We are all living our own stories, doing our best to make a difference in this complicated world, seeking to grow and understand more about ourselves every day.
Sadly, some of us are able to live our stories more authentically than others.
Millions of people have to put a mask on when we go to work. We all adopt a corporate persona to a certain extent, but when people are forced to deny essential aspects of who they are, they suffocate in silence. They might be part of their employer’s BAME employee base, but their experience of subtle racism means that they prefer to blend into the background rather than take centre stage.
The numbers might suggest that a business is diverse (although often they do not), but if individual stories do not show that people are comfortable with being “different,” even good numbers mean nothing, and the value of that diversity will not be realised.
When there is a diverse meeting room in which every opinion is genuinely equal, it does not matter that divergent thinkers may be in the minority – their thoughts will rise above the consensus and be given due consideration.
Normalising diversity of thought and behaviour is difficult in a corporate world where we are conditioned to “fit in” with the culture, but there are rare businesses where being different is genuinely accepted and celebrated. These businesses value the experience of every individual employee, regardless of background, allowing people to live their story rather than fit in with someone else’s narrative.
These companies will win the war for talent because they know how to squeeze the potential out of every individual, whatever their identity or beliefs.
We are constantly on the hunt for divergent thinkers when we are working on our recruitment briefs. We work with clients who offer them a chance to flourish and we fervently believe that investing in diversity and inclusion offers a critical “marginal gain” in an ever-changing world. We get the most pleasure when we persuade clients to see someone brilliant who is going to break the mould rather than fit snugly within it.
So, as we contemplate coming out of this difficult time and thoughts turn to redesigning how we work together, we all need to make an effort to listen to the stories of those who might be on the margins. If we value their diversity and learn from their perspectives, we open our businesses up to astounding and transformational new directions.
It will make everyone more confident in sharing ideas and foster a spirit of togetherness that will lead to optimal performance and improved employee retention.
Tapping into the diverse stories of employees should be a priority for 2021. Be curious, be encouraging and be accepting. While not every idea will be a winner, we will never know unless we get to hear them. Let’s make ourselves available to listen more often.