“In one of our concert grand pianos, 243 taut strings exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on an iron frame. It is proof that out of great tension may come great harmony.”
My kids look forward to sleep away camp all year. It is the one time of year when they don’t have me hovering behind them reminding them to pick up their room, unload the dishwasher, or whatever chore I’ve asked them to do. What they don’t know is that being away from home builds character. It teaches them resilience and self-confidence, where they can celebrate their own victories as well as learn to self-soothe when something goes wrong.
So this year at camp, they struggled to recognize a returning camper. Why? Well, this camper had previously been a girl and now presents herself as a boy. I don’t share this story to debate the ethics of gender transformation, but merely to point out that our children are growing up in a different world from the one we experienced—one that requires us to be attuned to differences, especially in the workplace.
Our workforce in the United States is transforming demographically. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, from 1980 to 2020:
- The white working-age population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%
- The minority portion of the workforce is projected to double (from 18% to 37%)
- The Hispanic/Latino portion is projected to almost triple (from 6% to 17%)
Furthermore, the exodus of Baby Boomers continues as Millennials and Gen Xers represent the growing majority of the workforce, and Gen Z is entering the workplace for the first time. But again, citing statistics is also not the point.
The point is that it is not an option anymore to simply be an effective leader. Rather, we must engage in diversity leadership, because being able to embrace and harness everyone’s differences directly impacts the bottom line. It is good for business. Diversity leadership is the tool that enables organizations to capitalize on the strengths of each employee. Below are a few tips on how to practice diversity leadership.
Recognize your own biases. We all have biases that are deeply ingrained from the time we are born. These early learnings shape our perceptions about how we view situations and respond to them. As leaders, it is important that we’re aware of our biases, so we’re able to promote the creativity and morale of our team members. Leaders who are not tuned in to their own biases risk loss productivity, low morale and confidence, wasted time, and sometimes even discrimination lawsuits.
Focus on flexibility. Being an effective diversity leader means being able to adjust your communication style to those who are different from you. We tend to relate better to people who share similar backgrounds, expectations, values, and perspectives. Learning how to consider and understand a different point of view is a learned behavior, but the studies show that it’s well worth it. When you have a meaningful relationship with another person, you work more effectively together. You have a common goal and a consistent purpose. Your efforts are channeled toward the same common outcome. You trust each other.
Exercise moral courage. Many of us tend to avoid confrontations. However, conflict is a normal, natural, and inevitable part of life in our relationships with others. Unfortunately, most of us don’t really accept this fact and we still get surprised and distressed when it’s clear that a conflict has emerged. But authentic communication can actually turn tension into creativity and harmony. So don’t be afraid to force dialogue when you feel tension. Learn to appreciate the complexity of the perceptions and intentions involved, the reality of joint contribution to the problem, the central role that feelings play, and what the issues mean to each person’s self-esteem and identity.
Our world will continue to become more diverse, so how will you effectively lead? How will you embrace differences to maximize creativity, morale, and overall performance?