Lessons on inclusive collaboration from author Jodi Detjen

Emily Hackeling

Emily Hackeling,

Content Marketing at Front

25 September 20200 min read

Inclusivity expert, author, and professor Jodi Detjen shares her key lessons for encouraging inclusive collaboration throughout your organization while remote.

In the conference room, there are often people who repeatedly “take up space” and command the team’s attention. Now that many companies are working remotely, this power dynamic has shifted. Instead, people can “take up air space” on Zoom, according to author Jodi Detjen, and while it’s not always a bad thing, if done too often it can be a clear indicator of an inclusivity problem.

Jodi, a professor and co-founder of an inclusivity and development consultancy, recently co-authored the book The Smart Next Step, which offers a look at how leaders can change their mindset around inclusivity and implement tactical solutions to achieve it.

Since 2020 has simultaneously standardized remote work and brought diversity and inclusion to the forefront, we spoke with Jodi to hear her key lessons for encouraging inclusive collaboration throughout your organization while remote.

Inclusivity is a business imperative.

The impacts of lack of inclusivity are very clear, Jodi says, and businesses don’t have a choice but to try to address these problems today. “Homogeneity blocks innovation,” she explained. “Groupthink brings no new ideas. Teams that lack diversity have fundamental assumptions about the way the world works. They aren’t comfortable with differences and changes. Teams who overcome this will be highly innovative and move ahead.”

According to research by McKinsey, employee satisfaction hinges on opportunity and fairness: “Across demographic groups, when employees feel they have equal opportunity for advancement and think the system is fair, they are happier with their career, plan to stay at their company longer, and are more likely to recommend it as a great place to work.”

Lack of inclusivity negatively impacts your customer experience.

If you’re lacking an inclusive culture within your company, Jodi says it’s likely that your customers are noticing. “When you walk into a business, you know when you feel like you belong,” she notes. “Inclusivity directly impacts customer experience—if you’re not inclusive people won’t feel welcome.”

This doesn’t just apply to physical storefronts, of course. Jodi recalled an example of a gas company that used a provocative image of a woman on advertisements. The woman had no relation to the gas they were selling. The company ended up removing the signage after getting multiple complaints. “It’s clear when a company has no idea who their customers are,” she says.

Simply having a diverse team isn’t enough.

There’s a difference between having diversity and actually working together in an inclusive way. “Simply having diversity in your headcount isn’t enough. Your team has to be able to leverage the power,” Jodi explained. If you have one woman in the room and she doesn’t feel comfortable sharing her thoughts or gets overlooked, you’re not getting anywhere. You have to observe where the power lies and enable your team to have a voice.

Technology doesn’t level the playing field, so you have to build inclusivity into remote collaboration.

If there are issues with inclusivity in person, those issues will likely exist in your technology as well, Jodi says. “Technology isn’t neutral,” Jodi explained, noting that less than 10% of technology is developed by women and people of color, and therefore biases are ingrained in products we use.

"On Zoom you can’t take up physical space, but you can take up air space. In Zoom you have to be much more alert to see the problems.” In order to combat exclusivity in remote collaboration, there are several tactics you can take to get the whole team involved in the conversation.

  • State that anyone can use the chat or some sort of silent indicator when they’d like to speak.

  • Institute a round robin so that everyone has a dedicated moment to share.

  • When there are brainstorms, leave several minutes of silence to give those who need time to think a moment to process.

Fixing inclusivity follows the same framework as any other strategic business problem.

When it comes to trying to fix problems with inclusivity in the workplace, Jodi says it’s no different than any other strategic business problem. She describes the Orange Grove Consulting framework for creating inclusive collaboration:

  1. Change the mindset

  2. Build the skillset

  3. Change the processes

Sounds simple enough, right? Jodi says the catch is that you need all three. “We know how to solve these things. It’s an operational business problem. All we have to do is invest in making the change.”

One example she gives for taking a practical approach to solving these problems is through hiring partnerships. Large companies who might partner with universities for hiring new talent can choose to instead partner with a university that teaches diverse students.

You can spot inclusivity problems if you’re paying attention.

Jodi’s book is filled with tactical solutions for realizing lack of inclusivity in your workplace, but she gave us a few examples.

Pay attention in meetings

You can hear the conversations happening amongst your team. Ask yourself in regular meetings:

  • Who is speaking?

  • Who has the power?

  • How is it being used?

Assess promotions

Promotions are also a good place to look to find data around underlying inclusivity issues, Jodi says. “When you look at promotions, you have to also look at the developmental assignments that lead to it,” she notes. Look at the numbers in your next promotion cycle:

  • Who is being promoted? Who is put on risky assignments, presenting to clients, and doing visible work? Is it the “he who shouts loudest wins” mindset?

  • Who’s doing well here? Are people given the same opportunities to do well to get to the place where a promotion is possible?

  • Are we rewarding the right things in the first place?

Spot body language

Team meetings are a great place to start understanding and fixing inclusivity problems. “These are all little things that can have a huge impact,” Jodi says. You can spot issues through body language cues such as:

  • Eye rolling

  • Slouching

  • Constant interruptions

  • Taking up physical space at the table

If you’re not acting now, you’re already falling behind.

Speed of innovation is at stake here, and companies who haven’t begun building inclusive collaboration into their businesses are already behind, according to Jodi. It takes up to 5 years to truly implement this mindset across a company—so every day that you wait is another day you’re behind your competitor. Jodi notes that the teams who implement these practices now will attract top talent, and in 3 to 5 years, businesses that don’t act now will not be able to compete. “It’s a ticking time bomb,” she says.

Approach inclusivity in collaboration with care.

Like any other business initiative, Jodi notes that failing to plan carefully and jumping in too quickly can be problematic. “Figure out how you will measure it, and then implement your plans,” she notes. “People aren’t trained on being inclusive and collaborating appropriately,” she says, but when their mindset is shifted and the right processes are in place, you can unlock incredible innovation and growth among your team.

Written by Emily Hackeling

Originally Published: 25 September 2020

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