A few years ago I had a client reach out to me and ask if I could coach three young up and coming leaders in the organization.
They had been handpicked to speak at the annual leadership conference and talk about an issue that mattered to them. This is a company of architects, engineers, and other business types. The majority of the people who would be in the room shared these traits: men, white, straight.
Now, look, I am not here to upset the apple cart. I am simply conveying the facts of the matter.
I eagerly agreed to accept the job and went about scheduling the first round of calls with each person. When I got on the phone with Josh, we spent the first few minutes chatting and getting to know each other. I didn’t know Josh and was excited to learn why he had been chosen to speak at this event. “I am going to talk about the importance of inclusion.” he told me.
A “hot topic,” this particular client had invested a lot of time and money developing programs that directly addressed diversity and inclusion throughout the organization.
Now they would hear from someone directly who was impacted by the conversation on inclusion. I made plans with Josh to start working on the first draft of his talk and scheduled a time to connect after.
When I received his rough outline, I saw that Josh was going to tell his coming out story at work. Josh was out in his personal life. But what about at work? What would that be like?
Working in a profession that historically is a place for straight dudes, what kind of response would he get when he brought his whole self to work?
Josh and I worked for two weeks, leading up to the big event. He was nervous. Not just about his talk, but, let’s be honest, this was an audience of the C-suite and leaders from across the company, including the CEO. He didn’t say it, but I could pick up the subtext in his comments, “This is going to be a career making moment for me. Good or bad.”
The day arrived and I was at home putting out good vibes into the universe for all three speakers. That afternoon I received a text. It was from one of my best friends who happened to be in the audience for the talks.
“Libby, Josh just got a standing ovation” followed by a series of emojis expressing how happy and proud she was. We texted back and forth for a few minutes about how moving the moment was. She told me he was fantastic and the whole audience was bowled over by his message.
Later that night I received another text from my HR contact at the company. “I can’t put it into words. They were all amazing. What a great day!”
A few days later, after coming down from his high (and standing ovation!) Josh reached out. “I cannot thank you enough.”
But I didn’t do anything.
Josh did the heavy lifting. He decided to tell his story, without apology, and I like to believe sitting in the audience that day were people who needed to hear it.
Josh should be able to bring his WHOLE self to work every day and have a sense of belonging.
Today’s leader has a responsibility to actively dismantle any practices that do not create belonging.
Where do you have the opportunity to create a sense of belonging in your organization?
Consider the Q12 from the Gallup Organization as a starting place. Use these questions to talk to your team members to ascertain if they feel like they belong:
Do you know what is expected of you at work?
Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
At work, do your opinions seem to count?
Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
Do you have a best friend at work?
In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?