You’ve successfully hired a cross-culturally diverse workforce, and that’s brought you to the big now-what: How do you engage them?
It’s not a trivial question. First, no business can realize the benefits of diversity—such as greater productivity, greater creativity and higher profits—without also fostering inclusion. Here’s the reality: Without engagement, there is no inclusion. The flip side is also true: Without inclusion, engagement is almost impossible to achieve. Few of us are willing to be fully ourselves and to bring our best to the work if we see that others are not able to do the same. If people perceive that there is an “in” group and an “out” group, people will present as who they believe they should be to remain in the “in” group.
Fortunately, engaging your multicultural workforce is actually pretty simple. (Note: Simple is not a synonym for easy.) All you have to do is overcome four common challenges:
- Fostering Trust
- Effective Communication
- Cross-Cultural Awareness Skills
- Leadership From the Top
1. Fostering Trust tops this list because every inclusion expert I’ve ever heard, read, or spoken with agrees that engagement is impossible without trust. It’s so important, we’ve devoted an entire separate post solely to the 5 Trust-Boosting Steps to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce.
But even if you overcome the trust challenge, all the remaining three are absolutely necessary to the development of a truly diverse and inclusive workforce. Here’s the rundown:
2. Effective communication isn’t easy. Communication is vital in every organization, but especially true in a diverse organization seeking inclusion.
- Be specific. Keep in mind that people’s age, gender, native language and cultural framework will all shape how they hear things. Therefore, vague communication is guaranteed to be interpreted multiple ways, perhaps none of them the way you intend. And yet leaders at all levels have a tendency to speak in generalities. For example, if you value input you may say, “Speak up more.” What does that mean to someone from a strongly hierarchical culture? They may perceive “speaking up” as disrespectful and find it very uncomfortable, especially if they are left to figure out what to speak up about and when. You can counter that with specificity: “If you see something that wastes time, please point out how we can be more efficient.”
- Vary your style. Don’t always wait for people to speak up, or decide that people who do so are inherently more ambitious. Instead, invite comments from all perspectives. Praise what you find valuable, but keep the focus on the idea or information, not the person. Some people are uncomfortable with what they feel is undue attention.
- Don’t rush to judgment. Show respect by giving ideas due consideration. By their nature, ideas different from your own may seem “wrong” initially. But the whole point of inclusion is to surface all ideas, not just those that seem like your own.
- Accommodate multiple languages. If you have a multicultural team, no one language will be native for everyone. And why should it be? When you can, translate important material or include translators in key meetings. If that isn’t possible, give people written material that they can work through at their own pace. Invest in graphics that transcend all languages and let people learn visually.
3. Cross-cultural awareness skills aren’t a given. No leadership role is easy. Leading a multicultural team is especially challenging. Doing it well demands skills in multiple areas:
- Be culturally literate. Your really can’t manage across cultures if you’re cross-culturally unaware. Invest in cross-cultural training so that you understand the components of culture and the ways in which those components are shaped and expressed. You can better engage and motivate individuals if you understand how they see the world.
- Be emotionally intelligent. Managing across cultures demands empathy and the ability to accurately read people, just for starters. Both are among the emotional intelligence skills that can be learned or improved. How you make people feel is also crucial to building trust.
- Present well. We’ve already talked about the value of good communication. Many people feel they are great communicators, but their employees would beg to differ. Learn to write clearly and to make effective public presentations. And then use those skills often.
4. It has to start at the top. The best and most effective mid-level managers won’t much matter if senior leaders don’t believe in and actively support engagement, diversity and inclusion. Without that support, inclusion will be haphazard, at best; and trust will be elusive.
- Build a culture of inclusion. Corporate cultures are either intentional—carefully designed and built—or unintentional—the result of neglect. The nature of human implicit bias being what it is, people will default to like-minded thinking and “in” groups unless you work against that.
- Make it matter. If you’re serious about diversity and inclusion, managers and other leaders must be evaluated in part by how well they foster it. If you tolerate top performers who violate the principles of diversity and inclusion, the culture will wither.
- Measure it. Inclusion and engagement are not abstractions. They can and should be measured. Sodexo, a global company that operates in more than 80 countries, conducts an employee engagement survey across the company. It also surveys participants in mentoring programs and members of employee resource groups. Those surveys help it identify what’s working and where there is room for improvement.
- Be patient. True inclusion doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process, and one that needs constant renewal. It can’t succeed as the flavor of the week.
Engagement, diversity and inclusion are simple ideas, really. Like many simple ideas—flight, a world-record in the 100-yard dash, the cure for cancer—they’re not necessarily easy to achieve. But they are just as worthy to pursue.