Empathy and Authenticity- Keys to create a Diverse and Inclusive workplace

Empathy and Authenticity- Keys to create a Diverse and Inclusive workplace

by Soni Bhattacharya

On a recent trip to Mumbai to run a programme on Emotional Intelligence, I chanced upon a conversation between a group of participants (all male). They were joking about how, as a result of a new organisational mandate, they were now required to have at least 25% women in their teams.

More than the efforts and the results, what struck me as most significant were two things: the men felt little empathy for the women who they now had to hire/reassign, and were calling their women colleagues "diversities" (as in, "I have two new diversities in my team"). Empathy and Authenticity are keys to success in the modern world of business. And diversity/inclusion initiatives do not succeed if it does not include empathy/integration and a holistic vision for culture change, that goes way beyond the workplace. 

Real diversity and inclusion is a process with a goal of full integration into an organisation's DNA. That means creating an individual mindset, and an organisational culture of empathy. Real Empathy means being willing, and taking the time to see people who are different, as capable of love, grief, happiness, and not just as members of a monolithic group.

And Authenticity doesn't mean you have to act exactly the same way at work that you do at home. It just means that both expressions are representative of who you really are. Your work self is a facet of your true self, not a mask.

One study found that the greater employees feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement, and self-reported performance. As a Harvard Business Review article pointed out, "the benefits of authenticity are clear, highlighting the importance of creating workplaces that welcome authenticity. And in addition to our findings above, we also found that a full 75% of employees said they wanted their coworkers to share more about their true selves."

So how does one achieve that, especially in the workplace, where there is no much emphasis on professionalism and work ethic on one side and compliant behaviors and "fitting in" on the other? The HBR article points to three things:

  1. Encourage authenticity among leaders. Authentic leaders are genuine and honest, admit error, and stay true to what they believe. When leaders are true to themselves and admit their mistakes or failures, it gives others permission to do the same, changing the norms of the workplace.
  2. Welcome authenticity from employees. Creating an open-minded, accepting environment in which differences in perspective and opinions are encouraged will set the foundation for an authentic workplace. Employees should be encouraged to express themselves and not simply follow the crowd, because differences in viewpoints often lead to innovative, novel solutions.
  3. Be true to one's self. It empowers individuals in the workplace, facilitating feelings of control and mastery, which then lead to greater job satisfaction and happiness. This is a crucial point because a sense of empowerment is essential to job satisfaction and engagement. If leaders promote authenticity in the workplace, feelings of empowerment among employees at all levels can be enhanced.

As we continue to work with D&I and Design Thinking, we see the need of Empathy and Authenticity in developing spaces that are safe, non-judgmental and open, which in turn leads to better performance and profitability. People will always be diverse and multi-dimensional and we must not try to impose rules of Empathy and Authenticity on everyone, but as we look at greater engagement with and better results from people, companies need to look at how they can make everyone comfortable with these attributes.