Over the last year or two, I’ve intentionally shifted how I work with clients. You rarely hear me talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Instead, I have focused my efforts on empowering leaders to create inclusive workplaces. Research shows that employees from different backgrounds bring unique perspectives, which, when harnessed effectively, can lead to increased creativity, innovation, and productivity. While creating an inclusive workplace culture begins at the top, the role of middle managers should not be overlooked. In fact, middle managers can play a crucial role in championing inclusivity and creating an atmosphere where all employees feel valued, seen, heard, and respected.
1. Bridging the Gap
Middle managers have a unique position within an organization. They serve as a bridge between senior management and front-line employees. By being in this position, they can influence both directions. Middle managers can advocate for inclusive practices, relaying the importance of inclusion to their teams and upper management. In doing so, they help bridge the gap between the goals and strategies set by senior leadership and the individual employee experience.
2. Leading by Example
Middle managers are responsible for shaping their teams’ day-to-day experience and setting the workplace culture’s tone. Culture is not determined by the words written in the employee handbook or on the cafeteria walls. The actions and behaviors of those leaders have a direct impact on the inclusivity of the environment. By leading by example and modeling inclusive behaviors, such as actively listening, fostering psychological safety, providing equal access to opportunities, and valuing diverse perspectives, they create an atmosphere that encourages employees to do the same. This enhances employee engagement and fosters a more inclusive workplace culture.
3. Nurturing and Coaching Talent
Who knows the capability of their team member more than their manager? Middle managers have a unique insight into the skills and potential of their team members. They are well-positioned to identify and nurture talent, regardless of an individual’s background or identity. By providing equitable opportunities for growth and development to all team members, middle managers can contribute to a more inclusive workplace. This is done by mentoring, offering stretch assignments, and advocating for employees’ career progression. By understanding the individual needs of team members, middle managers can provide them with the support they need to be successful in the organization.
4. Amplifying Employee Voices
Inclusive workplaces are built on the principle of giving everyone a voice and making sure it is heard. Middle managers can play a significant role in amplifying the voices of their team members, especially those who may feel marginalized or underrepresented. By actively seeking input, encouraging diverse perspectives, and ensuring that all team members have equal opportunities to contribute, middle managers create an environment where every employee feels valued and included.
5. Fostering Collaboration and Teamwork
Inclusive workplaces thrive on collaboration and teamwork. Middle managers can facilitate collaboration by creating a sense of belonging within their teams and fostering an atmosphere of trust and respect. By actively promoting collaboration, breaking down silos, and celebrating diversity, middle managers create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and working together towards shared goals.
Middle managers have the power to shape the inclusivity of their workplaces in significant ways. By bridging the gap between senior leadership and individual employees, leading by example, nurturing talent, amplifying employee voices, and fostering collaboration, middle managers can play a key role in creating inclusive workplaces where all employees can thrive. By recognizing and harnessing this power, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and reap the numerous benefits of a diverse and inclusive environment.
Interested in learning more about what’s next in Inclusive Leadership? Sign up now to learn more about the Equity Leadership Institute, a collaboration between The Equity Equation and Maslow Center for Executive Leadership.