“No, it’s OK. I don’t need to meet her.”
This was in response to an offer I made to connect one of my acquaintances with an influential person, someone who could prove to be a valuable ally.
I was struck silent by his response. Wha?!
When this kind of thing happens, I’m always shocked.
I get it on one level. All some people want is to be at their jobs for the required number of hours and then go home. But that is not you.
You’re not just putting in time. You want to have an impact. You want to make a difference.
To do that, you have to open your heart and mind beyond what is familiar, and be curious about what is different.
The bigger issue with my acquaintance was lack of vision. If you only look at what is immediately useful, at how something fits into your existing world, you’ll always be limited. And your impact will be limited too.
As an entrepreneur, one of your biggest advantages is your ability to see beyond the obvious, beyond the immediate, to a larger vision.
This goes beyond just networking. It’s about what you do within your business too.
Are you being inclusive about the people you hire and choose to do business with? Are you making choices that look beyond gender, race, disability, religion, and sexual orientation? Are you bringing in diversity of experiences and views?
The truth is, your business will do better if you do!
Let’s look at the facts. Research on over 20,000 publicly trade companies in 92 countries shows that companies with women in top management have higher profits. Pretty illuminating when you consider that over half of all the companies surveyed had no women in executive positions. None. Close to 60% of the companies in the survey had no female board members and fewer than 5% had female CEOs.
Another study showed that companies with more women on the board significantly outperform their peers over a long period of time.
Even outside of boards and senior management, teams that are inclusive in all ways outperform their peers by 80% in team-based assessments. These teams were able to capitalize on the individuality of the diverse people on the team.
More fun facts: in a study of more than 450 global companies, small companies who were inclusive had 13 times higher cash flow. Regardless of size, a company was almost twice as likely to be change-ready and be innovation leaders in their market if they chose to be inclusive and value diversity.
What this study found was that inclusion and diversity has to be embedded in the business top to bottom. This isn’t something you dust off when you write a job ad. It’s an integral part of your business’ value system.
All the evidence shows that embracing diversity and inclusion in all aspects of business results in significantly better performance.
So what is up? Why aren’t we being more inclusive and embracing diversity with open arms?
Economics are not the issue. So what is?
For one thing, it’s a hard thing to do. We tend to gravitate to people like us. It helps you like and identify with each other. It’s human to be cautious of what is different.
At the very least, it’s deeply uncomfortable to allow for a variety of perspectives when you aren’t used to it. For some, it’s downright fearful, especially when the actions of a few have come to signify and label an entire group.
Not everyone is willing to go through the discomfort. Even entrepreneurs, who are often on the edge of discomfort, can be unwilling.
Also, subtle and not-so-subtle biases persist and lead to exclusion. Some of us are just not aware of our biases and how they play out.
Others aren’t willing to overcome their prejudices and beliefs.
What our cerebral cortex allows us to do, though, is to overcome that inherent reluctance, learn more about the unknown, let go of biases, and choose to embrace what those who are unfamiliar have to offer.
Let me pick up on that important point. Choice. Remember: you always have a choice. The choice to learn and get to know people. Or the choice to remain closed off. As a leader, your choices influence others.
What further confuses things is that the people considered to be in the minority try to conform, as a way of fitting in and doing well in the predominant system. What can you do? Curiosity, asking authentic question like, “What’s it like being the only Black person in this company?” and then listening to the responses and not reacting negatively if you don’t like what you hear.
Diversity takes some unexpected turns. I recently had a conversation with the mother of an autistic child. When I offered a resource of a mom who had worked with her own autistic child to “cure” him, Mom #1 educated me on her perspective. Her own son did not have a disease to be cured. There’s nothing wrong with him. He just has a different perspective on things. It’s the world that labels him as faulty.
Temple Grandin, an autistic woman and animal science professor, author, and speaker, said as much in her TED talk. (I obviously didn’t fully take that in the first time!) It may be startling to notice that people with what are considered significant disabilities also have something to offer in the workplace.
At the heart of inclusivity is acceptance. Acceptance of differences. And further, recognition that each of us has something to offer.
Embracing diversity is not about adding anything. It’s a fundamental choice to value inclusivity and diversity for the good of your business.
So what can you do in your own company to give everyone a sense of belonging? Be a good listener and an open communicator.
When your company, your brand, becomes associated with inclusivity and diversity, you inspire others to do the same. You have influence.
Consider too: inclusivity and diversity aren’t just about business performance. You’ll be enriched by it.
For you to have the impact you want to have, you’ll have to grow as a person. You’ll have to grow into the person who can have that kind and level of impact. That person lies on the other side of embracing diversity in all its forms, whether it’s a new person to meet or someone of a different color, background, or lifestyle to hire.