In a post-pandemic culture moving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) forward, it is imperative to ensure leaders possess the skills and characteristics to be effective within their circles of influence, careers and communities.
If leaders aren’t using skills like empathy, accessibility and accountability to move DEI forward within their leadership commitments, they may be serving more as a bottleneck – an element that stops a process or activity from progressing – than a partner committed to success.
Leaders realize that understanding another’s feelings while helping them overcome challenges is more fulfilling than accomplishing even the most desired goal. Let’s look at the use of empathy from two perspectives.
Bottleneck: An employee who happens to be a person of color shares personal struggles with career mobility. Their challenge is not qualification but sponsorship or an equitable shot at navigating the hiring and selection process. That leader should at least try to understand the employee’s experience. They should never use empathy to gain insight into their personal situation, then use it against them.
Breakthrough: Imagine the same scenario where this time the leader not only listened but also imagined themselves in that experience and what support they would need to advance their career. This positions both for a breakthrough: The employee gets support for career advancement they may have been denied or excluded from because of their minority status, and the leader gets to serve as a sponsor and advocate for the employee’s career path.
Are leaders within your company, community or circle of influence really accessible for collaborating on DEI initiatives? Let’s look at accessibility from two perspectives.
Bottleneck: Imagine every project, task and decision is consulted through a department leader who can only meet on a weekly basis. How much productivity and engagement is at risk because employees aren’t empowered to do it on their own? This scenario might present further complication(s) when centered around DEI.
Breakthrough: When projects, tasks and decisions need to be made, particularly around DEI issues, it is important for the team to see the leader’s visibility, even in the hard things. It is also important to not confuse accessibility with one’s freedom to disconnect personal and professional commitments. If 2020 taught us anything, the great lesson is wellness and self-care. Personal well-being is extremely imperative and should be carefully considered when taking on a leadership responsibility.
What gets measured gets done, and leaders who are accountable to their teams will accomplish the work at hand. Let’s look at accountability from two perspectives.
Bottleneck: Say your organization is genuinely invested in advancing DEI initiatives. Part of its strategy is challenging leadership to craft the business case for diversity to share to their teams, but a few leaders are struggling because of their lack of interest, time, understanding or communication skills. Meanwhile, the few diverse employees within your company understand that the company wants to expand DEI but are clueless to what is happening.
Breakthrough: Now imagine if they chose to seek internal or external support to better understand the business case for DEI, how to support it and how to communicate it to their teams to maximize engagement. This speaks volumes about the leaders’ personal accountability and commitment. It could also be the long-awaited answer for those quietly suffering as they work through feelings of exclusion and work-related insecurities.
Breaking through barriers requires courage, tenacity, patience and resilience because the answers or the solutions may not come immediately. However, the most important takeaway is to not allow a lack of empathy, accessibility or accountability serve as a bottleneck to any movement for creating a better, safer and thriving world.