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Aug 2011 Diversity & Inclusion Best Practice

Being able to be your real self at work offers productivity and problem solving gains

This week I was fortunate to be invited to Morrisons Supplier Partner event, Developing Women in Business. This was an inspiring event, which gave me the sense that things are at last on the move in terms of achieving a more balanced gender representation at the senior and top levels of organisations. However, I was struck by a point which was made a number of times about the importance of women being able to be themselves in senior roles.

The issue was put well by Prof Rosabeth Moss Kanter, as long ago as 1977, when she pointed out that because organisations have evolved with educated men in power they have adopted “A ‘masculine ethic’ which elevates the traits assumed to belong to men with educational advantages to necessities for effective organizations: a tough minded approach to problems; analytical abilities to abstract and plan; a capacity to set aside personal, emotional considerations in the interests of task accomplishment; a cognitive superiority in problem-solving and decision making”. This remains an issue in many organisations and results in unconscious bias in that male qualities dominate in the selection of talent and in the behaviours characteristically practised both in their workplaces and marketplaces. This can result in women struggling to be their real selves because of the pressure to adopt masculine behaviours to progress and succeed in what Elisabeth Kelan (2010) recently termed  ’masculine script’ organisations. Of course, this is counterproductive because people are likely to be more effective if they can be authentic and, also, it diminishes the ‘cognitive’ diversity benefit of having men and women thinking and acting in different ways.

However, this issue is not just confined to gender. Stonewall, the UK’s lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) agency, has shown that lesbian and gay people who feel able to be out at work are up to 30% more productive than those who are not. Indeed, a gay man I interviewed recently told me that his current employer was the first one where the climate was such that he could be out at work. In the past, he told me, he had felt drained at the end of each work day; because he had had  “to wear a veil’ to hide his sexuality. In other words, previously he could not be his real self at work. A Minority Ethnic woman I interviewed, who came from a country with a higher context culture than Britain, told me that in her present employment she worked 10% harder. This was because in her culture building relationships was critical and her new employer placed a deliberate emphasis on encouraging employees to get to know their colleagues to improve team working and communications.

So how can organisations enable people to be their authentic selves at work and gain the productivity and problem solving benefits this offers? IDC’s 5 hot tips are:

1.      Educate managers to understand and value cross-cultural and gender differences and appreciate that embracing them offers real bottom line benefits, i.e. better solutions to business challenges.

2.      Have an organisational ethos of valuing alternative leadership styles. For example, research has demonstrated that men have a tendency to lead transactionally and women transformationally (Moss 2010).

3.      The organisation’s leaders setting a role model example in inclusive behaviour:

-         Listening and responding with empathy;

-         Checking their understanding of what they have heard;

-         Ensuring that everyone, whatever their diversity, is heard out when they are speaking and not interrupted.

4.      Putting effort into understanding the talents of their team members.

5.      Helping them develop their talents for performance now and in the future.

This is an aspect of diversity and inclusion on which IDC places a high value because of the business benefits that result when people can be themselves at work and, also, the impact it makes on their quality of life. Hence, our consultants have extensive and deep experience of working with clients to help them achieve an inclusive workplace in which everyone can be authentic and themselves.

Dr Ian Dodds, iandodds@iandoddsconsulting.com, 29 July 2011

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