Organizations are working hard to build a diverse workforce, and once they have done that, now what? Now that it is a diverse environment, we are hearing many say the struggle is to ensure it is an inclusive one. A culture where regardless of the diversity of race, religion, gender, culture, sexual orientation, health, age etc., employees feel safe to bring your whole self to work. There is a skill that organically creates an environment where everyone can celebrate the diversity they bring as well as feel included, it isn’t new, it is most likely one you’ve already discussed, it is the skill of empathy.
In the simplest terms being empathetic is to seek to understand before seeking to being understood.
Empathy is the ability to fully experience and comprehend other’s thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviors. Willing to put down biases and listen to each other – listen to the needs of groups in conflict, listen to philosophies of people we disagree with, and when this happens, we have no choice but to expand our awareness.
Many confuse or intermingle sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is a feeling, usually of sorrow, pity or compassion for another person. When we desire to create an inclusive environment, sympathy for our colleagues simply won’t cut it …we need to build teams that operate with empathetic thinking.
Empathy is an ability and sympathy is a feeling. And this is great news because you can train and develop an ability, you cannot teach a feeling, at least not a genuine one!
Because empathy is an ability it is a transformative learning tool that alters the way we see and approach the world. Empathy not only towards the person but also towards the situation.
It takes intentional effort and when done it not only creates a team of Allies it generates co – conspirators that Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is calling on each of us to be. You are not only saying I am here to support you, but you are also saying I am here to help solve it with you! Your workforce is united through their diversity and that is a powerful tool for transformation, bottom line and brand.
Now that you have a sense of why empathy is critical, what can you expect.
Empathy has a direct impact on productivity, engagement and retention, especially retention of the diverse workforce you worked hard to obtain and invested so much in! 93% of employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathizes with their needs. Not only do they stay, they work longer and for less. Yet when asked about empathy only 1 in 4 employees believe empathy in their company is sufficient. If you are in HR it is probably no surprise that many don’t leave companies because of money or title, they leave because of leadership and culture. If you want more data check out the Businessolver’s 2021 Workplace Empathy Monitor report.
Now the big questions is HOW…how can I support or build an empathetic thinking culture. First step is to remove the self-limiting belief that you have no control over this in your environment. WE ALL have the ability to build empathetic thinking to create an inclusive environment, it is not the responsibility of just managers, leaders, Human Resources, Chief Diversity officers or CEOs. So I have just given you permission regardless of your title, role, an individual contributor or people manager, whether you feel included or not, to take the lead to build the skill of empathy, because it is contagious. To start simply become more curious!
Talk to your colleagues, coworkers, peers and friends at work. Come with true intent and start with the heart. Start with folks you know and are comfortable with but may not have really “talked” about their backgrounds, experiences etc. Be ready to truly listen…not just with your ears but with your head and your heart. Remember you are asking to seek to understand them, not for you to be understood by them. You may quickly recognize an unconscious bias and it might scare you or make you uncomfortable….give yourself grace. EVERYONE has bias, as Anton Gunn says “it is as natural as breathing”. The only way we can address our bias is by making the unconscious, conscious and approaching with the right intent. While it is scary or frustrating, you are growing!
The other thing to remember is seeking to understand means helping you see things through a different lens and doesn’t mean it leads to agreeing with everything you are hearing, what it does lead to is a level of RESPECT for what you are hearing.
Practice phrases like, “What would support look like for you?” What role can I play?” not “That is not fair.” “I am sorry you had that experience”. Again, a difference between Sympathy vs Empathy.
Yes, it is hard but the more you put it to practice the more organic it becomes. Then continue these discussions with colleagues. And remember it is contagious so be prepared that as you show genuine interest in those around you, they in turn may have a desire to learn more about YOU and your experiences, background and what it means for you to bring your whole self to work.
Want to learn more about Mental Wellness and DEI, contact us at LetsGo@DiversityCrew.com.