Are you treating your employees equally, or equitably?
Equality is treating everyone the same. What’s offered to one is offered to all.
Equity is providing the support each person needs – and that support will vary depending on the individual’s goals, background and identity.
Fairness Is Not Equitable
As leaders, we focus on being fair-minded. And sometimes that looks like treating people the same. But fair and equal is not always equitable.
It’s time to know the difference and how that difference influences your leadership.
Because when you focus on treating everyone the same in the spirit of fairness and equality, that means you’re leaving no room for the unique differences that require you to think about how someone wants to be treated.
Create a Safe Environment
Talking to your employees is the foundation of getting to know what inspires and motivates, concerns and challenges each one of them.
The employee who aspires to be a future leader does not need the same growth opportunities as someone who wishes to delve deeper into an individual contributor, domain expert role. One path is not more desirable than the other, but they are very different paths.
When you assume the woman on your team wouldn’t want to take on a role that requires evening meetings because she has young children, or that the youngest man on your team is driven by upward opportunities in your function instead of lateral moves across different businesses, you are potentially derailing your talent and your team’s effectiveness.
Knowing your employees creates greater understanding. Yet many employees might not want to share details of their personal drivers and challenges because they don’t feel safe, or fear career consequences if they do. The young father who doesn’t want to take a new role that’s heavy on travel because he doesn’t want to leave his family. The queer engineer who is uncomfortable every time she’s asked about her boyfriends. The older professional working to finish a college degree who suffers from imposter syndrome.
Create a Platform for Listening
We all are working to attract talent. What’s most important to me is the experience once they are here: to be a place where people can bring their best selves to work, where they can expect a career that’s their own, not a template of success colored with broad lines but instead one of their own making.
This requires a sense of belonging and safety. For managers, that means listening and sometimes, sitting with the discomfort. That might sound counter-intuitive especially if you have a bias for action. You are a manager who does things, fixes things, and makes things better.
To build trust, you must listen to understand your employee’s experience – with curiosity, courage and conviction to learn:
- Curiosity. Children ask questions because they want to understand why and how. Ask questions with the same innocent curiosity and be open to receiving questions with this same intent.
- Courage. If you are speaking with someone who has an identity different from your own, you might feel vulnerable to being labeled as “anti” regarding what you don’t know or understand. This can create discomfort for both of you. Stick with it. It’s important that you stay in the moment no matter how messy it feels.
- Conviction to learn more. Keeping the conversation going requires openness to learning and the ability to suspend judgment based your experiences or assumptions. Many times, people will ask me ‘about my experience’ when they really want to know about being a black woman with a supply chain degree who now focuses on diversity and inclusion. They do not yet feel safe enough for specificity; I want to talk about what they want to know, and not necessarily what they asked.
Once you understand, then you can ask, “What do you need from me?” “How can I support you?” “Is there something you need me to do?”
Create Space for Mistakes
As a manager, you hopefully encourage experimentation and risk-taking. Know that if someone is the ‘only’ in a group, their ability to take risks is greatly diminished. There is little room for error for the only black woman, the only gay man, the only Muslim, the only non-college grad at the table. When they are the ‘only,’ they can feel the pressure to represent ‘all.’
When there’s no room for mistakes, there’s less room for innovation – and that hurts us all.
And that brings me back to the tenet that equal is not equitable. What works for one employee most certainly will not for another, since beyond race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, generation and disability status, there are so many identities, characteristics and experiences that make each employee an individual, deserving of unique space and support.
Support the Work
To support this work, for our managers we are launching a full training program to lean into these conversations. The workshops include discussions on inclusive communication, and how to cultivate tools to recognize and combat microaggression; and managing diverse teams inclusively, including strategies and tools for building trust, psychological safety, and greater inclusion within a team.