It’s time for business leaders to address healing — the missing piece of the DEIB puzzle

Dave A. Cornelius, DM. KnolShare.

Our understanding of what it takes to create an inclusive workplace where everyone can thrive has evolved significantly over the years and will continue to evolve. Using the language of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) is now standard practice in the business world. Recently, many have added the critical idea of ​​belonging to the lexicon. It’s time to further expand our vision and add healing to the mix. And not as an afterthought or a nice addition—but as a fundamental element for a healthy workplace.

The goal of diversifying organizations began to be accepted in the 1960s, first as the right thing to do and later as a business imperative. In the 1980s, insight into the importance of psychological safety made it clear that diverse representation would only mean so much if people did not feel truly valued; thus the goal of inclusion was introduced. In the last decade, we have accepted equity—creating a level playing field—as a necessary adjunct. Belonging takes inclusion a step further: our ultimate goal should be for all employees to feel comfortable as full, authentic people at work.

Over the years I have become convinced that belonging is impossible without healing, especially for historically excluded and marginalized populations. As an African-American business leader and coach, I have felt and witnessed firsthand the “double consciousness” that WEB Du Bois wrote about in Souls of the black people: a constant, insidious awareness of how others see you, creating what he called “a double … two souls, two thoughts, two irreconcilable aspirations, two warring ideals.” Women, especially people of color, also carry the burden of this divided self. As well as LGTBQ people and others.

We cannot separate well-being (or lack thereof) from our own, especially in an environment of shared aspirations such as the workplace. If injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, the wounds and traumas of others should concern us all. The pandemic has shown quite clearly how deeply connected our destinies and well-being are. We have learned that we must protect others in order to protect ourselves. Many business leaders have learned that things like mental health are not purely “private” matters, but have a significant impact on an employee’s ability to thrive and perform well. Some business leaders have also realized, after the killing of George Floyd, that the national racial reckoning cannot be left to politicians alone.

Recently, an influential group of medical experts, the US Preventive Services Taskforce, recommended for the first time that all adults under the age of 65 be screened for anxiety. Our individual and collective mental health is still recovering from the pandemic. We are increasingly divided politically and culturally. The need for healing has never been greater.

That’s bad news. The good news is that with the right healing protocols, we can not only recover from these wounds, but emerge stronger and healthier than ever. Athletes know that after injuries they can come back better than before. Post-traumatic growth research shows that individuals and communities can be positively transformed by difficult and even traumatic experiences.

In my work in the corporate world, I found great inspiration and practical wisdom in the ubuntu philosophy that helped transformational leaders like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela heal a divided nation in South Africa. I believe this philosophy—with its core tenet of “I am because we are”—can help heal and transform the American workplace.

Affiliation continues to lag in the American workplace, despite concerted efforts to improve this critical element of organizational culture. Coqual (formerly the Center for Talent Innovation) has developed metrics to assess affiliation. They found that mean affiliation scores for black women and Asian women were significantly lower than those for other groups. But they also find that even small gains in belonging yield significant improvements in employee retention, engagement and satisfaction.

I believe that including treatment in the DEIB mix would greatly enhance initiatives to create a more inclusive workplace. It should be noted that when Lewis Griggs first introduced the idea of ​​inclusion to his business clients in the 1980s, he was initially met with resistance from people who saw it as too “tangible” for the business world. Now we know better.

Similarly, we should not shy away from engaging in treatment in the workplace. Healing is not just a private matter to be pursued in a therapy session. Just as leaders are now learning to directly address mental health, we need to put treatment at the center of organizational culture and strategy. We should embrace a range of modalities, including somatic (massage and physical therapy), meditation and the act of forgiveness, which have played a key role in helping South Africa heal from its wounds and divisions.

Business leaders must explicitly include belonging and healing in their strategic goals. When business leaders look down the road and decide where they want to be in six months or a year, they can usually also identify the obstacles that could prevent them from getting there. Some of these obstacles are always related to culture and team cohesion. Business leaders can take the following actions to achieve healing outcomes:

• Create an environment that supports belonging and a generative culture.

• Use ubuntu principles that enable community, integrity and honesty—the spirit of community.

• Increase the language of compassion to be present for employees.

• Support self-organized meditation and self-help groups to explore thoughts and feelings within the individual space and organization.

• A measure to obtain confirmed learnings to decide whether to pivot or stay with a strategic healing initiative.

Just like in agile development, such two-week iterative experiments can help a company determine where its culture needs to work and adapt and innovate accordingly. We should be innovative not only in our products and services, but also in the way we approach building culture. The workplace is the place where we spend a large part of our days and years and also the place where we realize our earnings, dreams and ambitions. What better place to seek the healing and wholeness we all need?

The Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. do I qualify?

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