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Seven Habits of Diversity-Conscious Managers

Posted on 07 July 2015 by CRadmin2

By Lenora Billings-Harris

Think of a leader/manager in your life who really motivated you to be the best you could be. What attributes or characteristics describe that person? What habits did he or she have that worked for you? Over the past few years, I have asked hundreds of leaders that question. Here is a sampling of the most frequent answers.

My motivating leader:

  • Was fair and respectful toward others
  • Had high personal standards
  • Believed in my abilities and potential
  • Helped me believe in myself
  • Encouraged and stretched me
  • Led by example
  • Mentored and coached effectively
  • Asked for and appreciated different points of view
  • Listened
  • Criticized objectively
  • Had integrity; was honorable
  • Helped me solve my own problems
  • Had a vision
  • Developed a trusting environment

The specific word diversity was rarely used when people described their best, favorite or most effective manager. However, fairness, respect, objectiveness and the ability to listen recurred frequently. Clearly, these are key skills for managing a diverse workforce.

The attributes mentioned above describe an effective manager and leader. The challenge within a diverse environment is to be able to practice these behaviors with all contributors, rather than only with employees with whom you are most comfortable. Developing the diversity dimension of leadership requires a commitment to demonstrate the following behaviors consistently:

Identify Professional Aspirations

Learn the professional aspirations of all team members and support their efforts to achieve them. Many organizations have some type of career development or succession planning process. In order to make these programs more effective within a diverse environment, be sure that you are talking to all of your staff about their career aspirations. Even if your organization does not have many opportunities for individuals looking for upward mobility, your interest in their career and your assistance in their development will be greatly appreciated and will usually motivate people to do their best work. If there are no opportunities within the organization and the employee ultimately leaves the company, you then have a positive ambassador in the overall community.

Create Opportunities for Positive Exposure

Create opportunities for highly talented employees to be exposed to leaders who may not otherwise interact with them. Perhaps they can present a report, attend a meeting in your place, or conduct various other activities whereby they can interact with leaders in the organization who, if impressed, can impact their career in a positive way.

Create Cross-Functional Teams

As organizations have downsized, right-sized and re-engineered their businesses, many management positions have been eliminated, thus requiring groups to work together as teams in order to complete the necessary tasks.

When cross-functional teams work effectively, ideas flourish. People are exposed to each other’s ideas and discover that different departments have different viewpoints. That exposure is beneficial to the overall innovation potential of the organization. When creating these teams, remember that putting people together does not automatically make them a team. Training is needed to help develop that group of people into an effective, trusting team. Without training, diversity collisions because of stereotypes about age, tenure, communication styles, as well as ethnicity and gender can be divisive to the team’s effectiveness.

Delegate Fairly

Sometimes leaders have a tendency to delegate to the same people all the time because they do good work and things will be done well. However, if you are going to truly develop all team members, regardless of their packaging, you need to identify projects, tasks and responsibilities that could further develop their skills. Once the task is delegated, be sure to coach, and be clear regarding your expectations about updates and results.

Do not Tolerate Inappropriate or Disrespectful Behavior

Communicate and support intolerance of inappropriate and disrespectful behavior. This practice relates to “led by example,” and “was fair and respectful,” as descriptors of effective leaders. This must be an ongoing behavior on your part, one where you are constantly looking for opportunities to teach tolerance and respect within the workplace. This skill is one of the most difficult diversity management skills to perform well consistently because most people do not know how to provide negative feedback constructively. If you are silent or laugh nervously at “dumb blonde” jokes, for instance, your behavior may perpetuate the inappropriate actions of your staff.

Evaluate Performance Effectively

Most employees really want to do a good job. The problem is often they do not know what a good job is because the clues from their leadership are unclear. The clues frequently differ based on superficial or stereotypical judgments regarding age, gender or ethnicity. For example, what is considered acceptable or superior performance for a woman engineer is often different from the standards for her male counterparts because of unwritten expectations. If the skills and expectations for the job are clear, the measurement criteria is clear and the feedback is continuous, then it becomes easier for you to be fair with each employee.

Consider Individual Needs

Consider individual needs when enforcing company policies and guidelines. The idea is to be fair. However, fair does not necessarily mean the same. There are times when you must decide how to implement policies without showing favoritism while recognizing the different needs of your staff.

Coordination of work schedules is an example. Although within a department, and within the same job category, everyone is probably expected to arrive at the same time and leave at the same time, it would be appropriate, when necessary, to allow flextime. Be sure to clarify the requirements.

You may have noticed that nowhere have I suggested that effective leaders manage based on ethnicity, gender, disability, age and the like. Effective leaders realize that everyone in the organization contributes to its success, when people are treated as individuals rather than just members of various groups. The more you are able to relate to individuals, the more you will be able to create an environment that causes them to produce at their highest level, regardless of their packaging.

Actions that Make a Difference

  1. Make time to talk privately with each of your employees on a regular basis. For example, if you have 10 employees, provide each with 30 minutes every two weeks where they have the opportunity to share with you whatever they wish. They can ask any questions or give you ideas, and you have the opportunity to get to know them personally and coach and counsel them as necessary.
  1. Ask your staff, individually, how they would prefer to be managed and how they would prefer to be rewarded. Often, we assume money is what everyone wants. This is not necessarily true. When you ask an employee how he or she wishes to be rewarded, you may discover personal interests and professional aspirations that you can be supportive of. For example, perhaps one employee might be most motivated by having the company pay part of his or her child’s tuition. A childfree person may be most appreciative if the company provided additional vacation time so that she or he could visit a favorite place.
  1. Take your staff to lunch every now and then – just to chat. The more actions you take to demonstrate sincere interest in the individual, the more likely your staff will want to go the extra mile. The challenge is to make the time. Once you see the real person, instead of just their “packaging,” the benefits to you and the organization will abound. Their differences will then be an asset instead of a barrier. The opportunity is there. You can make a difference.

About the Author

Lenora Billings-Harris, CSP is the author of The Diversity Advantage: A Guide to Making Diversity Work.

Copyright© 2015, Lenora Billings-Harris. All rights reserved. For information, contact FrogPond at [email protected].

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