This article is part of a larger series that focuses on diversity and equity in marketing. As a company, we are committed to identifying actions we can take in the fight against racism and injustice, and elevating BBIPOC voices is paramount to inspiring change. Follow along and read other posts in this series here.
This post is authored by Marissa Taffer, Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting.
Building and developing a diverse high performing team isn’t something that happens by accident. Earlier in this series, Jada Harland shared some of the secrets to recruiting diverse candidates and hiring changemakers, but what happens when these folks come on board in an organization? How do we as leaders ensure they are set up to be successful and thrive in their new roles?
Inclusion and belonging are the elements that transform teams from existing as a group of people who work near each other to executing as a high-performing team. In my experience, hiring a diverse group of individuals and not focusing on team building, inclusion, belonging and engagement is a mistake. It leads to high employee turnover, missed goals and metrics, and failed projects. All things that we know cost organizations a lot of money.
In the marketing function specifically, having a diverse team that represents (or has a strong connection with) your target market will be an asset to the business. Research has shown time and time again that diverse teams produce better business outcomes. The Economic Development Collaborative shares that, “A diverse marketing team will be more likely to recognize subtleties and identify facets of diverse marketing efforts that might prove off-putting or offensive in international markets. Something as simple as color – which is often either considered artistically or is taken for granted – can have an impact on marketing efforts. For instance, one scholarly study found that the colors purple and gray hold opposite meanings in different cultures.”
While it takes time for teams to go from people who were hired to work together to high performing and collaborative, here are 5 tips for guiding your team and building the culture everyone wants to be a part of, and creating an environment where people can speak up and feel that their opinions, culture, and experiences matter.
As the leader of the team, it is your job to role model the behaviors you want to see from everyone. If you are welcoming, positive, and work in a way that supports your team—and their lives outside of work—your teammates will start to do that for each other as well.
You can take this a step further by creating a set of team working agreements that everyone can contribute to. For example, consider setting an agreement that no one will send emails after 10 pm and before 8 am. If you are a night person and you’d like to work outside of those hours, use the email scheduling feature or save the message to your drafts and send during the agreed-upon times. For some of the more creative roles, inspiration can strike at any time, so make sure your processes support that but also create healthy boundaries within the team.
Other behaviors you may want to consider role modeling include taking breaks including vacations and PTO, shutting down early on Friday afternoons to spend time with your family, or whatever else might be important to you or members of your team.
From a career development perspective, you can role model continuous learning. That can mean asking a team member to teach you a new skill or using professional development budgets to ensure you are also taking new classes, attending conferences or virtual sessions, or creating development plans for everyone in the department. Taking stock of your own strengths and weaknesses and allowing your team to do the same will ensure you have a culture where continuous learning is prioritized and making mistakes is rewarded—because it means team members are trying new things and stepping out of their comfort zone.
When things are left unsaid or unexplained, people tend to make up their own explanations. This explanation could range from “they asked Dave to lead the presentation because he’s a white man” to “I’m not getting the promotion because I have a disability” and everything in between. It could be Dave was asked to lead the presentation because he introduced the agency to the client and the promotion might be going to another colleague because they expressed interest and took on a stretch project that you didn’t.
Racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression show up in work and life in a number of ways. Explaining decisions and inviting questions about who on the team is doing certain things and why can help in a few ways. First, if there is unintentional systemic oppression at play, it can expose it. As a leader, you can’t fix what you can’t see or don’t even realize you’re doing. Second, it prevents people from making assumptions about why things unfolded the way they did.
Going along with being transparent, invite candid feedback. As leaders, we are not perfect people. In her book, Radical Candor, Kim Scott tells the story of her time at Google. After a presentation, her boss at the time Sheryl Sanberg pulled her aside to give her feedback on her delivery. She asked Kim if she wanted some time with a speech coach to help her stop saying “um” when she made presentations. Kim shrugged it off. Then Sheryl came to her point more directly and told Kim, “When you say ‘um’ it makes you sound stupid.”
Sheryl was practicing what Kim now calls Radical Candor, that is when you have built trust with someone so that you can both care about them personally and challenge them directly.
This is not something that happens overnight, so don’t try this with your brand new hire. When issues arise in the early days and stages of team formation, this is not how you want to handle them. But, as your team becomes a well-oiled machine, using Radical Candor can have many benefits for the individuals on the team, as well as the team as a whole.
These are the kinds of conversations that can be difficult to have without trust but are important to the development of the team. When preparing for a candid conversation ensure that you are unemotional and well prepared. You might want to have a few notes about what you want to get across and why this is important.
Remember that the conversation is a two-way street and it is just as important to listen as it is to be heard. You want to ensure that like Sheryl you are getting your point across and it is understood, but you also want to hear from the other person. What is going on and why is this happening? Is there something you aren’t seeing that is contributing to this issue? If you are catching the other person off guard, give them time to process the situation. Ask them how they’d like to move forward but give them time to think and consider their options.
As the team leader, it is important that you provide candid feedback to your team members but also invite them to give it to you. It might be hard to hear that you did something that was perceived as racist, sexist, ableist, or culturally insensitive, but not knowing allows those cycles to continue.
As a caucasian and cis woman, I have very little concept other than what colleagues have shared with me over the years about what it is like to show up on our team as a queer person or a person of color. These are what I call my blind spots. I also don’t know what it is like to show up with a visible disability, or as someone practicing a religion other than my own.
Several years ago, when Wil Reynolds was trying to hire a talented woman into his company, Seer Interactive, he was shocked by her strange response. She wanted to start working for him but not for 7 months. Wil was confused, he needed someone now and didn’t understand why she wanted to wait for such an oddly specific time to start.
She shared with him that she was (obviously) pregnant. She was so sure that she wouldn’t get an offer if the company knew that after only three months with them, she’d need to take maternity leave. At the time, she had a job with a large company that would pay for her leave, and starting a new job meant she would no longer be covered under FMLA or any type of short-term disability insurance. Not something she wanted to give up for a new job.
Wil shares that this was a pivotal moment for him in his understanding of what it was like to be pregnant in the job market. He said, “It never occurred to me that anyone would ever not hire a woman who was able to help them right now for the next three or four or five months and then take some time off and come back.”
While not every blind spot is the same as what Wil experienced, I can share from my own experience what it’s like to be interrupted by a man in a meeting (repeatedly) like we saw in the vice presidential debate last year between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence. Although, I never had the courage or conviction to so directly let my colleagues know I was speaking. I also know what it’s like to be invited to a team birthday celebration as someone with dietary restrictions that were not accommodated so I couldn’t even eat my own cake.
When running in-person (or even virtual) team-building events and meetings, think about how you’d feel as someone with celiac disease being served pizza and beer, or someone who is in recovery from an alcohol addiction being invited to a cocktail-heavy happy hour or receiving these foods and drinks delivered to your home. While excessive drinking in the workplace is never appropriate, there are many people who choose not to drink alcohol at all, whether it is because of an addiction issue, religious belief, or just personal choices.
Like Wil’s story, we also need to learn to check our blind spots in the hiring and onboarding processes. Hiring for “culture fit” is another way that we limit diversity on teams or alienate people when they join. Think about a time when someone “didn’t fit in the team.” How were they treated and what was the impact on the work?
Other ways you can check your blind spots might include things like asking people to put their pronouns in their Zoom name or on a conference nametag, having everyone in a group pronounce their names so you can make sure you’re saying them correctly, or even just asking privately if anyone needs any type of accommodations proactively. This can help so many people feel more comfortable in speaking up and getting what they need to be successful or sharing more of their identities.
If we’ve learned nothing from working through a pandemic, my hope is that we have learned to hold space for how people show up. Earlier in my career, I was working for a small startup filled with younger, predominantly white colleagues. I had an amazing and talented colleague of color and she was trying to explain code-switching to me and I was not getting it at all, not even a little. My response to her was tone-deaf at best and racist at worst. To this day it’s still something I feel bad about.
Think about how you can hold space for how people show up. In the wake of tragedies like the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the onslaught of racism and violence against the AAPI community, and the conflict in the middle east, as a leader, it is important to hold space for how people show up. Between a global pandemic and all of these heavy events, you might not know exactly how your team members are impacted so it is important to hold space for how people show up.
One easy way to do this is to start your meetings with a one-word check-in. Ask your team members to go around the room and share one word about how they’re feeling. It could be in the moment, that day, or in general. This serves two purposes, the first is to take the temperature of the room. Are they tired and overwhelmed or energized and ready to go? Even without the explanation behind the word, you still have some context to the energy in the room and can adjust your leadership style or even the meeting agenda accordingly. This exercise takes about 10 minutes or less for a group of up to 40 people. Another benefit of the one-word check-in is that it can be a good warm-up. Now everyone has spoken in the meeting room at least once and may feel more comfortable contributing to the conversation.
If your group is too big for a one-word check-in, another strong way to start is by using a diversity welcome. The diversity welcome can help you welcome in and acknowledge all of the identities present and even ask attendees to think about who is not in the room.
Creating an environment where people feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work and are supported is important, especially now. In the last few months, we’ve seen leaders in many industries step down and step away from their roles in order to listen, learn and better align the organization’s leadership with the diversity of their teams.
In April of this year, the CEO of Basecamp, Jason Fried announced to the world in a blog post that they had made some changes at the company. These changes included banning political discussion at work and canceling some employee benefits including those they labeled paternalistic including fitness and wellness benefits and a farmer’s market share. The final point they made about their changes was “No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it.”
These changes were not welcomed by the entire organization and they saw about a third of their team decide to leave the organization following this blog post in what was described as a tense internal meeting. This is only one example, but we’ve seen similar occurrences in other industries this year including the culinary/hospitality industry and the media.
It is my sincere hope that these tips and examples help you to think about how you want to show up as a leader and a team member moving forward and that you strive to create the kind of environment that everyone wants to belong in.
Marissa Taffer, PMP is the founder and president of M. Taffer Consulting. In her practice, she supports business owners and marketers with business development strategies, project management, and content development. She’s created content for new and established brands and conducted project management training and process optimization for large and small digital agencies, nonprofits, and marketing departments.
Marissa is a Project Management Professional (Project Management Institute, 2016), Asana Certified Pro (2020), HubSpot Certified Content Marketer (2020), and holds a certificate in Women’s Entrepreneurship from Cornell University. In 2021 she served as a co-facilitator for a diversity program called The Culture of Respect and participated in the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Designing Leadership program.
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Marigold is a family of global marketing technology brands including Campaign Monitor, CM Commerce, Delivra, Emma, Liveclicker, Sailthru and Vuture. By joining together these leading brands, Marigold offers a variety of world-class solutions that can be used by marketers at any level. Headquartered in Nashville, TN, Marigold has United States offices in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and global offices in Australia, London, New Zealand and Uruguay.