5 Ways to Better Manage Diverse Employees at Work
Do these five things today to increase belonging and reduce the harm of exclusion.
As the message of diversity & inclusion spreads, we hear more about supporting diverse people and the importance of self-care. These are significant efforts, but we’re not hearing much about what support managers can provide so that if a colleague is experiencing exclusive behavior—or worse, discrimination— managers can provide the best help possible.
Companies design human resources departments to fight off discriminatory or exclusive behaviors. But unfortunately, HR can get worn down by many things typical of any HR department, such as employee onboarding, benefits management, and policy and procedure maintenance. This overload prevents our companies from effectively fighting off exclusive behavior.
With a growing need to embed DEI into work structures, it’s more important than ever for managers to identify ways to support diverse employees. We can do this by making critical tweaks to our thoughts, actions, and habits.
Here are five important ways to boost your diversity & inclusion efforts:
1. Reduce Stress
When your employees are stressed out, their bodies produce stress hormones that tax their tolerance for others. So one of the most important ways to support diverse employees is to reduce their stress. To minimize stress, managers can remove the stressors in their control.
For example, one of my consulting clients had a lesbian employee on staff. She had consistently requested that her manager ask to add her spouse to her health benefits plan, which her manager ignored. Her manager’s inaction caused her anxiety and stress because she wanted her wife to have access to medical care. During my consulting contract, she was ready to file a lawsuit against her company when I spoke to her. The manager could have helped the employee avoid her stress and frustration if she had worked to resolve her issue and alleviate some of her stress. It’s important to let your team know that you have their backs if you want to build trust and cohesion and boost productivity.
2. Allow them to bring their diversity to work.
Many diverse people walk around this world in a state of constant exhaustion. Every time diverse people expend energy trying to be someone they are not, they increase stress and hurt productivity. If employees are constantly code-switching, managers may not realize how tired and unhappy they are. Because authenticity is essential to building genuine relationships, managers need to let employees bring their whole selves to work and create a sense of safety and belonging.
When I first started my company, during my cold calls to potential clients, I would change the tone of my voice and took extra care to enunciate each word to sound more professional. The problem was that I was trying to sound white to be accepted. I changed the pronouns of my romantic partners so that no one would count me out of business opportunities because I am bisexual.
Keeping up the act was exhausting and unsustainable. Eventually, I decided to reject societal norms and accept myself fully. That one decision allowed me to grow my small DEI firm to a successful seven-figure company and live life on my terms. Every person deserves to be accepted for who they are, and not allowing this for employees limits their success and your company’s success.
3. Offer support
To support your employees, commit to weekly or monthly check-ins. Often managers can’t solve issues for their teams because they are unaware that problems exist. Managers can easily solve this by checking in with employees regularly.
I worked with a company that built time for one-on-one meetings between colleagues at every level in the workday. The janitor could get face time with the CEO if they desired. Implementing this in teams shows dedication to inclusion, access, and belonging.
It is equally essential for managers to be proactive in communicating their commitment to DEI. They can reassure their employees of their goal to make work feel safe for all employees, no matter their diversity.
4. Reduce Impacts of DEI Mistakes by Addressing Them
DEI is a skill, not a destination. All employees may not have the same DEI skill level. Therefore, any time someone makes a mistake related to DEI, it is an opportunity for the individual to learn and grow in that skill. Managers must hold team members accountable for their errors but always strive to identify a way to turn that mistake into a teachable moment. In addition, managers must reassure employees who are negatively affected by DEI mistakes and know that the manager is working to ensure the issue doesn’t happen again.
5. Using your voice, but not too much
Using your voice to help someone else is one of the quickest and most effective ways to build trust. But we have to be careful because too much talking can result in less listening. And less listening can result in more assuming. So it’s great to speak up for others when you know they are having an issue, but you never want to make assumptions about issues.
For example, a white manager may say that Black employees are offended by being called African American because one of his team members reported it as an issue. But it’s important to remember that not every person is offended by the same language. So it’s crucial to keep communication lines open with all team members and never speak on their behalf without consulting them and getting their permission first.
By implementing these five strategies, managers can help their diverse employees thrive.