Common sense — and studies — confirm that engaged people do better work and are more likely to stay. Engagement is linked with retention, productivity and profitability. Feeling different — like an “outsider” — can undermine engagement.Spending energy figuring out the rules and fitting in takes energy away from quality and efficiency. In today’s diverse workforce, leaders cannot engage everyone the same. Leaders must understand and appreciate difference to have broad engagement.
Being different (in gender) from my peers, I got a taste of how this affects one’s energy. When I got involved in diversity initiatives, I understood how much energy people put into “fitting in.” This is energy that could be redirected to the quantity and quality of work. An inclusive culture gets better results because more people feel valued!
While diversity is “the right thing to do,” it will get more support if it is also good for business. A business approach to diversity includes: (1) it is based on facts; (2) there is a strong business case; (3) it is expressed in non-judgmental terms. For example, an initiative to improve gender diversity will be based on where women are represented, turnover rates and levels of measurable engagement. The business case for gender diversity must be spelled out. And root causes for not having gender diversity must be expressed so men aren’t put on the defensive.
The prototypical man influences others to do what he wants by “telling” or “commanding.” The prototypical female does so by “persuading.” The advantages of the masculine approach are that it is clear and efficient. Its downsides are that it can shut others down. The advantages of the feminine approach are that it is inclusive and invites buy-in. But it may lack clarity and take more time. Women using the masculine approach can be caught in the double bind.
Better decisions really do come from diverse groups. The comfort of being with those like ourselves makes us pay attention less; having even one person who is different from the group norm makes people process information more carefully. There is more creativity and innovation, and outcomes are better and more sustainable.