell. They work together for safety, and their differences make them stronger and smarter. (Ref: https://animalsymbiosis.weebly.com/zebra-and-ostrich.html)

An innovation mindset empowers you to seek and deliver better outcomes every day – to appreciate diversity, build trust, and work together as a team.
Learn more about Innovation Mindset.

Written by Tess Julian, Hargraves.

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