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Why Diversity in How We Lead Matters in a Contact Center

huddleIt’s not always natural for us to ask questions or seek out the ideas of those who are different than ourselves. As I considered what experience I could share with my fellow contact center leaders, the idea of diversity and how to enhance an awareness of inclusion in a contact center management team came to mind.

Even when we have a diverse management team for our contact centers – as I am thankful for with our team – this doesn’t mean that our managers represent all of the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our contact centers. That’s why it’s important to seek out leadership within our teams to help ensure that all people are represented at the table and that they all get a chance to use their voice to create meaningful change in our department and, hopefully, our organizations.

The words diversity, equity, and inclusion (also referred to as DEI) are often said with an air of being generic buzzwords instead of the highly important and distinctive words that they are. While individual employees in your workplace and mine may feel these terms are defined differently for them, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the basic distinctions between these.

Diversity is more than just a color. Diversity includes but definitely isn’t limited to culture, race, ethnicity, disability, religious or spiritual beliefs, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, and sexual identity. To better serve our diverse customers, we must employ diverse groups of people. To lead a diverse staff, we must develop diverse leaders.

Equity is about making sure employees have the resources they need to reach their career goals. Because our teams consist of people with differing needs, these resources will vary person to person. Equity means we provide access to opportunities to everyone to help remove obstacles that have previously kept groups of people from being at the table, so to speak. One example of a way we can do this is to help ensure women can attain professional development opportunities that support their career goals.

Inclusion includes ensuring everyone gets a voice and has an opportunity to be seen, to be heard and to be appreciated for who they are. An example is making sure not only is everyone invited to the meeting, but that each person has a seat at the proverbial table to ensure their voice is heard and acknowledged.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader, in an interview on equality, determination and service with for a publication produced by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, said, “We should not be held back from pursuing our full talents, from contributing what we could contribute to the society, because we fit into a certain mold, because we belong to a group that has historically been the object of discrimination.”

We all have unconscious biases based on our life experiences; this means we must be intentional about ensuring that our natural biases don’t lead us to only hire people who are just like us. Teams are much more powerful when they represent the greater community. By hiring people from different backgrounds, experiences, and identities, we benefit from an assortment of skill sets, experiences, and ideas which allows us to offer a greater range of solutions to our customers.

If I were to only hire managers that are exactly like me, it would create a problem: the success of our department and organization could suffer. We might see a decrease in creative output, introverted teammates might not feel comfortable speaking up in meetings, challenging ideas may occur less frequently due to less diverse perspectives, and the list goes on. However, if I hire people of different cultural backgrounds, and various ages and identities, suddenly creativity is no longer stifled, ideas are likely to flow more freely and employee engagement may even increase.

One of the struggles we face is in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. When others provide their perspectives and it doesn’t match what we’ve always experienced, it challenges our version of the status quo. This can be uncomfortable for both novice leaders and experienced leaders alike. Getting comfortable with accepting perspectives that challenge our perceptions of how the world works is what helps leaders grow. Diversity of thought makes us better, stronger leaders.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that our teammates are represented; continuing to challenge our biases should be an ongoing focus to confirm we’re meeting this objective. Below are three questions to ask yourself if you are ready to focus on stepping up your awareness of diversity and inclusion, in both people and thought, in your contact center management team.

1. Do my values, background, experiences, and identity mostly match others on my management team?

The goal in asking ourselves this question is to challenge our natural tendencies in order to ensure our management teams represent varied perspectives. We need to take time to think about why we are hiring people who look, think, and act like us instead of hiring people different from us.

2. What perspectives/experiences am I missing in my management team, and who could provide them?

This is a great time to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the people in our departments. Once we identify what perspectives we are missing, the next step is to talk with our teams about it and ask for their feedback.

3. What is one thing I can do to ensure I am being inclusive when interacting with my team?

One thing we can do when striving to be more inclusive is to take time out of our days to reach out to quieter employees to ensure that everyone on the team has the opportunity to contribute by lending their voices and sharing ideas. Employees who feel more comfortable speaking up may tend to get the majority of their manager’s attention. It’s important to provide different venues in which your team can provide feedback and express their ideas.

Inclusion also means, in part, that it’s important for us as leaders to recognize the strengths and differences that make each teammate unique and a vital part of the team. If we have diverse employees who enjoy working with others to solve problems or generate ideas, providing them opportunities to be a part of a project committee would be a way to foster inclusion, thus giving them a seat at the table to lend their talents to support the company’s needs.

Once we’ve begun to take steps to enhance the employee experience in our contact centers by ensuring diversity among those in formal management roles and those we are leading, we can take a deeper dive into supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our organizations and our communities by sharing struggles and triumphs with other leaders. It will always go a long way when our teammates and colleagues see us being the change we wish to see in our communities and nurturing an appreciation of diversity and inclusion.

Social activist Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” Let’s take this test together and create a stronger tomorrow for everyone.