When I served in the military, shortly after I arrived at a new posting, I met one on one with all my direct reports and invested the time to learn what their career goals were. When new people joined my team, I would hold a meeting to welcome and learn about them too.
I asked my team what training and resources they wanted to help them achieve their goals. I also learned their aptitudes, strengths and interests (also known as gifts). Then for the duration of the time that we worked together, I strove to help them achieve their goals by assigning them tasks they would excel at, loading them on the training they wanted, and getting them the resources they needed to do their job. I valued each member of my team for the different gifts they shared.
Embracing Inclusion has been a way of life for me, for as long as I can remember. I’m not perfect, because after all I’m only human. That being said I strive to better understand people with different lived experiences than mine to help me be a better leader. This post explains how IDEA (Inclusion Diversity Equity Accessibility) is an effective leadership strategy.
Note, you don’t need to be in a leadership position to lead, and it is possible for everyone on the team to be a leader, each taking the lead when their gifts are those that the team needs.
Each of us is unique, we have different capacities to do different things. We all have different gifts.
To me inclusion means appreciating everyone for the gifts they bring to the team and finding ways to help each other thrive. When we support and encourage each other as we work towards common goals, we can achieve what many would consider impossible. I’ve found this to be true time and again throughout my career in the military, as a community volunteer and now as an entrepreneur.
An example of this is a project I’m part of with the Business and Professional Women of Ontario. Our organization is more than 100 years old, and many of our original policies and practices are still in place today.
In January 2021, a Mentoring Task Force was created to explore Mentoring program options to cover the province. A group of 3 women were interested in the project and volunteered for the Task Force. We still haven’t named a formal chair or produced any minutes.
In 5 months, we went from a glimmer of an idea to presenting a Mentoring program and having a budget approved to carry it out. We did this by investing the time and energy to get to know each other and what we were good at, by exploring other mentoring programs being run across Canada and the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, and then coming up with two options and costing them out. We presented our findings to BPW Ontario members at the June 2021 Conference and our recommended plan and budget were approved.
We’re all good at researching topics that interest us, we split up the different BPW mentoring programs and reached out to learn more. I researched the BPW Montreal program, as the only French speaking member of our team. Carrie Andrews who is mostly retired, reached out to different clubs around the world. A representative from BPW Calgary joined us for a meeting to share their resources and answer our questions. Shahina Suleman runs a mentoring program for new Canadians and shared her mentoring experiences.
We chose to meet every week, for about an hour, to touch base, compare notes, and agree on next steps. We kept our meetings on task without using formal agendas, as this was mostly a brainstorming process.
We decided not to keep formal minutes, because that would slow us down. Instead, we shared our understanding of what we’d accomplished and what our next steps were as we closed each meeting.
We didn’t worry about achieving perfection we concentrated on getting the big things right; progress over perfection.
When life threw us curve balls, we were flexible and adjusted our plan to keep moving forward. For example, at the outset we chose to meet weekly. A few times one of us would have something come up and let the others know she couldn’t make the meeting. Depending on what was going on for the others, we would decide to meet, or to completely skip a meeting.
Sometimes we wouldn’t achieve everything we meant to between meetings. We accepted that as OK, and adjusted our next steps accordingly. Through it all, the weekly meetings, generally at 4 pm on Friday became something we all look forward to and enjoy.
As I’m writing this, our Mentoring Task Force is in the process of standing up a BPW Ontario Mentoring Committee to bring the Mentoring program to life. So far, four other women have volunteered to participate.
Part of inclusion is celebrating diversity. The BPW Ontario Mentoring Task Force is three women with different ancestries, spiritual beliefs, cultures, and lived experiences. We have different ways of tackling research and problem solving.
We have a common goal of taking action to help women (and others) thrive.
We each play to our strengths, for example I find writing easy, and I give presentations for a living, so during our meetings I draft documents such as our presentation that won the support of BPW Ontario members and approval of our proposed budget.
We each had a speaking role during the presentation, Shahina our liaison and spokesperson with the BPW Ontario Board, took the first part of the presentation, outlining our mandate and accomplishments to date.
Carrie spoke passionately about the positive impact a formal mentoring program could create for our members and our organization.
I outlined the next steps and introduced Shawn Mintz, CEO of MentorCity who presented and demonstrated the platform.
Canada, like many countries, has a number of acts and laws intended to protect people living and working here. While the Acts and Laws are important, diversity goes much further than anything that can be captured on paper.
When we celebrate our differences and gifts, we can accomplish more than when we dwell on “the other.”
Equity is about everyone being recognized for their gifts, and being given the support they need to perform their duties to the best of their abilities.
This can include something as simple as giving people their own collection of stamps so they don’t have to cross a large room to stamp official documents (read “Mercenary” Partnerships and Trust for the rest of the story) or as complex as subsidizing post secondary education for a high potential employee with limited financial means.
As an experienced facilitator and someone who types pretty quickly, I find it easy to capture ideas on a document during a video meeting. When the BPW Mentoring Task Force realized that this was one of my gifts, I became our note keeper, drafting our documents, in real time. The other two are also quite capable of typing and taking notes, however, I can do it more quickly, which saves us all time in the long run. Together we refine the message.
Shahina is a skilled speaker and influencer, and is our liaison with the BPW Ontario Board. She anticipates questions, and draws the answers from our Task Force before the questions are asked, so that she is fully prepared whenever she speaks on our behalf. She inspires us to think deeper.
Carrie is a systems thinker, she’s also a gifted influencer, and eloquently addresses people’s emotions turning fear into hope. She has a gift for identifying the heart of a problem and the levers that can be activated to create positive change.
In 2020, I realized that Disabled people are often left out of discussion on Inclusion and Diversity.
I learned about IDEA which stands for Inclusion Diversity Equity and Access or Accessibility in early 2021 from Ainsley Latour, who in turn credits one of her mentors for teaching her the acronym.
When Accessibility laws are interpreted as constraints people get frustrated and resist accommodating others as “too expensive” or “impractical.”
The reality is when we strive to create and adopt more accessible workplaces everyone wins.
I know that when my children were young, I was really happy to encounter automatic doors while pushing a stroller and holding the hand of a toddler.
Choosing to invest in making your online content accessible helps people with communications disabilities AND it helps people who are speaking English as a second language.
You can choose to create a more accessible workplace. For example, if you’re holding meetings using a video platform, encourage people to interact in the way that is most comfortable for them. Writing in the chat is just as valid as speaking out loud. There are many readily available closed captioning services and lots of ASL and LSQ translators that can be hired to help Deaf and hearing-impaired people participate fully.
IDEA something to celebrate and an effective leadership strategy
The main idea of this blog is that celebrating and embracing Inclusion Diversity Equity and Accessibility is an effective leadership strategy. For those of you who scoff at this, consider the return on investment of creating a team where everyone can perform to the best of their abilities, where everyone feels included, and wants to do their best work to help their team mates and you succeed.
The reality is, if you embrace inclusion and celebrate the different gifts your team has to share, then you can find ways to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Consider shifting your focus from IDEA being something that must be mandated, to something that when embraced significantly and markedly increases the overall productivity and engagement of your teams. It’s more than the right thing to do, it’s a great investment in your team and your organization.