Diversity Officer Magazine

Promoting Expertise, Research & Credentials

Diversity Officer Magazine - Promoting Expertise, Research & Credentials

Good Diversity Leaders Work Hard At Self-Awareness

by Susan Klopfer, Group Klopfer

Self-awareness is at the heart of strong leadership. Effective diversity leaders stay ahead by working to improve this critical skill.

An important key is committing oneself to the lifelong practice of self-understanding and comprehending the diverse world around us. No matter how hard a person tries, we all have biases; we discriminate without even recognizing what we are doing.

William Sonnenschein, a noted diversity expert and author, suggests overcoming this tendency by “waking up tomorrow morning” and “try wondering what prejudice you will discover during the day, what assumption you will make that will be proven wrong, what bias will affect your day.”

By finding a daily bias, Sonnenschein believes a person will know they are continually working on self-awareness, show themselves they are self-aware enough to know they have biases, and are working at eliminating as many as possible.

As people work on self-awareness, they become aware of things that are happening around them and are able to intervene and taking on a leadership role.

What if a company leader who always views diversity in terms of numbers of employees, as Affirmative Action, attended a diversity workshop that included formation of problem-solving teams and observed that diverse teams actually did a better job solving problems than the vanilla teams?

This experience could actually change the way this company leader sees diversity and what it could mean to his company. He may also recognize how his own blinders had held back his company’s progress.

This imaginary company leader might further recognize that change is needed at every level of the organization. As an initial step, he might create a diverse group to staff one of the company’s trouble areas – and if all goes well, the troubled area could turn around, showing a profit.

So how does one work on self-awareness, so as to be more aware of what is going on around them with respect to diversity? It starts by working on communication skills in relation to diversity. Sonnenschein has developed a diversity questionnaire to help increase self-awareness. Here are three sample questions:

  • Do you recognize and challenge the perceptions, assumptions, and biases that affect your thinking?

If the answer is “almost always,” assign one point; “frequently,” 2 points; “sometimes,” 3 points; “seldom” 4 points and “almost never, “5 points.” Use the same scoring system for the next two questions:

  • Do you think about the impact of what you say or how you act before you speak or act?
  • Do you do everything you can to prevent the reinforcement of prejudices, including avoiding using negative stereotypes when you speak?

Sonnenschein includes seven more questions in this diversity questionnaire, part of his Diversity Toolkit (Contemporary Books, 1997). The lower the score, the better is one’s ability to communicate in a diverse organization and the community at large.

Here are three more diversity leadership tips:

  1. Know your cultural identity and understand what that identity brings to your communication. This helps in communicating with others of differing cultural identities.
  2. Ask others about yourself and listen to their answers. This helps in increasing self-awareness.
  3. Examine your order or grading of values. This helps in understanding how you behave and communicate.

Effective manager are good leaders. They are responsible for creating a work environment in which the contributions of all people are recognized. For this to happen, managers must understand how to best use people’s differences so that their special attributes can be used to achieve company goals and objectives.

But it starts from within, from the manager’s self-awareness.

About the Author :

Say — effective diversity management helps any organization. Susan Klopfer, M.B.A., speaks, consults and writes on the topic. Her new book, Profit From Diversity; Getting Along With Others, is set for publication Nov. 15, during National Education Week. Learn more from her website at http://susanklopfer.com today.