Empowering inclusive workplaces starts with you

​”PPeople are not excluded because of what they lack, they are excluded because of what others lack.”

These are profound words from Seramount President Subha Barry, who provided powerful personal stories alongside those of others during the general session “Empowering Inclusive Workplaces Starts with You” on Tuesday at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2022 in Denver.

The discussion, led by moderator Wendi Safstrom, president of the SHRM Foundation, explained the importance of building allies in the office, having the courage to report any instances of injustice or wrongdoing, and connecting to more personal levels with colleagues.

The discussion focused on employers who do more than just say that employees are their most valuable assets. He explained how HR can empower others to use their expertise to inspire; using empathy to help employers and employees imagine themselves in the situation of others; and create a better workplace by improving hiring practices to include older, disabled, and formerly incarcerated employees.

Inclusiveness as part of corporate culture

“You can do all the right things for inclusion, technically,” Barry said, “but if that mindset isn’t infused into your culture, you won’t experience lasting change.”

Barry said that when hiring, business leaders should “ask for a clean slate of diverse candidates for your open positions, but you also need to ask for a diverse interview panel or you’ll get the same results as you did.” ‘previously.

“Panels tend to hire someone who is most like them, so if the interviewers are all middle-aged white males, they’ll be the ones they’ll pick.”

She said that by documenting the list of candidates and interviewers, the company can determine if it got different results based on who was chosen for those roles.

She noted that it’s important for all employees not to just mind their own business. “If you see something that doesn’t look right, speak up,” she said.

Everyone needs a great ally

“The alliance” (a term coined by Barry) is crucial in helping to create an inclusive environment.

It’s about creating allies among all workers, not just those “like you”, she said. “Have the attitude of wanting to stand up for someone else because it’s the right thing to do.”

What makes a good ally? Have a sense of fairness and justice and have the courage to stand up for others, Barry said, adding that you’d be surprised to find lasting allies in unusual situations.

Barry spoke of a supervisor she had who was a “guy dude” and surrounded himself with staff like him as part of a really “macho” culture. When Barry was hired, she was the only woman or person of color. When she was recognized for her progress, she always felt like she had earned it on her own, and it was not something the supervisor bestowed on her through her own decisions. She came to resent him.

Things changed, she says, when she was hospitalized with cancer.

“He showed up at the hospital every day to see how I was doing,” Barry said. “He didn’t say much, but he showed me a supportive, empathetic and caring side that I didn’t know I had. My lesson was to never put anyone in a box based on what you perceive that he is.”

They became allies, so much so that Barry gave his eulogy when he died a few years ago.

“Remember: you can focus on a part of a person you don’t like, or you can focus on a positive person and embrace them,” Barry said. “And, you have to look for ways to build trust with others. It creates a foundation for a relationship.”

This approach to gaining allies can trickle down to team members through empowerment.

Barry said an administrative assistant once said to him, “You do such a good job with your job, why are you doing mine?” It’s really stuck. Focus on what you do best and delegate to others.”

Peers can serve as mentors

Mentors are great assets, but mentorships and alliances don’t always have to come from higher-level employees.

“Think of your peers as your mentors,” Barry said. “You’d be surprised if you could learn new insights from them about things that can help you.”

She compared the strength that can come from having strong allies to a three-legged stool.

  • First of all, what will this ally bring you? Identify the personal strengths you have that will help them and use those strengths.
  • Then, what will the ally bring to others? You have a notion of fairness and justice. Now recognize those who might be struggling because of a lack of inclusion and step up for them.
  • Third, how can the organization benefit from the alliance? Examine the processes within the organization and determine how to create structural fairness where there may not be.

Autism internship program inspires everyone

The most touching example of the session was the discussion of an autism internship program that Barry helped create while working at Freddie Mac as Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. The program aimed to recognize the skills of people with autism and then help them find jobs where they could use those skills.

“We wanted it to be more than just hiring people on the spectrum to do something like stock shelves,” Barry said. “Our HR team has invested time and money in training our staff on how to work with people on the spectrum.”

Teams were formed to lead this training and included at least one worker on the team who had direct experience interacting with autistic family members or friends.

Among the things Freddie Mac learned from the program was that employees who made up these teams had higher job satisfaction scores than those who didn’t, and they also increased their job satisfaction scores. work against their scores before being part of these teams.

Barry said the same approach can be taken when it comes to other groups of potential employees such as people with disabilities, veterans or seniors.

Helping business leaders connect with staff members

Business leaders are key to creating inclusive work cultures. Barry said almost every leader has been left out, and it’s important to recognize that and learn from it as an organization.

For example, she told of an executive who came from a low-income background and once showed up for a job interview wearing khaki pants and a white shirt. The other applicants wore sports jackets and ties. He didn’t feel like he “looked the part”. But before his interview started, someone lent him a sports jacket and tie to make him more comfortable. “I didn’t even ask him to do that,” the chef said, “and I’ll never forget him for what he did for me.”

By leading by example, business leaders can promote and develop a culture of inclusion within their company.

Barry emphasized, “Don’t feel like you have to convince everyone in the company that [promoting this culture is] the best thing to do. There will be those who don’t embrace it and feel like “this just isn’t the place for me” and leave because they’d rather work for a band like an “old boys club”, and that’s is good. You weren’t going to convince them anyway.”

Barry recommended that leaders work to build trust and inclusion by hosting regular coffee or lunch meetings with employees. Invite four workers – people from diverse backgrounds, such as women or people of color – and give them 10 or 15 minutes to talk about themselves.

“They may be nervous about doing this, but HR can advise them on how best to talk about their values ​​and their value to the company, why they belong to the company and what they can bring,” she said. “It organically connects and brings a greater sense of inclusion.”

Truly having allies leads to a much greater sense of belonging in the company, she said. And, the results of those coffees and lunches are priceless.

“These employees no longer have to come to work and worry about things like your hair looking different or you speaking with an accent or eating with the same group for lunch every day,” Barry said.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance journalist based in Herndon, Virginia.

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