Did you realize that right this very moment, 40% of workers at your job feel excluded? And over 60% feel like they have experienced or seen discrimination? We’ve all heard about DE&I recently, but what is it and why is it so important?
A diverse workforce that focuses on DE&I is a powerful competitive advantage. It can boost financial performance and increases profitability. It can also drives better collaboration, improved employee retention, and greater public approval. But how can companies reliably achieve these results?
Developing the emotional intelligence (EQ) of employees is a great place to start to create an equitable workplace. And it’s greatly needed:
EQ is the differentiator that allows everyone to bring their voice to the table, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or tenure. Here’s an example of it in action: When people have high EQ, a new hire won’t fear sharing their opinion or think that they must wait a few years before they can speak candidly. In fact, EQ can tackle some of the most challenging problems in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at how EQ can help.
- Aspire to be a Place Where People Can Be Themselves
People often have reservations about bringing their whole selves to work. They might not feel free to be who they are. But no one can perform at a high level if they feel like they are playing a role or being inauthentic. Understandably, most job seekers are looking for a place where they can be themselves. They seek organizations that align with their values. This issue is ultimately one of authenticity. To be effective, we must be authentic.
EQ can help solve this problem. It all starts with cultivating the core skill of self-awareness—knowing how we really feel and acting in harmony with it. EQ training encourages people to start asking questions like, “What does authenticity mean to me?” And “What makes me who I am?”
Once we have a degree of self-awareness, we can begin identifying the parts of our authentic selves that will help us perform at a higher level. We can also determine what behavior is central to our identity. People can ask themselves, “When I do this, when do I stop being me?” They also need to determine what compromises are and are not acceptable.
- Deal with Inequality Directly
People often feel that they are treated unequally in the workplace. These feelings are usually directed towards their leader, but it can be any person on their team. For example, someone voices their opinion, and the response is crickets. No one says anything. Then the next person shares their opinion, and they receive effusive praise.
Another subtle example is a high-performing individual who’s always in a good mood, but because of this doesn’t receive positive reinforcement. It’s because team members are so accustomed to the individual performing at a high level that the bar has been raised even higher. These are equity issues. A performance standard is unevenly applied, and then it is reinforced over time.
To overcome these challenges, we turn to the EQ skills of self-management and social awareness. By improving these foundational skills, we become better self-managers. We can make this even more dynamic by sharing our goals. When we do this, we’re letting others know how we want to be evaluated which helps establish a performance metric. This helps create equality.
- Step Into Someone Else’s Shoes
People with negative biases can be a barrier to an inclusive environment. A bias can be having issues with the person because of their identity, how they relate to us, or how they remind us of other people. It also could be that they hold ideas that contradict our own. This is very common. Call it prejudice or call it bias, it is widespread and often subconscious.
All four EQ skills are important to meet the challenge, but social awareness is especially vital. Here we become more aware of our own biases and those of other people. Our goal is to become more sensitive to others’ moods, emotions, and behaviors. We want to step into their shoes and meet them where they’re at.
If someone has an opinion different from ours, an emotionally intelligent person will make sure their own biases are curbed. We try to understand why the person has a certain opinion. We consider that they’ve had different experiences and areas of expertise than us.
Stepping into another’s shoes improves our understanding of people. It allows us to meet them at a deeper level. Not only does this help us get a better understanding who they are–it might even help us better understand our own biases. If you really want to step into someone else’s shoes, you need to take note of three data points:
- What words did they choose?
- What was the tone of their voice when they spoke?
- What was their body language and other nonverbal cues?
By noticing these three things, we can truly empathize. If someone says something perplexing, you can respond by saying “Let me see if I understand you correctly.” Then paraphrase their words. This gives them control over their messaging and the space to educate us. It’s a nuanced approach that goes far deeper than a casual conversation.
Ultimately, the tendency to believe the truth of our own opinions is universal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when we use these EQ techniques, our perspective widens which helps prevents tunnel vision and allows us to focus on areas of our life that need work.
Creating a more equitable workplace can be a daunting task. But by applying some of these EQ strategies, you can help combat the greatest DE&I challenges your office is facing. One by one, we can all work together to create a better work environment for everyone.
By Director of Training, Josh Rosenthal