Is Empathy The Key To Inclusive Communities?

BY Tuesdy GeorgeJuly 11, 2019

Workplace Discrimination: girl in glasses works at her computer

What do a creative, an entrepreneur and an LGBTQ / queer person have in common?

They’re all experienced in being thick-skinned. They’re all reliant on their insistent grit to overcome and prove people wrong as they navigate life in unknown territories prone to exclusion.

Let’s be honest: the odds are stacked against them. 

MY STORY

Before joining Huckletree, I had spent most of my working/studying life within the creative industry. Having had a career within both Tech and Creative industries, I’ve fortunately been surrounded by people who have often felt free to express themselves to the truest extent of who they are – myself included. However, I come from beginnings where being ‘different’ was seen as a negative thing. Not being one to conform (#renegade), I moved to London, enrolled in an art school and joined a tech startup – and it felt like a rainbow homecoming.

I am very fortunate to have been largely shielded from discrimination, however, that’s not the case for everyone. Workplace discrimination is still very much present in the professional world.

A recent YOUGOV report stated that LGBTQ employees take home on average £6,703 less per year than their straight counterparts, according to new research. The survey, conducted in coordination with LinkedIn and LGBTQ organisation, Black Pride, found the shortfall is equivalent to a pay gap of 16%. Like, really? 

I was shocked at this archaic statistic – it feels radically unjustifiable and unsettling. In 2019, why is workplace discrimination still happening, and what does it take to tackle the lack of inclusion for the LGTBQ community? 

ARE D&I POLICIES THE ANSWER?

Throughout my experiences (be that knocking heads together to write an engaging tour script, shaping a convincing sales angle or leading the charge on salvaging company culture), I have always felt first hand the direct benefits of having a diverse team surrounding me. The more, the merrier – diverse minds bring new ways of thinking. After all, a recent McKinsey study proved that diverse businesses deliver 35% better results.

However, hiring a diverse team does not automatically equate an inclusive workplace. Simply pull together people from different races, sexual orientations and abilities – and you can’t instantly expect them to feel comfortable to show up as who they are from the get go. To have a truly positive impact across a diverse group of people, there has to be an innate shared understanding and ability to feel empathy for one another. Diversity and empathy have to come in tandem:

  • What blocks diversity? A lack of authenticity. 
  • What blocks authenticity? A lack of courage. 
  •  What blocks courage? The presence of shame. 
  • Where can shame not survive? It cannot survive empathy.

Is building diverse communities the remedy – or should we really be concentrating on building empathetic workplaces?

DEALING WITH WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION

However you tackle inclusivity in the workplace, whether you’re a startup, scaleup or global corporation, it has to come from the top. Businesses need to create an infrastructure to guide their employees. Proactively demonstrating inclusive principles via leadership and senior teams is crucial.

Leaders who prioritise building transparent, empathetic and authentic relationships with their peers and teams will naturally cause a ripple effect through the entire company.

As businesses scale and grow rapidly, it’s critical that management, ensure inclusive values don’t get diluted and they continue to spread the love.

Equally, employees should also be held accountable for their actions when discrimination takes place. I believe that when dealing with such a sensitive and difficult situation, decisiveness is key. In these moments, businesses need to have official protocols in place – and work really hard to make their stance clear to all team members. These boundaries should be defined from the get-go; both at the interview stage and during the onboarding process.

If team members aren’t willing to get on board, don’t bring them into your business. If they knowingly cross those boundaries when part of the business, action needs to be taken.

EMPATHY, AUTHENTICITY, HONESTY.

It’s 2019. Businesses need to provide a space that people feel welcome to be themselves – celebrated, in fact.

We all have a responsibility to make room and time to empower our people to feel comfortable to show us who they are outside of the meeting room and behind their title or department.

Embrace empathy and both authenticity and honesty will follow. Put simply: share your truth and others will share theirs.

AUTHOR

Tuesdy George