Foster A Culture Of Inclusion With This Remarkably Simple Exercise (International Women’s Day 2020)

two women smiling in a meeting

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What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is nearly upon us! “It’s a time for ‘celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women…[and] accelerating women’s equality.” 

Amidst the relevant hashtags #IWD2020 and #EachforEqual, you’ve probably found articles on ways to advance gender equity at work—all featuring the usual suspects: unconscious bias training, gender pay audits, and refreshed company policies.

These are important interventions, no doubt. 

But to truly champion gender equality at work, we should be making conscious choices every day to promote fairness and sensitivity.

That’s why, I felt compelled this International Women’s Day to zero in on a psychological exercise everyone at your organisation can practice in the name of equality, inclusion, and better workplace relationships.

What is perspective-taking?

The exercise I’m spotlighting is called ‘perspective-taking’ but what is it exactly?

Closely connected to empathy, perspective-taking refers to the ability to see things from another’s point of view—effectively ‘walking a mile in their shoes.’

Although each are mechanisms for understanding others, perspective-taking differs from empathy or empathic concern in the sense that it involves ‘seeing their side versus feeling their pain.’

Why would you want to do that?

Because studies have shown perspective-taking yields ‘effects above and beyond those of empathic concern’ when it comes to forging social bonds and improving intergroup interactions.

The documented benefits of perspective-taking extend from better interpersonal relationships to more effective communication, and even reduced stereotyping, prejudice and intergroup bias. 

Since perspective-taking can be learned and developed as a skill, it also carries significant potential to positively influence workplace relationships more over time.

Whereas empathic concern can have a carryover effect of personally experiencing others’ pain, perspective-taking allows for deeper understanding without inspiring this kind of negative emotional contagion.

Of course, the key to any practice with the purpose of improvement is consistency!

How to practice perspective-taking

So how can we practice perspective-taking every day? And are there ways to make the exercise ‘fun’ at work?

Short, creative writing exercises could be an effective perspective-taking exercise for your organisation, and have been studied in many different work contexts and environments. 

In one field experiment involving 118 undergraduates, the simple act of ‘writing a few sentences imagining the distinct challenges a marginalized minority might face’ was shown to result in improved attitudes and behaviors toward the marginalised group.

Alternatively, spending a few minutes writing a ‘day in the life of’ narrative was shown to decrease the association of negative traits or stereotypes and actually change the behaviour of perspective-takers

Learning new things about the people we see every day—but might not work directly with—can be surprising, fun, and impactful. 

Further, it encourages true change in our own patterns of thought and behaviour. 

Why perspective-taking works—at work

Unconscious biases, assumptions, and stereotypes can all get in the way of effective communication and teamwork. 

But with perspective-taking, we increase our willingness to engage with people and challenge our impulse to stereotype, which greatly improves team dynamics.

By appreciating our differences as people, perspective-taking bridges gaps in understanding—helping us to overcome unconscious biases and build stronger empathic responses, which also results in physiological benefits such as calmed mood and reduced stress responses. 

(And these aren’t gender-specific benefits—everyone benefits from perspective-taking!)

What you can do today to nurture a culture of inclusion at work

To create an inclusive and gender-balanced workplace, start by nurturing a culture of understanding. 

Instead of emphasising the divides that exist between people of different genders and backgrounds, unite team members in conversations and exercises that help us relate to one another and build personal connections through shared learning.

On an organisational level

Set aside time for your whole team to engage in perspective-taking exercises, so that your entire organisation can contribute to a more inclusive work environment! 

By making the time and actively encouraging perspective-taking, leaders can make more room for people to feel understood—and therefore—to experience a sense of belonging and inclusion at work. 

It only takes an investment of time and a little mental effort to enable your organisation’s people to discover new ways of relating to and learning from each other. 

The lasting impact is: more effective communication; better team dynamics; and more fruitful working relationships. 

On an individual level

Define a set of actions you can take on a daily basis to advance gender equity at work. Ask yourself how you can contribute to a culture of understanding.  

Actively practice seeking deeper understanding of others’ experience by asking questions or making a regular practice of perspective-taking writing exercises.

You can try writing out how you imagine information or actions might be interpreted differently if you were from a different gender or background.

Encourage others to practice perspective-taking by sharing any benefits to your working relationships, individual employee experience or wider organisational culture.

If creating a culture of inclusion is important to you, Hive’s People Scientists can work with you to align your overall employee surveying and ED&I strategies. 

To learn about the way customer partners Horwich Farrelly used Hive surveys to gather information on experience differences by demographic and direct change at their organisation, connect with Hive’s Lead People Scientist, Jen Southern.

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