EMPATHY is the key to I&D

I recently wrote that I needed more than ally in order to feel included and valued as an employee in the workplace. It wasn’t that being an ally was bad, it’s just because it falls short of the need to make my struggle your struggle. The only way that significant sustained progress will happen is for the objectives of inclusion and diversity to be personal. We mostly care about things that matter personally.

The ability to demonstrate empathy is a core competency of emotional intelligence. Fortunately, empathy is a skill that can be learned. Caring builds the empathy muscle and it’s a value that needs to be practiced every day to really master it. In a course called “Living Undivided,” I learned that when you really care you will:

C– choose to allow someone else’s experience into your heart,

A– Acknowledge that their feelings are valid,

R– Recognize the emotion in their experience, and

E– engage and lean in to seek a deeper understanding.

In a meeting to discuss how to build capability within our talent pools, a manager (who I will call Steve) asked why he never heard about any employees from a certain country when discussing executive development. He always heard about the great talent in that country and how much they were contributing but none had been identified with executive potential to date. Just his question started a flurry of activity. Contacts were made within minutes to ensure there were meetings to discuss their potential and development needs. Suggestions were recommended to make sure that there were no arbitrary limits put on their potential (and there were) and steps were taken to make sure a review was planned as soon as possible of the top talent in that country. More leaders should be like Steve. He is more that just an ally.

One Employee Resource Group (ERG), has a senior manager who went to bat to make sure they didn’t lose traction in their mentoring program while waiting on the corporate program. They tested to see where there would still be gaps and aligned their program to make sure that everyone in the organization got the additional feedback and support provided by mentors for their development. Recognizing that their voice carried weight, they leaned in to make sure members of the organization didn’t fall through the cracks because mentoring has been proven to help minorities and women succeed.

At an individual level, caring is staying after work to discuss strategies for balancing work demands with the challenges of being a single parent. It can also be inviting someone on your team who doesn’t look like you to your home or visiting them at their home to get to know them and their family. It can be giving the gift of feedback to someone you know is struggling to understand why they aren’t doing as well as their peers when they are working twice as hard but you know it’s behavioral.

I certainly don’t have all the answers but I do know that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Let’s stop trying to be validated and start being the type of humans others want to be around at work — people who care.

28 May 2022

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