Being rated as a great place to work means that employees believe in the management, feel respected and are treated fairly, that is, there is a high level of trust. It sounds simple but trust-building at work is complex, especially in a diverse workplace.
We know 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.
Organisations hire for “culture fit" to find people who can be instantly trusted by the majority and who, therefore, slip into an easy work routine, collaborate positively and make the workplace harmonious.
The problem is that by hiring people just like us we end up with sameness and group think, the very opposite of what we need for the innovation age.
By fast-tracking trust building we sacrifice all that is gained from difference ― ideas, customer insights, contrary opinions, different knowledge perspectives and different types of thinking.
While the industrial age sought standardisation to ensure consistent quality and productivity for a market that was stable and a customer who was predictable, the innovation age presents very different challenges. It is every organisation’s desire to find that special 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 teams with an abundance of ideas and insights.
How can organisations reconcile the benefits of trust and the power of difference?
Is it even possible to be expected to:
overcome tribal bonds to treat people whose responses we can’t quite predict in the same way as those whose responses are familiar?
ensure that 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 really hear different ideas rather than just the ideas that we might well have come up with ourselves?
allocate work to the person who will add the most value rather than the person who we believe we can most rely on?
These are the challenges of balancing trust and diversity. It’s one thing to have notched up the numbers, but if the dominant group is consciously or unconsciously bestowing favours on those within their circle, how will others ever feel that they belong at work and how will we ever really be open to the benefits of difference?
It can be done with genuine effort and commitment. You need both courage and a strong sense of purpose.
Your systems should have built-in strategies for inclusion, such as how you interpret merit, how you interview to avoid bias, how you give equal time and thought to feedback, how you allocate work so as not to make assumptions, how you make flexible work available for every employee, not just one group. Successful diversity and inclusion is not about favouring one group over another, it’s about giving every employee the same opportunities and treatment whatever their background.
That’s why you also need individual commitment and purpose to make the systems work. Your employees all have to be able to learn to trust people who are different and that means that they need to:
focus on what we have in common
really hear and absorb the stories and ideas of others
name diversity/inclusion as a problem/an aspiration
provide concrete reasons for diversity to show how it eases the pain and creates the gain
speak up when we observe something that isn’t right
constantly address our own hidden biases in a resolute way
learn what is important to other people from other cultures to avoid transgression and promote understanding
don’t assume that everyone experiences life as you do
appreciate being challenged and be open to new thoughts
If you put the work into diversity and inclusion so that every employee really feels that they belong not only will your trust quotient sky rocket, so will your performance.