When it comes to strategies on how best to empower diverse and inclusive teams, Zaheer Ahmad, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity, Consumer Healthcare at GSK, knows a thing or two. A recipient of numerous diversity and equality awards both in his native England, and internationally, Zaheer was frank and honest in his conversation with the WIRE community in Thursday’s “Reflection, Resilience, and Elevation: Empowering Diverse Teams” Webinar. “I thought yes, this must be it. Right place, right time” said Zaheer, when referring to a past example when he successfully secured a promotion. Self esteem, Zaheer admits, was always low while he remained in the cycle of imposter “phenomena”, as he calls it. “Imposter syndrome/phenomena is very real for many people.”
Imposter syndrome is still a hot topic that transcends the millennial age group. The phenomenon of self doubt and attributing success to mere luck was just one of the topics discussed by the diverse in and out-of-industry panelists. Each of the 5 speakers had a different take on what it meant to them if it meant anything of significance at all. Listening to Zaheer, a successful and eloquent leader speak of such vulnerability gives hope to all and any who suffer from feelings of imposter syndrome or just simply belonging in culture where you stick out from a ‘norm’. Since an important goal of this webinar was to discuss how to help Leaders combat these sorts of feelings for themselves and their teams, we can examine two of the common themes that emerged:
Own Your Identity – You will be better for it
Strong teams rely on empowered individuals, willing and able to bring their uniqueness to the table. Rebecca Vega, Customer Business Manager, ULTA at Unilever, made the excellent point that the needs of a modern company, when they bring on new talent, have changed positively over the years. They decide to hire you for the authentic you and not your ability to conform to the company suit. Bianca Pryor, VP at BET, further illustrated the point by sharing a very personal experience: Coming into higher stakes meetings with a new and higher position, she attributes her success to knowing ‘acutely who I was’ and what work she had put in. That basic knowledge was instrumental in helping her move forward in her career. “I wasn’t going to let any of my chosen identities be the reason why I wasn’t promoted” claimed Bianca. The key takeaway is that when you remain true to your needs, quirks, and personality, or simply acknowledge that your experiences have shaped who you have become, you will thrive in a culture that is itself thriving and one that embraces your contributions and elevates you further toward your professional and personal goals.
Expand the definition of ‘inclusivity’ in workplaces and mindsets
In considering ‘inclusivity’, the bottom line is that the more inclusive a workplace is, the more people become ‘themselves’. Shazia Ali, the webinar host and 20+ year qualitative researcher, referenced a recent study that showed a strong correlation between inclusive workplaces and more engaged and productive employees. The panel emphasized that inclusivity in today’s workplace needed to address concepts further than the traditional aspects of inclusivity (things like skin colour, religious beliefs or sexual orientations). As Zaheer points out, a modern understanding of inclusivity is ‘universality’; it is intricately linked, for example, to including junior employees and exterminating the belief that younger, junior colleagues need to work longer harder hours in order to prove themselves. Bianca touched on current maternity/parental leave laws that are outdated (if not completely outlandish) and need revision to accommodate new parents and allow them appropriate time to spend with their newborn children.
Regardless of how imposter syndrome manifests itself, the widely accepted view is that it is real and that it causes considerable harm to an individual’s confidence and performance despite any praise received or accomplishments had. The panel was unified on their position that cultivating mindfulness of your team members mindsets is important to empowering them to overcome obstacles that would otherwise prevent them from flourishing in their careers. Other’s view of imposter syndrome is that it does not affect everyone equally depending on where they work and what they do. This could get one thinking: if imposter syndrome does not exist, or at minimum, does not influence some freelance or self-employedactors in the same capacity, surely it is possible to work to eradicate effects of the condition in the corporate office and workplace culture where these spaces are frequented by employees that work together towards shared business goals. In other words, where people are part of corporate families. It can be suggested that working alongside familiar colleague’sday in and day out should foster anything but feelings of isolation or incompetence. This is truly where we see the importance of the trickle-down effect of strong leadership in teams.
So… how do strong leaders emerge? Well, from other strong leaders of course! When the panel was asked about how to support your teams for more engaged, productive employees that will one day become leaders themselves, the panel was unified in their suggestions around health, flexibility, and support. Here are 5 points that stood out:
1. Build and maintain a tribe of people you can depend on both in and out of your workplace. Beyond helping you realize your awesomeness, trustworthy support systems can also be beneficial in helping you towards introspection for self-growth.
2. Be aware of the established laws and rules and embrace change so that it might alleviate unnecessary burdens and stresses on your employees. Enable people to show up and be awesome every day.
3. Boundaries are important: a lot of glory that comes from people working hard. Burning out is not sexy and we should not be glorifying it! Aim to bring work-life balance to your employees so that rest-time re-energizes and revives.
4. The pandemic has brought to light that it is even more important to put health and wellbeing above everything else: helping your teams succeed in today’s world is more than just flexible working hours. We need to recognize that everyone has unique lives filled with opportunities and challenges. Schedule more one-on-ones to get to know your employees.
5. Flexible policies at organizations are only as good as the culture of that organization: “the culture needs to apply to everyone at the company. An inclusive culture differs as soon as you look at level of employees; younger junior colleagues are expected to work longer hours to prove themselves”.
6. Realize what works for many does not work for some. For example, working from home isn’t easy for everyone! For the extroverts, having a hybrid model that allows face-to-face interaction is both healthy and needed for most corporate cultures.