Navigating today’s workplace takes the courage and conviction to call out behaviors that limit inclusion and the full realization of human possibility. But work can be the hardest place to take a stand. We are least comfortable “taking on” colleagues, let alone superiors, when we are keen to prove ourselves as “team players.”
How do we create the conditions to enable the courageous conversations we need for our organizations to benefit fully from the plurality of human perspective and experience? The courage to champion true belonging and inclusion – and to have the hard conversations – takes time and practice, and a commitment to a culture of openness and respect.
Of the many metaphors we live by, not “judging a book by its cover” honors the people we encounter at work and in our communities, and acknowledges the depth and power of their stories and perspectives. By opening ourselves fully to the different experiences of others, we challenge our assumptions, view the world through other eyes and expose ourselves to new ideas.
But “don’t judge a book by its cover” also applies, quite literally, to books!
Participants often tell us that Books@Work introduces them to books they never would have picked up on their own. Reading with initial skepticism, some quickly discover themes and ideas that trigger interesting thoughts. Others are converted only in conversation, where the interpretations of others introduce them to viewpoints that they might never have entertained.
It’s officially a “thing.” Many corporations have enthusiastically embraced mindfulness and meditation to enhance employee experience. With outcomes both promising and proven, it’s no wonder that the likes of Google, Apple, Nike, JP Morgan and General Mills have invested in the belief that corporate mindfulness improves workplace wellbeing.
The numbers support the story. In a 2017 report on employer sponsored wellbeing, Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health reported that 86% of the 141 employers surveyed include an expanded definition of employee well-being in their business strategy. Specifically, 61% were already engaged in or considering mindfulness classes or training, up from 43% in 2016.
But meditation is usually a solo sport. Books@Work, like meditation, develops the skills to see things differently – but it allows colleagues to do it together.
If you could ask an innovative HR leader for her insights on your most pressing concerns, what do you think her advice might be? When Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer at Unilever was asked just that, she did what a leader who values true inclusion would do: she asked for a diversity of perspectives.
We live in a results-oriented world. And many believe that the best way to get results is to be direct. After all, when we know exactly what we want to accomplish and what steps to take to get there, anything other than a direct approach is a waste of time.
But what if the problem is thorny and the solutions are less clear?
When we seek to make change that involves people of different backgrounds and perspectives, the direct path becomes hard, if not impossible, to identify. In issues related to organizational culture – team effectiveness, inclusion, wellness, leadership, among others – the inevitable salad of human emotions and personal agendas create complicated as well as complex challenges.
I recently had the good fortune to attend and present at the 2019 Forum on Workplace Inclusion in Minneapolis. Surrounded by committed diversity & inclusion professionals presenting on a wide array of topics, I spoke about discomfort and the role it plays in inclusion conversations.
I recently had the honor and privilege of introducing Dr. Deborah Plummer, author of Some of My Friends Are… The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Benefits of Cross-Racial Friendships, at her Northeast Ohio book launch. Dr. Plummer is a nationally recognized psychologist and diversity management thought leader. She is a scientist, researcher, changemaker and professor in several disciplines – and a prolific author.
Debbie’s book, supported by twenty years of rigorous research on cross-racial friendships, helps us to understand how and why this literary friendship was both unusual but also deeply formative and important. In examining cross-racial friendships, she relies on extensive quantitative and qualitative evidence from her own research and the research of others. But her personal reflections and unflinching candor invite us to examine our own friendships: the acquaintances, the lovers, the friends “of the heart.”
The term “psychological safety” may be buzzy, but it’s no buzzword. Collaborative, inclusive and productive organizational cultures require psychological safety. But building and maintaining true psychological safety takes both time and practice.
Psychological safety is the “shared belief’ that a team or a group is “safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Reintroduced (although coined years earlier) in the academic literature by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety enables candor, trust and mutual respect, and invites the full power of human ability to tackle workplace challenges. In psychologically safe environments, we give each other the benefit of the doubt and we are fully able to learn together – from each other and from our mistakes.
At Books@Work, we constantly read and evaluate new texts – short stories and books – for interesting opportunities to trigger engaging and timeless discussion among colleagues. We look for new perspectives, especially from writers whose work is “outside” the traditional canon of Western literature. Whether a powerful portrait of immigrant experience from Edwidge Danticat, or a fascinating take on #metoo from Jamel Brinkley, we take pride in introducing new voices to our participants. But I’ve recently had a chance to revisit the power of a few classic short stories.