As a corporate executive, I learned how being different can undermine engagement. I spent most of my career as a lawyer. I helped business do better by complying with the law and avoiding costly legal problems. I was the first woman at the C-level of a well-known public company. While I knew my gender made me “different,” I did nott focus on it. I focused on doing my job and doing my best. In fact, I worked to mask my differences—to fit in.
Because I was different from the others at the top, I got asked to participate in “diversity” programs. I was a senior sponsor of our women’s group, took on the mission of creating support among aspiring and talented women and became involved in designing “diversity training.” It was in this role that I began to understand how being “different” can affect engagement.
The team designing the diversity training was, as is usually the case, diverse. Surrounded by people distinguished in one or more ways from the white male heterosexual norm (people of color, gays and women), the light bulb went off. When one is putting energy on observing what the norms of an established group are and making sure one’s own behavior is not too far “out of line,” one cannot operate as naturally or as well. Energy that could be going into creativity and quality is being spent on “fitting in.” I began to see how much my own difference from my colleagues at the top had cost me in terms of focus and energy.
As an executive, I knew I was on to something that could help the business. If we could tap that energy and put it back onto quality work, people might do better work! People might feel greater loyalty to the company. I understood that, to redirect that energy, we needed to create a culture where people felt heard and valued for their own ways – an inclusive culture.
This was the beginning of a new career for me. I left the C-suite, the corporate world and the law to follow my passion — helping businesses create inclusive cultures. My book , my workshops and my speeches are designed to show leaders how to create cultures that feel inclusive to more people—and why it is smart business to do so. I share with them the research linking inclusion and engagement to productivity, innovation and results.
Where have you seen the link between a sense of inclusion and workplace results?