Creating an Environment that Welcomes Disclosure

This video from the 2018 Presidents Group Roundtable features Sarah White, Presidents Group member and Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Co-Founder of Fairware. She talks about how an inclusive culture fosters disclosure.

Video Transcript:

(Sarah White) Hi everyone. I’m not a public speaker, so I’m a little terrified, but I’ll be fine. I just want to tell you a little bit about… it sounds like we’re a big organization, we’re actually a small business. We’re about to be fifteen people and I tell you that as a context as being one of the smaller businesses and that we’ve been around for 13 years.

I’ve personally been on a journey of being an entrepreneur in a garage and a micromanager and how I’ve tried to transform my style of leading folks. And to always remember that perfect is the enemy of good.

So, what is this I’m talking about: disclosure. You might be saying, “Sarah, does that mean we have to talk to everybody about their feelings all of the time?” No. That’s not entirely what I mean, but we’ll get to that.

My first point is that inclusive culture, it touches every part. It’s not one thing, it’s everything. It’s not just the hiring. It’s not just the training. It really has to be a part of everything to be successful. And I see disclosure as kind of the litmus test of an inclusive culture. And not all barriers or disabilities are visible and that’s partly the perspective that I’m coming from.

So we use a Asana Project Management Tool and this is just one section of our onboarding template that shows how we include diversity, inclusion and our culture and values right from the get go.

So inclusive culture, from my opinion, what is it and what isn’t it? It’s not simple and it’s not easy to unpack in five minutes. It includes all sorts of things like unconscious bias and all of the isms. It has become a buzzword in some ways and it’s not always beer and ping pong. It really has to look farther than just that.

It’s really more about not having a homogeneous culture and that can be challenging. Just to reinforce, I really think that to have the intention to hire folks with barriers or disabilities, we need to have a workplace in an environment that is welcoming and accepting and that’s really what makes it successful.

An inclusive culture to me is one that allows someone to bring their whole self and there’s lots of readings and literature on that, really what it means is that you get to show up and be yourself and you don’t have to hide parts of yourself.

The business case for diversity, I mean I do without any disrespect, and I get that it’s important to show why, but a part of me wants to say, “well what’s the business case for doing the right thing?” It should be more than an economic outcome and if it’s coming from the intent of, “whoa, I’m gonna make money off disabled people.” It’s a checklist and it’s not a commitment. 

People need to see themselves reflected. So, if you look at those stats and we’ve talked about those, that’s one place to start. What is your workplace? Is it 50? Does it represent your demographic of your area in terms of both visible minorities and also disability?

So, fostering disclosure. I like the way you just know I don’t want to talk about your feelings. As I said, it’s not simple and it might be uncomfortable. I’m not really saying that, yeah, you just essentially have to talk about everybody’s feelings all the time. And then the floodgates open and it’s where do we go from there. Floodgates can be closed. Boundaries are critical. I don’t see myself as a therapist, but I see myself as a guide.

So, transferring performance. I’ll tell a story now about strategies that we’ve used that have helped and then I would like to tell a story that really demonstrates how I’ve transformed the way I do things and hopefully have transformed our business. 

So, one is for sure as a leader, is to embrace what I look as a self-reflective and responsive management read and learn about unconscious bias and all of the isms. Become a B Corp. Happy to talk to anybody about that, it has really helped us in this journey. Ban disrespect in your organization. Be curious and generous and be in service to your employees.

A colleague of mine said, “I see my employees as my clients.” Which for me it means, if my employees are failing, I’m failing. I’m not training, I’m not advising, I’m not helping them in the way they need to. Now I get that that’s not always the case and some people have to go and it doesn’t work but it’s really shifted the way I look at people’s behaviour and performance.

We have an employee who was one of our longest term employees and had all of those things: bad behaviour, swearing, critical, negative. So, first I just would be reactive and think like, “oh, that sucks and you’re bad, you’re not doing your job and your behaviour is bad.” And I got to compress this story but it’s a journey over some years, but what I came to realize was that I had to stop being reactive, I had to stop being…  I had to be curious.

Instead of saying, “you need to do this, this.” We did say you need to do these things, but I also said, “and how can I help you get there?” What do I need to do, how can I help you be more aware of your behaviour?” So we figured out little tricks and things and we said, “why don’t you go and do a course on personal development, get a business coach.”

And then we started having more regular one-on-ones and through that process, eventually, she disclosed to me that she was bipolar. She had never in her entire life, in her entire working experience, ever told anybody and lived with this burden, every day of “I can’t tell anybody, I’m always sick.” She has the flu but she doesn’t.

So through that process, it just turned everything for me. It was like, this is an invisible barrier, a disability that this person didn’t feel safe enough to talk about. Does that mean that I became her therapist? No, it just means that I had this huge understanding of what was going on for her and what she needed to succeed.

And for her, it was a big relief. Then we worked together and decided that we would bring it to our whole team and that we would tell them about it and tell them about her experience. It was a huge thing for the whole team as well. You want to talk about retention. You want to talk about trust. 

You know people stay where they want, where they feel heard, where they feel acknowledged, where they feel like they can tell you something that’s important about themselves. And they don’t tell me everything. I’m not best friends with my employees. I’m friendly, I’m there when they need me.

They tell me stuff when they really need to, but they don’t tell me everything. Because I don’t want to know everything.

I think just in closing I’d say that everyone has a story, and everyone has a little something and our job is to understand it.