Worlds Apart: Leading a Diverse and Inclusive Workforce

August 16, 2018 Robin H. Everhart

In this week's WorkHuman Radio, we interview Robin H. Everhart, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Cintas Corporation. Read her guest post below.

When companies are asked about their diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy, they often defer to their chief diversity officer, or a similar title. But as a D&I practitioner, I would argue D&I is everyone's responsibility.

Here's why: D&I is about people.

It is about the talent we are bringing into our organizations. It is about multiple aspects of a person, not just race and gender. Those are two very important elements that cannot be overlooked, but diversity also includes various other dimensions, such as thinking style, marital status, education level, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity, just to name a few.

Diversity is simply the differences among us. Differences make us special. Differences spur innovation and creativity. Differences should be leveraged to make us stronger. Sadly, our differences can create significant divide. We are seeing this even more so in our current political environment.

As humans, we often feel comfortable when we are surrounded by those most like us – whether it is how we look, what school we went to, what we believe in, how we think. When it feels uncomfortable, we tend to retreat even further into our comfort zones. What the world needs desperately right now is for each of us to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones.

Inclusion is critical. Inclusion determines if your talent stays at your company. Inclusion determines if your talent recommends someone else to work at your company. Inclusion reduces costs and increases productivity. Inclusion is an intentional effort to move through differences and learn more about someone and accept someone – even when they are not like us or we don't agree with them. A good leader leads people different from themselves.

Every person walks through life with their “backpack of beliefs.” These backpacks are what create the lens through which a person sees the world. Each of our backpacks is filled with our life experiences, our exposure to the world, how we were raised, our opinions, our beliefs.

What is not OK is for us to assume that everyone’s backpack contains, or should contain, the same things. We must challenge ourselves to be curious. To truly lead others, we must be open to learning more about what is in another person’s backpack. By doing so, we expand our views and we grow. As we grow and learn, we are better suited to lead through our differences and, more importantly, include them.

The landscape of society is changing, and to remain profitable and competitive, companies must mirror the marketplace. Diversity and inclusion is not an option; it's the formula for success. It's about humans, and all our beautiful similarities and differences.

This commercial from Heineken is a powerful example of a person’s willingness to see something outside of themselves and their own beliefs. Being able to better understand another point of view, even if you don’t agree, is where empathy lives and leadership begins. I’ll gladly raise my glass to that. Cheers, Heineken! 

About the Author

Robin H. Everhart

Robin H. Everhart is the senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Cintas Corporation.

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