Beyond Inclusion: Five Ideas for Harnessing the Power of DiversityBy Ki’tay Davidson

I find most organizations fail to effectively leverage the power of diversity.

We bring people to the table, and then ask for them to leave the very aspects of their identity that make them unique at the door, effectively eliminating the nuance of their experiences.

How can we shift this paradigm?

Those of us who work in the digital, technological, and social innovation create the future. Why can’t we imagine one of freedom?

Being a transgender man allows my experiences to add immense value to my team.

Hiring those with a variety of experiences – be they persons with disabilities, people of color, veterans, queer, and/or transgender individuals, formerly incarcerated individuals – can only improve your organization’s ability to navigate the global and ever-changing marketplace.

Diversity in the Workplace

Diversity in the workplace allows for an in-house incubation team that brings a variety of skills, perspectives, and creativity to produce innovative and community-based solutions and products.

So often, diversity in the workplace is painted as a moral deed, as if the employer is doing everyone a favor, and deserves kudos for hiring “diverse” individuals.

This is a repugnant framework that hurts both the employer and employee.

But, successful organizations can leverage diversity to lead high performing teams.

We can create a work culture of support to allow employees to thrive and contribute rather than spend their time pouring their energy into survival. When people feel seen, appreciated, understood, and valued, their work ethic, productivity, and overall output skyrockets.

Below are five examples of “doing it right” taken directly from my experiences in the workplace in the past several years.

1. Create a Workplace Culture of Support and Flexibility

Listen. No, really. Ask and listen to what a person says they need to thrive, and don’t challenge their needs.

People know what is best for them. Create a workplace culture where people are encouraged to be self-aware and are able to articulate what they need you to do to ensure their comfort and success.

For this to occur we have to deconstruct our mindset of validating needs typically understood as “reasonable.” Someone’s needs may be less common, but they’re not less valid. Working toward a culture where people’s needs are acknowledged leads to happy and productive employees.

2. Educate Yourself (Curiosity isn’t Attractive)

I cannot count the number of times people have asked me, “Are you going to have THE surgery?”

For some obnoxious reason, people often feel as though my body and experiences are up for public discussion. There is nothing more alienating than feeling like a specimen and being treated like an oddity.

Do not ask questions you wouldn’t want someone else to ask you about your body, experiences, and needs. It is not acceptable to ask any question that pops into your mind.

Of course, if someone is open to sharing and educating, that’s fine. But if not, leave it be.

Don’t expect anyone to be your teacher; your curiosity shouldn’t be the most important need in the room.

We have to create an atmosphere of dignity and respect for everyone. Before you ask someone a question, ask yourself:

  • Why am I asking this question?  Is it for my own curiosity?
  • Can I easily find the answer on Google?
  • Does this violate this person’s privacy?
  • Are my questions presumptive?
  • What belief systems are behind my question?

If there is a clear need for education around a specific subject, consider inviting a local community-based organization to lead a workshop. Never require an individual to educate your organization.

3. Innovate to Liberate

Be creative about inclusion. Offer self-care days, regular break times to exercise, eliminate unnecessary dress codes, promote accommodations, or create different work spaces at your office for a variety of work styles.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

Establish consistent structured check-ins.

Ask your employees what type of environment would make them comfortable and shift the culture based on the needs of the current team. This will be an evolving discussion, but one that will ensure your team has what they need to thrive.

4. Remember, You aren’t Doing Anyone a Favor

Don’t treat the new hire as though they are lucky you hired them. I wasn’t hired because I’m transgender and my employer wanted to be kind. I was hired because I’m qualified.

Eliminate dynamics and savior mentalities that encourage unequal power dynamics.

5. Encourage Difference, Not Assimilation

Give people the space to be themselves. Cultural norms can build quickly in an organization, and those who don’t assimilate are left out.

Work on establishing a culture where people from all walks of life and those with strong forms of self-expression can thrive.

From religion to gender expression, let people be free and remain open to the ways a diverse workforce can steer your organization in unexpected and wonderful directions.

Ki'tay Davidson

Love drives Ki’tay. A southside dreamer from the outskirts of Chicago, he believes reforming our communities requires harnessing the power of people and community accountability. Currently, he is the Social Innovation Coordinator at the Goldhirsh Foundation where he supports the LA2050 initiative. Honored by the White House as a Champion of Change for his disability advocacy, Ki’tay previously worked at Disability Rights International in Washington, D.C. Ki'tay is a graduate from American University, but credits the majority of his intellectual growth to his mom and folks who have graciously shared their experiences with him. This post represents Ki’tay’s own opinions.

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