In June 1999, President Bill Clinton proclaimed June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month; 10 years later, President Barack Obama expanded the commemoration by declaring June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. And this month, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ workers are protected from job discrimination. As leaders, it’s important to stop and reflect on the idea of pride and what it means in the context of inclusion and the psychological safety of our employees.
Pride is about being able to express ourselves. It’s about being able to share all parts of who we are. It’s about being able to bring our whole selves to any situation—including work situations.
When we are given a safe space to express ourselves, we speak up—not just about who we are, but what we think. And those ideas fuel new approaches or innovation. Those ideas highlight concerns that prevent failures. Those ideas benefit the leader and the organization. But do we need to bring in the personal elements of who we are to freely express our thoughts on topics related to a project? Organizational goals? What a client needs? In other words, can’t we speak freely on those topics without necessarily expressing pride about who we are as people?
Human beings are complex. We often compartmentalize and are selective about how much of our true selves we let others see. Keeping certain beliefs private and not showing our true selves to others may seem like a good idea, but it can do way more harm than good. When leaders fail to cultivate an environment where employees feel safe to bring their whole selves to work, they don’t enable their people to show up with pride in who they are.
When we don’t have pride enough to be ourselves at work, we spend precious time and energy hiding what we don’t want others to see. We might navigate discussions about how we spent our weekend to avoid talking about our partner. We might monitor our body language, potentially concerned how a mannerism might be interpreted by our coworkers. The term for concealing something about one’s self to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable or to lessen attention to a given characteristic is called “covering.” When we spend time covering or monitoring how we appear, we have less time and little focus for the task at hand.
The cognitive stress associated with covering occupies an individual’s mind and impacts how and what we contribute. Mindshare is limited, so using any of it to self-edit detracts from an individual’s presence and contributions. If all portions of our mindshare were allocated to the work that needs to be done or the problem that needs to be solved, we could be more productive, creative, and genuine. So you see, pride and inclusion in the workplace can have a huge effect on a business.
What Leaders Can Do
While how much of our personal selves we want to share with coworkers should always be a choice, our leaders must create the conditions that give us the confidence that we can be ourselves. How can leaders create an environment where individuals are proud to bring their whole selves to the team? How can leaders create a team of individuals who feel good about the contributions they are making and proud of who they are—proud of their race, sexual preference, gender, or age.
Our research on leadership mindsets tells us that the most significant thing a leader can do to demonstrate an inclusive mindset is to reach out to individuals who look, think, and behave differently from them (43%). Leaders who responded to our research survey also acknowledged the need to recognize their own unconscious bias and to account for it proactively (19%) and to take actions to stop microaggressions or other biased behavior (15%).
What leaders also acknowledge in their responses is that being able to surface those biases is one of their biggest challenges. The leaders we surveyed told us they felt it was “important for them to reflect and understand their own biases and to uncover how those biases impact their decisions,” and to “recognize systemic biases ingrained in their company’s culture which are difficult to change.” They told us, “Unconscious bias is there even if you think your behavior doesn’t show this. We all make instant judgments on people, based on our inane value system developed from birth by our surroundings, upbringing, peer groups, and parents or careers.”
The inclusive mindset is one of our four mindsets for a reason: Thinking inclusively isn’t something a leader should do when they get around to it or because June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. Having this mindset is about leading inclusively and demonstrating inclusivity in the context of all leadership actions. How can you delegate inclusively? Coach inclusively? Lead through change inclusively?
Thinking and behaving inclusively needs to become part of the fabric of leadership DNA. The more leaders create environments where individuals feel proud to bring their whole selves to their jobs, the more included and safe people will feel, creating situations where individuals and their organizations can thrive.