• David Strittmatter

A transformational leadership experience

If Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice
Photo by Natalie Pedigo on Unsplash

Dear friend,


This week, I had a 5-day in-person training together with +50 other colleagues. In terms of experience, we were all at the same level (~1 year of experience as a consultant), however, in terms of our backgrounds, there was a huge variety:


My colleagues came from all over the world (Africa, Asia, Middle East, Australia, North America and Europe) and had various study backgrounds (aerospace engineering, humanities, chemical engineering, business, …). Further, we had a 50/50 female/male ratio and had a few people who identify themselves as part of the LGBTQ+ community.


Despite this variety, we felt more similar than different. We are all passionate about making a positive impact, challenging ourselves to have a steep learning curve, and facing very similar problems in our lives.


The training promised to be a transformational leadership experience - it certainly was. The faculty (teachers in the training) created a safe environment in which we could open up and share what was on our minds. The different exercises, such as identifying our true values, helped us to talk about the things that were most meaningful to us. For instance, a colleague shared a personal story about how he had to flee outside of his home country and leave behind his wife as from one day to another he was politically persecuted - the reason why safety is his number 1 value.


We could gain incredible insights due to the great learning environment. The emphasis on safe and inclusive sharing allowed us all to open up.


In today’s blog article, I’ll write about why creating an inclusive environment is essential for the best learning experience and how we can actually create one.


Summary:

  • Diversity is more than the demographic characteristics of a group of people. It goes along the lines of cognitive diversity and the variety of experiences and perspectives that each individual brings to the table

  • In a non-inclusive environment, people are afraid to speak up

  • Companies that fail to create an inclusive environment will experience a disadvantage as they aren’t able to tap the full potential of the workforce

Practical advice:

  • First, stop assuming and start asking

  • Second, listen well. Good listeners provide their full attention, hold eye contact, don’t interrupt, and ask questions to understand what’s said

  • Third, communicate mindfully (be conscious of the words you choose)

The great advantage of inclusivity


Diversity is more than the demographic characteristics of a group of people. It goes along the lines of cognitive diversity and the variety of experiences and perspectives that each individual brings to the table.


Inclusion is to enable the many different types of people to achieve the same and treat them fairly and equally.


So, while diversity is a description of a group of people, inclusion is the enablement of each individual in this group.


In a non-inclusive environment, minorities (a person doing a semester abroad, an engineer in a group full of business people, or a man in a group full of women) are afraid to speak up. It feels inconvenient to dissent or contribute new ideas. Thereby, the full potential of a group remains untapped.


Companies that fail to create an inclusive environment will experience a disadvantage as they aren’t able to tap the full potential of the workforce. Only in an inclusive environment, do people feel comfortable being themselves, leveraging their unique strengths, and sharing their perspectives.


What makes an inclusive environment


From what I experienced at the training and how the inclusive environment was created there, it’s 2 factors that made it particularly inclusive:


(A) Our leaders/ faculty were great role models and (B) embedded inclusivity throughout our experience. They made clear from early on that we’ll make the most of our time together only if we’re willing to show respect to each other, create a safe environment for everybody, and are willing to share. Simultaneously, they went ahead and made sure the overall training program enabled inclusivity.


In every exercise, they stressed the importance of being open-minded and letting others share. For example, we had role plays to exercise our conversational skills. Thereby, each and everyone in our team should listen closely to his/her teammates and provide feedback. We all took these exercises seriously so that each and everyone received highly valuable feedback.


3 tips to be more inclusive


I commit to 3 measures that create an inclusive environment, whether being in the majority or minority:


First, stop assuming and start asking. It’s difficult to know how people think or feel, and even more difficult if they have a different background. We tend to assume a lot and thus take many things for granted. For instance, I prefer eating protein-rich and vegetarian. Since most vegetarians eat rather little protein, I really struggled to find proper food during the training week as most foods were either meat or vegetarian without a lot of protein. If I was asked whether I would like to have this dietary option, I’d have definitely said yes.


The same goes for many other situations. A simple “what do you think?” can make a huge difference.


Second, listen well. People daring to speak up even if they don’t feel comfortable will shut down completely when we don’t listen to them. Good listeners provide their full attention, hold eye contact, don’t interrupt, and ask questions to understand what’s said.


Imagine you’re in a group full of people of the other gender and you tell them about a problem that’s typical for your own gender, e.g., pressure to make the first step as a male or pressure to give birth to a child as a female. Instead of listening to you, a person in the group interrupts you and tells you that it cannot be an issue for reasons x, y, and z. While the whole group might resonate with the arguments brought up, it will make you feel like sh*t.


Third, communicate mindfully. When we are talking mindfully, we are conscious of the words we choose. We make a conscious decision to use our best communication in a respectful manner. For instance, instead of talking in an absolute manner (all people, everyone, etc.), we use more mindful language (in my view, from my experience, etc.).

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