Empathizing With Diversity Builds Inclusion In The Workplace


I recently attended another presentation on diversity and inclusion. The speaker was excellent in delivery yet the content left me deeply aware that so much more focus is needed on this topic.
As a leadership coach working with highly diverse clients, it seems imperative that we focus on inclusion and empathy in order to draw out the diverse talent and intelligence from all employees. Having coached people through gender identity struggles and offered empathetic affect and validation for their journey, I see their growth, joy and confidence soar when we see them more for who they are and embrace their whole self through an expanded lens.

A whole, stable employee, regardless of race or gender, is healthier and more positively influential at work than one who is struggling to emotionally stabilize. In 2003, it was found that mental and emotional instability and illness cost more than $200 billion in losses for U.S. businesses each year. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine addressed this national pain point well in its 2018 public health summit.

The business world and our society as a whole is awakening to empathy, compassion and soft skills. This is good news, yet historical focusing on hard skills has taken a toll. While employees can’t be so emotionally focused that they can’t do their job, they also shouldn’t be expected to check parts of themselves at the door of their workplace.

I see focusing on emotional intelligence (EI) as an overdue revolution. As an industrialized nation, we’ve been performance-based, academically crazed, highly religious, cognitively saturated and emotionally dismissive. On the other hand, while promoting sexually explicit marketing and being increasingly materialistic and virtual, we seem to have lost the most important virtue of all: recognition of the value of unique identity.

Every day in my own work, I witness workers’ capacity to move toward a confident self-model as we apply empathy, understanding and self-discovery tools to reverse the onset of more serious mental health disorders. Interpersonally, this is called affect regulation. In layman’s’ terms, it can be thought of as resonating with the state of mind of an employee. As Daniel Goleman and other EI experts know, being empathetically responsive shifts people from stress circuits in the brain to higher, relationally effective circuits in the brain for thinking outside the box and attaining better results.

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