Ever find yourself frustrated and annoyed with the lack of diversity within the higher ranks of your organization? You’ve done the research and know that diversity enhances creativity and innovation, yet you haven’t been able to move the ball forward with respect to retention of women and minorities.

What gives?

“75% of our senior staff are white men, and while everyone seems to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, we cannot seem to make progress,” Bhavin, diversity and inclusion officer for a reputable and large-scale organization, shared.

“If we continue the way we’re going, our systems and approaches will become outdated as our competitors create faster and more effective ways of dealing with the same challenges. Innovation requires different perspectives,” Bhavin continued, “We must find a way to clear the way for women and minorities to make it into the conversation.”

Recognizing that people tend to help those they know and like, Bhavin has spearheaded various initiatives with the intention of fostering opportunities for connections between them.

“We did a coffee and snack mentoring session a few months ago and the room was nearly silent. For the most part, mentors treated mentees as ‘less than,’ further strengthening the minorities opinion of what they can expect of white men and vice versa of minorities,” Bhavin said.

“Wait a minute. You brought a group of highly introverted scientists together under the context of ‘Your different’ and said ‘Go for it’—let the mentoring begin?” I asked.

“Yep, and it didn’t go so well.”

“Of course it didn’t,” I said, as we laughed together, realizing the immense difficulty of forging bonds under the context of superiority and differences. It’s hard enough to get people who, for the most part, prefer to hang out by themselves, to engage with people they know and like. Put them in a room full of people they think they have little in common with and you’ll lose the ability to help foster meaningful conversations that lead to shared resources and mutual support.

When your goal is to foster connection between people consider the following 3 steps:

Clarify the Unifying Force (Vision)

When there’s a strong enough reason to reach beyond our differences, we do. When the main reason to succeed is for self-promotion, we naturally look for ways to ensure survival (of our own career success). Without a unifying purpose (or a reach to reach beyond our differences), it’s natural to gravitate to people who are more likely to “get out back”—i.e. those who are similar to us.

To make a leap forward in fostering connectivity and advancement among a diverse workforce, consider asking each team member individually, “What do you get paid to do?” And then listen for statements that reflect the vision. If you don’t hear any, perhaps the best place to begin is clarifying and communicating the greater purpose behind the work.

Urgency, Specificity, & Purpose drive collaboration in subtle and profound ways.

Pick Your Champions

Who has a voice within your team and organization? Pick a small group (15-30, depending on the size of your organization) to serve as ambassadors of inclusion. Clarify the challenge, along with the reason change needs to happen now, and ask for their help in making it happen.

For those who enthusiastically accept the opportunity, provide them with the tools (training perhaps), along with ideas on how to get the ball rolling. Make a game out of the process, if you can, and watch as the excitement leads to results.

Foster Synergistic Conversations

By helping your champions focus on highlighting commonalities among team members that aren’t necessary job-specific (think—hiking, biking, music, novels, animals, motorcycles, etc), companies and leaders foster meaningful relationships that enhance collaboration and connectivity in their work.

Said simply, people leap at the opportunity to help others they know, like and trust. Trust is greatly enhanced when commonalities are brought to surface. Fortunately, promoting team cohesion is far simpler than we make it out to be.

What have you seen work when it comes to promoting team cohesion among your diverse workforce?

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister