Playing for Team Inclusion
Take a minute to let the following terms wash over your mind: millennial, Latina, rural upbringing, Black, Japanese, Muslim, person with disability, Middle Eastern, queer, Chicano, Generation X, immigrant, Caucasian, Korean, lesbian, Hispanic, Indian, hillbilly, Jewish, baby boomer, handicapped, South Asian. What did these words mean to you?
Lori L. Garrett
Maybe they made you think of yourself. Or, maybe they made you think about people you know. Maybe some of the terms made you feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps you don’t really know what some of these terms mean.
With which of these terms, do you self-identify, if any? How might your co-workers self-identify? Which are the proper terms you should always use? Alternatively, how do your colleagues prefer to be identified? Most importantly— are you and your colleagues willing to talk about these differences?
Often, we expect others to accept us, but may fail to take it upon ourselves to learn about our differences with co-workers. In the workplace, it is not uncommon for groups to band together with likeindividuals for support. When we are uncomfortable with each other, sometimes we may become insensitive to our differences. There can also be cultural confusion when we do not understand the unique beliefs and practices of others. In more extreme cases, prejudice—an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason—may unconsciously influence us. We would all agree that the ugly realities of prejudice are not limited to those in the majority.
So what does this have to do with your career development, or how you manage your career within and between organizations? By being more sensitive to the lives of others—including our differences when it comes to disability, gender, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, ethnicity, generation, culture, religion, race, and experience, among other differences—we improve as individuals. When we improve as individuals, we become better team players, which certainly improves our career prospects. Consider these examples of how improved sensitivity to differences can help you develop into a more culturally competent and effective team player:
- Enhancing your capacity to consider different points of views leaves you better equipped to build consensus, compromise, collaborate with others, find unique solutions, and solve more complex problems.
- Active listeners who are sensitive to the diversity amongst their team become accustomed to considering ideas from people with different perspectives based on distinctive viewpoints.
- Since much of the communication within a team takes place informally, team members who can relate to others feel more comfortable talking with one another and passing along important news and information day-to-day.
- Teams need people who speak up and express their thoughts and ideas clearly, directly, honestly, and respectfully. When you understand the unique perspectives that others bring to your team, you are better equipped to communicate in a positive, confident, respectful, and constructive manner and less inclined to shy away from making a point.
- We all want to be treated well and in a professional manner, and the more exposure you have to folks who may not be like you, the more likely you are to think about how to be respectful of their differences.
Cultural competence is a core characteristic of organizations that are inclusive. As the diversity of our nation’s workforce continues to expand, the need for professionals who are culturally competent will continue to rise. Creating a corporate culture of inclusivity begins with the individuals that make up the organization. The less we know about and understand what makes our co-workers unique and special, the less accepted individuals will feel within the organization. As the individuals in the organization are more understanding of the differences among other members, the more all the members of the organization feel embraced and the more the organization is inclusive.
MCCA’s research has uncovered the value of respecting differences as it relates to professional development and in creating more inclusive workplaces by analyzing mentoring pairs who were then in cross-gender and cross-racial mentoring relationships. Creating Pathways to Diversity® Mentoring Across Differences: A Guide to Cross-Gender and Cross- Race Mentoring (aka MCCA’s “Yellow Book”) examined these mentoring relationships in law firms and law departments and found that generally, one of the barriers to cross-gender and cross-race mentoring is the discomfort that people feel being in a mentoring relationship with mentors or mentees of a different gender, race, or culture.1
Study participants built trusting relationships by dealing with and overcoming their initial discomfort, if it existed at all, and learning to value the differences in perspective and seeking to learn from them. Participants also expressed that being open to the possibility that differences may help the relationship furthered their relationships. Engaging in dialogues that were inclusive and open to divergent views from diverse individuals brought diversity down to a personal, one-on-one level, and increased comfort and competence in communicating across differences. Recognizing that different perspectives, styles, and behaviors lead to the same goals in a more creative way, and looking for ways that those differences could add value to the work team was critical. MCCA’s research recommends that while being mindful of differences, mentors and mentees must not forget to also focus on what the pair has in common.2
Inclusion begins with each of us taking individual responsibility for learning about the differences between each other. While one’s efforts will not always be successful, making a conscious effort to overcome discomfort and being willing to communicate about differences is an effective way to becoming more sensitive. The willingness to be patient and forgiving, rather than hostile and aggressive, is also key. When we respond slowly and carefully, not jumping to conclusions, we encourage trust in each other which makes it easier to engage in more difficult conversations.
In addition, each of these efforts can advance an individual’s ability to be a better team player and therefore improves career prospects. MCCA invites you to take up the charge to do your part to be a better teammate and make your workplace more inclusive today. DB
1 See MINORITY CORPORATE COUNSEL ASSOCIATION (MCCA), CREATING PATHWAYS TO DIVERSITY ® FROM LAWYER TO BUSINESS PARTNER: CAREER ADVANCEMENT IN CORPORATE LAW DEPARTMENTS 21, 43 (2003).
Lori L. Garrett is managing director for MCCA’s southeast region. She heads MCCA’s professional development services.
From the September/October 2010 of Diversity & The Bar®