3 things multicultural employees need to thrive
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Tara Jaye Frank
People often ask what I believe would help employees of
color thrive at work. Many companies have declared a commitment to diversity
and inclusion — to creating a level playing field where all employees have the
opportunity to excel and be their authentic selves. I usually share ideas for
how to raise leadership’s collective consciousness to combat bias or emphasize
the importance of questioning traditional processes built on dated values and
Most longstanding talent strategies were formed by and for
the majority, which means they inherently cater to a specific way of leading —
namely, the white male way. Working to advance women and people of color in
corporate America is, in a sense, like swimming upstream.
Systemic retooling aside, optimizing the potential of
employees of color uses the same fundamental enablers required by everyone
else. I wrote a blog several months ago called, "'What
do black people want?' I'll tell you." Several commenters questioned
the premise, claiming the wants listed were — in their words — "universal." They were right, of course. Similarly, the needs highlighted below are
universally desired, but not uniformly provided. Every human being will
recognize them as meaningful — obvious,
even. But it matters that we acknowledge how many are still waiting for the
simple benefits others find so commonplace.
Consider, for a moment, that you have the power to make
three basic needs available to more people. What would you do differently?
1. Multiculturals at
work need to feel connected. We move up and through organizations thanks to
our skills and experiences, but also because of our networks. Employees of
color need connections to leaders beyond their work teams and immediate spheres
of influence. They need mentors —
both peer and senior — from
diverse disciplines who can provide the broader business context and visibility
to other leaders who may open doors for them down the road. One of the most
useful gifts you can offer a person of color at work is an introduction. The
more connected we are, the more pathways we create for learning and
development. Just like everyone else, right? Except people of color are
sometimes isolated at work, because they’re unclear about how to appropriately
penetrate existing relationship circles.
2. Multiculturals at
work need to be reflected. Over the years, I’ve heard white leaders admit
they don’t notice when internal communications or advertising campaigns fail to
overtly reflect people of color. Nothing is missing for them. Truth be told,
they see themselves reflected everywhere, all the time. When a printed or televised
representation of a company lacks cultural diversity, those left out feel
invisible. What’s more, they quietly wonder whether they really have a place in
the company at all — as an
employee or a consumer. Even more critical is the need to see themselves
reflected in leadership. I visited a company where a white woman told me she
attended a town hall with a leader panel of five white males, all over 50 years
old. She hardly heard a word they said. All she thought about was the
overwhelming visual cue, which appeared as a sign of her limited advancement
3. Multiculturals at
work need to feel respected. Cultural difference is a hotbed for
assumptions. We assume when someone behaves a certain way, they’re doing it for
the same reasons we would, but that’s hardly ever true. When colleagues behave
in ways you can’t explain, seek first to understand. What’s motivating their
behavior? Is there a communication gap? A difference in preference or style?
Are beliefs or values at play? Is something deeper going on? I know a young man
who was overwhelmed at work. Others perceived him as negative and disengaged,
because he seemed withdrawn. There’s a big difference between feeling
overwhelmed and disengaged, and without intervention, that assumption could have
taken root and turned disastrous. Assume and expect the best from people and
always treat them with respect.
Everyone can help turn diversity into inclusion by helping
people connect, consciously reflecting diversity and assuming the best in
others. It’s not rocket science, but it does require awareness and intention.
Employees of color and advocates, what would you add to this
Tara Jaye Frank is vice
president of multicultural strategy for Hallmark Cards Inc. and the author of Say
Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career
course they can believe in and achieve.
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