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Empowering Each Other As Colleagues

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While D&I has always been an important facet of the HR industry, recent events in the past year have led companies to do some serious rethinking on equality and the work that remains to be done in the workplace. This article unpacks our role as employees and colleagues - what we can do at work to better serve each other, include different voices and create the kind of environment where everyone feels safe and motivated.

When envisioning the inclusive workforce, diversity efforts cannot be siloed to just the recruitment process. The patterns of favouritism that we see in hiring are the same patterns that exist in who gets promoted, which employees decide to stay, and how much someone earns. It's important to look at the entire system, especially the cogs that move from the bottom-up and impact day-to-day life. For example, your corporate handbook might include sections on anti-harassment or equal opportunity, but if there aren't real systems in place to ensure the everyday office is empowering for all kinds of people (think: flexible working arrangements for parents or mentorship opportunities for young, diverse talent), then D&I misses the mark as a solution that fundamentally changes the way the organisation is designed and managed. 

It takes an increase in trust, clear communication, and strategic delegation to champion an empowered workplace. Especially as coworkers form deeper connections in the aftermath of the pandemic, your role as a colleague is increasingly important to diversity and inclusion efforts. Some things to prioritise include:

Showing appreciation

One of the simplest and most effective ways to empower the people you work with is by expressing appreciation. Thank your colleagues for giving you feedback, letting you sit-in on that meeting, or taking the time to do a task and doing it well. Recognising others for their work makes it more likely that a person will do it again (and do it even better). A study by Harvard Business Review also shows that people can be more motivated by seeing progress in their work, not just praise. Show your team that you see what they've accomplished, and understand what they may still need to get the job done. Empowering them could mean offering your time and expertise - sharing an article that might be helpful to them, an online tool that could expedite their work, or simply getting out of their way so they know you trust and believe in them. 

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Building empathy

It’s easy to know exactly how difficult your own job is. It’s impossible to know how difficult someone else’s job is unless you’ve worked in that position and experienced it firsthand. When employees understand the complexities of different roles in the company, they’re able to empathize with their coworkers. Whether this is by understanding exactly how much is on someone's plate (33 Talent's weekly meetings involve sharing our respective capacities and workload) or working on cross-functional projects to foster greater teamwork (say, when your BD team works closely with Marketing), empathy leads to empowerment.

A good place to start to assess your real company values and culture empathetically is by surveying your staff. This is the first step we take when working with clients so we can cross-check the employees' response with how the management team wants them to view the company. The interviews are run with the promise of confidentiality, and it’s amazing how honest people will be when they are sure the boss will never find out what they said!

Here is an example of a client we worked with last year:

In general, we found that the employees were mostly quite happy, and only raised issues that the managers were aware of (it’s always nice to work with switched-on clients!). Of course, there are often a few surprises thrown in as well, and it’s always fascinating to see how the management team shed light on the reasons behind the survey results.

After following up with the face-to-face discovery sessions with the management team we asked the following questions:

Do your employees know why and how your business was started?

If you asked each member of your team what your overall business goals are, what would they say? Would they all say the same thing?

What 3 things make you different from your competitors?

Questions like these helped us and will also help you get started on your path to exploring and defining your own culture. Just remember, culture cannot be created or changed overnight, so you need to be realistic about the amount of time and effort you will dedicate to any culture projects.

Be an advocate

To intentionally advocate and amplify the work of your coworkers, especially those that are traditionally under-represented, is a powerful tool in building a diverse and inclusive workforce. Consider the 'amplification' strategy used by staffers in the Obama administration: After noticing their voices were often being ignored by more 'outspoken' men during meetings, female staffers and junior aides made it a point to repeat each other's contributions and make sure credit was emphasised. For example, someone might say “I agree with Carol’s idea to do X” and then another, “Yes we should go with Carol’s suggestion.” This not only reshaped the conversations that emerged from those meetings but shifted the parity of women in the administration and within Obama's 'inner circle.'

If you're not feeling motivated enough to advocate for others in your organisation, consider taking a break or asking yourself some important questions to fix the issue.

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