Jennifer Brown Consulting is a global network of leading diversity and inclusion experts. Every quarter we present a Q&A profile of one of our team members living the mission of Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠.
With more than 30 years of corporate and consulting experience, Claire Tse is a senior consultant who is an expert at identifying strategies to work through generational, racial, and gender biases so individuals can collaboratively develop both tactical and strategic successes.
What resonates in the JBC mission of Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠ to you as a corporate D&I consultant? What shifts are needed to move from corporate “fit” towards an inclusive culture where all employees feel welcomed?
Everyday, I bring my integrity and authenticity to welcoming individuals in our workshops, strategic planning sessions, meetings and conferences. One clarifying question I use is to query what does “welcomed” mean? And if someone authentically welcomes you, does it guarantee you will be included in essential meetings? Having met Jennifer years ago, she truly welcomed me to collaborate with her to help clients build inclusive environments where people feel they can bring their whole self to work.
But I find in today’s organizations that many individuals still have a sense or a gut feeling of doubt about motives, and about authenticity – questions occur like “am I really welcomed or are you only doing this because you have to?” I hear folks talk about “fit” which is hard to define, yet guides so many hiring and promotion decisions, and may be counter to truly authentic, welcoming conversations to embrace diversity and invite multiple definitions of what feeling welcomed looks like.
Is your organization’s true intent to welcome all voices? Is that intent borne out in actions, and then most importantly, received with positive impact? One of my favorite quotes is “The only message that matters is the one the other person receives.” Awareness of intent vs. impact dynamics is a crucial first step towards building cultures of inclusion. We must pause and ask, if something sounds welcoming to me, will it sound welcoming to you?
The good news is welcoming behavior is actually quite easy to begin practicing immediately. It starts with human acknowledgement. It can be as simple as saying “Good morning” to everyone while making eye contact. Often, a lack of eye contact or acknowledgement can indicate unconscious bias, and if there’s a lack of awareness to blind spots, trust will erode over time. No matter what one’s intention is around welcoming individuals, crucial interactions can lose their power without human acknowledgement.
There might be a perceived risk, as well; it’s human to fear the unknown – admitting we might not be able to predict someone’s response when we try something new, or being ready ourselves to see it through and engage in a new way. All of this takes courage, requiring each of us stepping out of workplace norms by pushing back when we hear the term “not a good fit.” By being more comfortable with being uncomfortable, we role model greater authenticity, and thereby can seek greater authenticity from others.
Welcomed is just one of the four spokes in Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠. It’s all interconnected because being valued, respected, and heard is facilitated when individuals feel welcomed. I feel authentic leaders exhibit a humanistic approach by being more engaged on a personal level. A key leadership skill is to let people know who they are matters and what they do matters. Making the time to personally engage with others removes the perceptions of a numbers game—and makes it personal because it demonstrates people are the organization’s most valuable asset.
I think we need to rethink our idea of “fit” because the very concept is predicated on out-of-date standards. Often employees or leaders will say, “Is this person a good fit?” An employee may believe they are never going to fit in, so their careers are limited at a certain level – in their hearts and minds, and maybe in reality as well. This is the point when we have to teach employees and leaders alike how to modify their notion of “fit” by creating a space for everyone to feel a “welcomed fit,” which can optimize their contributions within an inclusive culture. The notion of “fit” needs to be modified to reflect the innovative and collaborative skills people can offer, when given the chance, to create sustainable organizational growth.
Why is “Fit” and “Welcomed” so important to you?
In 1978, as the first Asian woman for Mobil Oil’s marketing team, I remember being told I needed to “fit” into the “good old boy” culture. Navigating my way through, I was lucky to have a few male colleagues as mentors who saw my potential and offered success advice. Being a visible “first” Asian offered me a unique career path to four different business divisions, with benefits to both the company and my professional growth. As a “first”, there were continual questions around how I fit in the business unit and if I am really competent to do the work. Understanding I would not meet the traditional “fit” metrics, I knew I had to achieve the “competent and confident” metrics as a high performer. I felt welcomed most of the time later on in my corporate career.
I had to strategically search for mentors, which I feel is typical when you’re the “only and lonely.” There were few women leaders in those days, and no other Asian women in my divisions. With a handful of white men and one white woman, I learned how to modify the notion of “fit” to “welcomed fit” by seeking ways to ensure the company knew how they benefited from my input by creating opportunities for politically savvy exposure, so people associated my name with my contributions.
Having an established reputation, many sponsors actively supported me, being instrumental in aiding my success. I quickly learned the importance of building alliances and cultivating networks. My matrix organizational experiences grounded my work with senior leaders because I grasped their challenges from living through parallel situations.
My interest in helping others understand different perspectives of “welcomed fit” using my behavioral psychology background really caught fire when I was invited to be on the company’s Diversity Work Team. I was able to utilize all of my front-line business skills in sales, marketing, training, and IT. Our team was at the forefront of the Diversity in Business efforts, with our focus on creating a welcoming corporate culture to our multicultural workforce and marketplace. The employee relations department was very helpful in guiding us on the topics of career pathing, high potential talent, leadership competencies and the balanced scorecard methodology. Our implementation plan was successful for years to come.
How has the diversity and inclusion landscape changed in your experience?
A lot of my experience in the ‘70s could be called “window dressing.” It’s the idea that I was there to show the company was being diverse rather than acknowledged for my skills, talents and capabilities. There were comments made to me like “you never have to worry about your career because you are a minority woman.” This caused me to exert extra efforts to ensure people knew my promotions were based on merit and not the shape of my eyes and color of my skin. It’s shifted over time from using words like “minorities” to “multiculturalism” to “diversity,” yet “welcomed fit” continues to be a challenge in most organizations.
There has been positive growth, and it still comes back to the central question I ask myself: Who am I? Can I bring my whole self to work? How do I fit in my organization while maintaining my Chinese and US cultural values and work ethics?
When attending conferences today, the lack of Asian women or multicultural women in the top ranks is loudly apparent. I believe we, as multicultural women, reach a particular level and then cultural archetypes kick in. We feel the need to embody the “superwoman” role where we do more than is expected and yet, many multicultural women feel they should expect less in return.
I think people see my package of “Asian woman,” and are surprised by my verbal acuity, experience breadth, and facilitation expertise. As a global society, we still have much work to do in order to create equity in the workplace for everyone to have the space to optimize his or her performance.
Where are some of the current challenges in the workplace with the notion of “welcomed?” What topics most engage clients?
As an ally, I’ve noticed an increase in “welcomed” focus around transgender issues, which was historically not addressed in the corporate world or in government. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, And Transgender) topics often focus on sexual orientation and lump in gender/sex identity as the same. In reality, the “LGB” acronym refers to romantic/sexual orientation while the “T” acronym refers to gender/sex identity where the romantic/sexual orientation is not causative by the sex identity. The transgender community is a subgroup inside of a subgroup. So we have to question how to welcome transgender individuals when misinformation and preconceived notions are in play.
Transgender should be respected as a dimension of diversity, and the only way to seek to understand is to engage each trans woman and trans man as an individual. Many individuals may avoid contact due to fear of making a mistake, and if the goal is to role-model a “welcoming” environment, the skills of engagement should be a priority. Transitioning is a physical, emotional, and spiritual state that varies by each individual. By making the time to dialogue on a regular basis, trans individuals will be able to sense an authentic interest of welcomed and heard behaviors, with being valued and respected evolving over time. There is so much opportunity for misinformation and bias to spread; this is one of the most important topics in diversity and inclusion today.
All of this harkens back to the willingness and readiness to create organizational cultures where people feel they are welcomed because they know “who they are matters and what they do matters.” Leaders need to be cognitively knowledgeable and yet also empathetic. We are at a time in history when we need business leaders to “want to” be engaged, instead of falling back on “having to” be a part of the conversation due to their job title. Don’t underestimate the power of human connections in creating a feeling of being welcomed.