As an introvert I am not always comfortable making connections at work, even though people naturally listen to me and accept me. After all, as a white male I am a member of the dominant culture and I am automatically included. The same is not true for employees with a diverse background or from a non-dominant culture. They struggle to be included.
A recent article, Diversity and Authenticity, in the March-April 2018 Harvard Business Review highlights that “decades’ worth of studies have shown that similarity attracts – a phenomenon known as homophily.” The study focused on the reality that “disclosing elements of one’s personal life and forming social connections are easier within one’s own group than they are across a demographic boundary like racial background.” In other words, it is easier to hire a diverse team than it is to ensure that everyone feels included.
The authors suggest three strategies to break down the barriers to inclusion.
- Structure – Introduce structure and clarity to team events to facilitate shared and equal opportunities to talk to all team members. Define roles and reasons for activities and clarify the expectation of non-judgmental listening.
- Learning – Role model and facilitate a learning approach to dialogue rather than a statement-driven approach. Research indicates that genuine curiosity and open questions make it easier to share stories across differences and make an emotional connection.
- Mentorship – Utilize informal “buddies”, mentors and employee resource groups to facilitate relationship building for both new hires and employees from marginalized groups. These more experienced colleagues can help break down social barriers, provide background information, context and make introductions.
Leaders can build inclusion by helping team members make connections across their differences.