Practicing Inclusion in a Culture of “Ghosting”

diversity inclusion ghosting leadership

Have you noticed that more and more people set up meetings — and then don’t show up? Or individuals commit to projects, partnering or funding and don’t follow through? Even in recruiting scenarios, candidates and recruiters will sometimes disappear altogether, leaving the other side confused and upset.

I’m seeing this trend – disappearing altogether, or “ghosting” as it’s called primarily in the dating world – without notice, apologies, or excuses and it makes me wonder…

If we are striving to practice inclusion in our organizations and committing to be a more inclusive leader, how do we reconcile today’s seemingly normal behavior of ghosting each other?

I checked in with a few others about their experiences with being ghosted and several people said, “Oh sure, it happens all the time.” One person suggested it was because of social media, “People are used to ignoring each other and being ignored [or not “liked”], we’re immune to it now.”

Another colleague who runs a powerful, exclusive network for professionals told me that members were dropping out of the network because they couldn’t trust others in the group anymore to do what they said they were going to do.

Someone else blamed it on Millennials, “They don’t know how to be professional and follow through.”

All of these responses are gravely concerning to me. First of all, I don’t like blaming a group of people for a single behavior (and my experience of ghosting isn’t just Millennials). Second, I believe the world is too small to treat each other disrespectfully. It’s not nice, nor is it good for our relationships with each other, our teams or organizations. And the problem is that while some may not care about being ghosted, many do see it as a sign of bad behavior. When you don’t hear from someone it’s easy to make up all kinds of negative stories in your head. Mostly around feeling dissed or excluded… the opposite of feeling included.

Why is ghosting happening now?

Busy-ness was my first theory. 

People are working long hours, around the clock, often in fast-paced environments, and some with limited resources. They are using all kinds of technology channels like email, text or Asana and Slack to communicate and get deliverables done. Everyone is busy with work and life.

But are we really busier than we were before? Most people I know take some time off, they have time to watch the latest series out on Prime or Netflix, they date, they make personal phone calls to family members and friends, and get to their doctor when they need to. And from what I see, everyone is app-ing, texting and emailing, even in their cars. There does seem to be time to communicate with others.

stressed employee technology

Are we too distracted? 

Perhaps we are over-stimulated and inundated by so many things that we can’t possibly remember to do what we said we were going to do. Or connect when we said we were going to connect. Or we can’t keep track of all the people or things we were supposed to respond to? It’s getting away from us, maybe in part due to technology’s ability to broaden our scope and reach.

It could also be that we are so used to being connected online that we underestimate each other’s feelings, how things come across, what people think about us. It’s easier to disappear when we’re not voice-to-voice or face-to-face. Messaging drops off, someone is active on social media and then not, snapchat shares an immediate moment and then it’s gone…

Has our culture changed?

I wonder too (and truly hope not) that with a pervasive culture in the US right now of “I’ll say and do what I want and I don’t care if it hurts another person”, if ghosting isn’t a part of that? Maybe it’s not just a few bad apples in our society, maybe it’s that we, as a society, truly don’t care anymore how our behavior impacts others? Maybe “ghosting” is just part of an overall culture trend?

Perhaps, I’m being over-sensitive and what I’m deeming as “ghosting” is actually the new norm. I mean does it really matter if a few people fall out of one’s life, does it? If we have five commitments and three disappear, we still have two. Isn’t that good enough? There are people I know who regularly ghost others digitally and then when they see that person face-to-face it’s like they’re greeting an old friend. They are kind, genuine and full of promise. Maybe ghosting just isn’t that big of a deal?

greeting an old friend

Let’s talk about inclusion.

Some of the most powerful Diversity & Inclusion programs address the concept of “micro-aggressions”. That is, saying or doing something that often unintentionally slights someone else. It could be not acknowledging someone in a hallway, only talking to specific people in a meeting, or interrupting someone while they are speaking. These small actions can have a larger affect on workplace atmosphere and employee engagement.

I remember one of my first projects in D&I was at a university in Massachusetts. There was quite a bit of frustration and anger leading to violence between various racial groups on campus. After assessing the situation, it boiled down to people feeling a lack of acknowledgement leading to hurt feelings, which led to anger. We initiated a “Just say ‘Hi’” campaign across campus. Students wore t-shirts, hats and buttons showing their support for the campaign and people who didn’t know each other started saying “Hi” to each other. It turned around the whole situation and violence on campus was eradicated.

Sometimes practicing inclusion is as simple as acknowledgement.

If inclusion is about acknowledging, staying connected to, and ensuring others understand your motives, then ghosting is the opposite of that. Ghosting erodes inclusion. You can be the kindest person in the world but if you ghost someone, they may assume it’s an attack, or at the very least, a sign you don’t think very highly of them as another human being.

And sadly, we all know too well the extreme measures people take when they feel powerless, ignored and treated unfairly.

But imagine what we could achieve in our life and work if we eradicated ghosting, micro-aggressions, even violence, and truly adopted an intentional practice of inclusion.

What would that world look like?

Contact Melissa if you’d like to discuss developing a customized strategy for inclusion in your organization.

Diversity and Inclusion: The Key to Growth

Leadership Trainers

Diversity has emerged as one of the hottest topics in the professional world today. There are a lot of movements to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but in many cases tangible change is not happening quickly enough. There are evidently challenges to face, and all stakeholders need to work harder.

That drive for diversity in the workplace, however, is only getting bigger. More companies are committing to diversity in their structures. Staff are helping businesses approach the need for diversity more positively.

With the 2019 L&D Report from findcourses.com confirming that the fastest-growing companies are 72% more likely to have high diversity in their organization compared to the ones that didn’t see growth last year, these changes are only the beginning. There are more reasons to focus on diversity today than ever before.

Defining diversity

Diversity is often seen as being related to race or ethnicity, but this limited view is no longer relevant. Today, diversity is as much about ethnicity as it is about gender, beliefs, political views, sexual orientation, and other equally important factors.

The expanded definition of diversity allows businesses to understand the need for diversity in the workplace. In the end, that improved understanding is exactly what pushes more businesses towards a diverse structure and work environment.

As the definition of diversity expands, we are also seeing more approaches being incorporated into efforts to create a diverse work environment. Rather than setting quotas, for example, companies are more open to reviewing candidates and employees objectively.

Appreciating differences

The more conventional approach to diversity – which often involves setting quotas and taking in employees for (and only for) the sake of diversity – is being abandoned. Rather than promoting diversity in the workplace, this approach only creates a new set of problems.

As mentioned before, appreciation and objectivity are the ways forward. Businesses are empowered by a corporate culture that appreciates and promotes differences. Being different doesn’t necessarily mean being bad at the job; sometimes, it is the opposite.

It is also worth noting that companies are taking a more hands-on approach to structuring the work environment and leveraging diversity. The creative industry has been doing this for a long time, and the approach is now being adopted by businesses in other industries as well.

Balance and growth benefits

Diversity in the workplace has also gained traction for another reason. Diversity is one of the ingredients that spark better operations and faster growth. Businesses, after all, have their bottom lines as the primary objective of operations, and the fact that diversity leads to improvement to the bottom line makes it even more appealing.

With diversity being a key ingredient to growth and innovation, it is interesting to see how it affects companies as a whole. For starters, maintaining diversity means maintaining balance. There is no hidden bias threatening the wellbeing of the company.

Diversity is also good for the core business of the company. It sparks creativity and creates a bigger pool of ideas for the company to draw from. This leads to better product development and a much more holistic understanding of the target customers.

Companies like Ernst & Young are using diversity to set themselves apart from the competition and to spark innovation within the team. Martin Hayter, their Global Assurance Learning Leader describes their workplace culture:

“The team has a global flavor to it. It brings more creativity and higher quality and we know that the content we develop is going to be applicable to different cultures, and to both emerging and mature markets.”

These benefits of diversity and inclusion culminate in an advantage that every company needs to remain competitive in fierce markets. That competitive advantage is a better decision-making process. Improved decisions lead to a better ability to react to market changes – and to react in the correct way.

Diversity and inclusion training

Diversity and inclusion is cementing itself as a global trend. As illustrated by the UK L&D report from findcourses.co.uk, D&I is one of the five training courses most demanded in 2019. These courses are designed to help companies acknowledge and harness the power of diversity. Some training programs go deep into the strategy of leveraging diversity in the workplace, while other courses are designed to help businesses recruit a diverse group of talent to support their growth.

Diversity training programs are not only designed to help companies meet the standards set by regulations either. Diversity and inclusion offer context and practical application scenarios of diversity as a concept. This key knowledge empowers businesses and allows them to approach diversity in a more proactive way.

The possibilities are endless. With every step taken to embrace diversity, businesses amplify the potential benefits they stand to gain from creating a diverse work environment. The further businesses go, the bigger the benefits they can receive as well. More importantly, better understanding and implementation of diversity leads to faster, more sustainable business growth and future innovation. At the end of the day, diversity becomes a crucial ingredient for success!

Men Need Mentors too in the #MeToo Era

Women Mentor Men

Inclusion and diversity took center stage at the Oscars this year–and rightfully so. Hollywood reflects cultural and societal changes in the United States, and gender parity is on everyone’s minds these days. Frances McDormand, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Actress, used her acceptance speech to emphasize the vital need for diversity and inclusion in her industry. On the red carpet, Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino promoted the movement towards equality for women worldwide.

But what do diversity and inclusion look like in the workplace today? Women and men alike struggle to define the new normal. “What do women want?” ask men. “How can I show my support to my female colleagues?” These questions come up a lot in my work. In fact, during a recent podcast, I mentioned that women can, and should, mentor men to help them understand the issues at hand. Men need mentors too in the #MeToo era.

There’s a lot of talk right now about women mentoring women and men mentoring women, but I think women need to mentor men. If I were a man who saw a personal, moral, or business reason to support gender diversity in my workplace, I would go to a female colleague and ask her to mentor me.

My comment seems to resonate with both women and men.

According to researchers, Anna Marie Valerio and Katina Sawyer,”…gender inclusiveness means involving both men and women in advancing women’s leadership. Although many organizations have attempted to fight gender bias by focusing on women – offering training programs or networking groups specifically for them — the leaders we interviewed realized that any solutions that involve only 50 percent of the human population are likely to have limited success.

I know this to be true. One of my clients hires me to lead Advancement Strategies for Women workshops. My client had succeeded in raising the number of women in management from 22 percent to 37 percent in four years. But it became clear that without enlisting men’s active support within the company they would only go so far in creating gender balance at the top. That same company is launching workshops for men now, which has been really powerful. After these workshops, men will say things like, “I just realized their KPIs are gender-biased,” or “I never knew that woman on my team wanted a promotion because she was always working so hard.” And the number of women in management continues to grow.

If women and men don’t work together, we won’t achieve equality in the workplace.

Women and men have different communication styles.

Men and women communicate differently, something most of us understand instinctively but don’t always recognize in the moment. Psychology Today notes that while women speak around 250 words a minute on average, men clock in around half of that, at 125.  During the course of a day, women might speak up to 25,000 words while men speak around 12,000.

I teach key differences in communication between the sexes. One of them is status and recognition. The research shows that men seek first and foremost to be seen as the most important and the one with the most power in the room. Women primarily like to be appreciated for their accomplishments, hard work, and a job well done. For example, thanking men is fine but isn’t necessary, they don’t need it. In fact, sometimes it’s seen as a sign of weakness. By contrast, not thanking a woman could erode a working relationship. Understanding the differences in communication style is a vital part of becoming an ally to women.

Men can become more astute at recognizing non-verbal signals.

Non-verbal signals abound in the workplace. Women tend to go silent when they are talked over, interrupted or criticized. For example, if in a meeting, a man and a woman are talking and that woman suddenly gets quiet, what should that guy do? He should pivot and start re-engaging her by asking questions and listening more. Or, if he’s in a meeting and his female colleague is interrupted, he can speak up, restate the point she was making and ask her to say more on the topic.

And then there’s the big one. Tears, which are most men’s biggest fear: How to handle a woman who is upset or crying. It’s easy. Men need to do three things: Abandon the need to solve her problem for her. She doesn’t need a solution; she needs empathy and understanding. Next, show you care by saying something like, “It seems like you’re having a hard time. Can I do anything to help?” Finally, listen, just listen. Say a few encouraging words like, “That must be hard.” Or “I can understand how you feel.” I guarantee after thirty minutes of listening and just being there for her; you’ll see a change in her demeanor for the better.

And women. Step up and take on the responsibility for mentoring your male colleagues. Men need mentors too in the #MeToo era. You can make a tremendous difference by doing so. Here are three tips to help you get started mentoring your male colleagues:

1. Be direct and clear. According to the research, men hear better if the information is delivered without couching or soft-pedaling.

2. Be specific, especially if you have an ask: Men are hardwired to solve, and they go to solutions quickly. State exactly what you want them to do.

3. Don’t be critical. Reassure your male colleague that this is a learning process and of course it’s going to be awkward. Like learning another language or skill. It’s not about being a bad guy, but about learning how to be more in tune with what women want and how they expect to be communicated with differently.

So, men? Go find a woman who can mentor you and help you learn how to be an ally in the workplace. And if you feel you need additional coaching, contact me.

Finally, take my survey on perceptions of Sexual Harassment. I’ve replicated a study conducted in Europe, and I’d like to compare the answers of American men and women to the answers of Europeans.

A version of this post was first published on Inc.com.