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An Atmosphere of Inclusion

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in the September issue of MReport.

Some call it “belonging,” others call it “community,” but no matter what you call it, nailing inclusion as a leader is a must in order to be successful. While it’s true that inclusion and diversity go hand-in-hand, inclusion is what makes diversity shine. If people don’t feel like they are part of the team and that they aren’t valued for who they are, diversity will not be enough to carry the load. 

As I have become a student of all things D&I, it has become clear to me that it’s the little things that make inclusion happen. It’s not the big events, big budgets, or even big bonuses; it’s the little day-to-day things that get people engaged. In fact, studies have shown that it’s the companies with more inclusive teams who are more profitable and more innovative in their thinking. For those who don’t welcome inclusion, they run the risk of getting left behind not only when it comes to innovation, but also when it comes to attracting top talent. Here are 10 easy actions you can take to kick your inclusion efforts into high gear in the workplace. 

 

Rethink the way  projects are assigned 

When you hand out special projects or high-profile assignments, do you make sure that everyone gets a chance and look for volunteers who might be up for a new challenge? Or do you have your go-to people whom you know well and are familiar with? Consider giving people on the team a chance to step up. You’ll likely be surprised by the efforts of some members of your team if given a chance. Of course, those volunteers may need a little encouragement to go out on a limb to do something new. Look at your team holistically and find opportunities for everyone to show their stuff—not just the typical chosen few. 

 

Get to know your team 

A big part of an inclusive environment is getting to know others. At Mr. Cooper, we have piloted a program called “Three About Me,” where we ask team members to list three things about themselves on a template and hang it on their wall. As you walk around the office, you see facts about your co-workers that you didn’t know, and it creates opportunities for instant conversation starters. We have had different iterations of the program including: “Three Things on Your Bucket List,” “Three Things that Others Don’t Know About You,” and “Three Things that Make You Proud to Work at Mr. Cooper.” The opportunities are endless, and the program has been a huge success when it comes to fostering team comradery.

 

Learn how to pronounce everyone’s names 

We have all been there. Someone on your team has a name that is difficult to pronounce and rather than learning how, we just avoid saying it all together. I don’t think this is done from a purposefully negative space, but the end result is the same. Not caring enough to learn how to pronounce someone’s name correctly can really give the wrong impression. It can come across as dismissive and send the message that someone isn’t important enough to learn their name. In instances like this, it’s easy to say, “Tell me how to pronounce your name so that I get it right,” or, “I know I should know how to say your name, but can you repeat it for me—I just want to get it right.” I think most people are pretty forgiving as long as the effort is there.

 

Educate yourself on what it means to be inclusive 

Set aside 30 minutes a week to read an article on inclusion or to watch a speech or a TED Talk on the topic. There are plenty of materials available, you just have to commit to educating yourself on best practices and the issues within this discipline to recognize the opportunities. 

 

Make meetings more inclusive

It’s important that meetings be a safe space where everyone feels comfortable participating in the discussion. Since people process information differently, be sure to share topics or agenda items for the meeting in advance so that the more analytical team members have time to think about the topic. Once in the meeting, be sure each participant has an opportunity to share their thoughts. Nothing is worse than having one or two people dominate the conversation, so be sure to manage the participation and encourage everyone to share. 

I once had an industry colleague share with me that he thinks our industry is guilty of “intellectual bullying,” that people are looking for errors in ideas and that some welcome an opportunity to pounce on others who might share their thoughts. This got me thinking and really forced me to focus during meetings to ensure everyone feels comfortable to participate in the process so no one feels like a target is on their back. 

 

Look people in the eye 

It might amaze some leaders to know that when they pass people in the halls or in the breakroom or in the elevator, that it matters to team members that you take the time to look them in the eye and say hello. Often that can make a huge difference in someone’s day. People need to know they matter, and it’s important to take the time to see and acknowledge them.

 

Evaluate the internal promotions process 

To elevate your inclusion game, take a look at the way internal promotions are managed. Here are a few guiding principles to consider when it’s time to fill an internal job on your team: 

  • I want to fill this job internally.  
  • I want to find the best candidate. 
  • I know some people who might be interested, but I’m also open to the fact that there could be someone out there that’s a perfect fit that I haven’t yet met.  
  • I’m committed to a list of finalists who are diverse in nature. 
  • I will engage a panel of interviewers to ensure that we compensate for anyone’s particular biases.
  • I know it’s easier to hire someone, but I’m not interested in easy. I want to find the best candidate, and I will put in the work it takes to make that happen.
  • I recognize that “hiring the best” and “hiring a diverse candidate” are not mutually exclusive—I can find both. 

 

Build an inclusion index

Most companies have a quarterly-pulse survey of employees or at least an annual employee survey. To measure inclusion, add a question to the survey that can 

become your Inclusion or Belonging Index. It’s a simple question: “I feel like I belong at (company name).” Once your benchmark is established, you can measure the success of your programs and see the continual improvement as a result of your efforts. 

 

Create an inclusive application process for special programs and opportunities 

Companies often have programs for high potential employees. Those may include professional coaching, external mentoring programs, and collegelevel certifications, among others. If you’re fortunate enough to work at a company that offers these programs, I would encourage you to set parameters for the candidates and then encourage employees to apply for these programs. This could help eliminate any unintentional continuous recognition for the same people and ensure that great talent isn’t left behind. 

For example, at Mr. Cooper, we had the opportunity to send five of our Hispanic team members to a Rising Latino leadership program at a local university. Interested team members applied, and once we collected all the applications, we removed their names to help the selection committee review each candidate more objectively. By asking each applicant to write a paragraph on why they wanted to participate in the program, we were able to recognize who really had a passion and a hunger for a chance to grow in this way without having any preconceived notions. 

 

Diversify your recognition programs 

In a quest to have high performing teams, it can be easy to focus only on our top producers. It’s important to know that this tendency may leave other hard workers feeling demoralized and even left out. To offset this, consider creating an award for “The Best Team Player” that is voted on by team members, or think about an award for “The Most Improved” team member to recognize someone who is working hard, but doesn’t necessarily ask to be in the spotlight. From a customer perspective, something like a “Customer Warrior” award can recognize a team member who goes above and beyond for their customers every day. It never hurts to take a fresh look at how you are recognizing people and making sure others feel included in that process. 

Lastly, while having a team dedicated to Diversity and Inclusion is necessary to run the programs for the organization, D&I should really be thought of and encouraged as a part of everyone’s job. D&I should be interwoven with who we hire, where we recruit, how we train, how we promote, and how we coach. Simply put, it is the “basic” work that we do. By having a team that consistently feels included, you’ll create an environment with high performing, happy team members, and that’s a win for everyone.

About Author: Dana Dillard

Dana Dillard has spent over 25 years in mortgage, serving in different capacities across the industry. As Mr. Cooper’s EVP of Corporate and Social Responsibility, Dillard oversees industry and government relations, nonprofit engagement, community outreach, and Mr. Cooper’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion. Before joining Mr. Cooper, Dillard worked at GMAC RESCAP, where she managed the REO, Liquidations, and Community Outreach teams during the peak of the housing crisis. She has held other senior leadership positions at EMC Mortgage, Bank of America Mortgage, and Lomas Mortgage.
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