What does an inclusive workplace look like today? Andréa Richardson, Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Zeno Group, emphasizes understanding various generation’s preferred working styles and allowing employees to thrive in custom ways that fit their needs. Andréa also shares how reverse mentorship programs open minds and conversations between different levels of management.
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DOUG: How does an inclusive workplace look different today than it did ten years ago?
ANDRÉA: Well, Doug, thank you so much for having me. I mean, I love talking about this topic because I think it doesn’t get a lot of focus sometimes. But if you think about it, right now we’ve got, what, four generations in the workforce today. And so, some companies may skew younger, some may skew a little bit older. I think it’s just a really fun challenge to really think about what inclusion means for your organization given your workforce.
DOUG: Yeah, and that’s a great point you bring up about age and potential ageism. What are some things to keep in mind when you’re trying to make sure a workforce of people in their sixties, I’m not quite sure who I’m talking about here, work with people in their twenties? And for some people they thrive on it, for others it can be really challenging. How do you bridge that given your role?
ANDRÉA: Yeah, absolutely. So, the first thing I do is really find ways to identify the working styles of various generations. Specifically, for example, we know that the twenty-something year-olds, they thrive on digital media and digital-related products, whereas even for myself, I find myself like printing things out and wanting to hold onto paper, right? So, I think just really understanding the working styles and the values of each of the varying generations, but also helping them understand each other’s style. I think that really creates a lot of learning and creates more cohesive working teams for sure.
DOUG: Yeah, and that makes it seem like you really need to keep in mind flexibility and diversity when putting an office plan together, and we can get into the whole challenges with hybrid working as well.
ANDRÉA: Over the last two years, we’ve had to turn what the office looks like on its head and really find out how we can be the most productive. I think one of the strategies that we employ right now is we take a look at each generation and the way they like to work, how productive their working style is as it’s influenced by virtual or in-person, and we try to almost create custom, flexible work environments, right? So, you may be the type of person that can only or may thrive by only coming into the office once a week versus someone that might prefer to be there four times a week. So, it’s really an interesting challenge right now.
DOUG: Yeah, it’s also interesting that different job functions require different locations. I read early on in the pandemic, The Wall Street Journal said 38% of workers could in theory effectively work as well remotely and didn’t need to be on-site, while the others just had to physically be there. Is it an extra challenge that as communicators, we’re sort of in the minority group of that 38% that has more flexibility, but we might be representing clients where their teams don’t have that flexibility. Is that an important awareness that needs to take place?
ANDRÉA: So, I think it’s important for us to be able to flex our approach, being cognizant of the other work experience that may be different than ours, right? I also think that it’s really important to think about it from an equity perspective. So, for people that cannot work from home, right, like what does their work-life balance look like, right? We all have the benefit of like running to the gym right afterward, right, when you work from home, but what does that look like for someone who absolutely cannot do their job from home?
DOUG: Yeah, and they’re also might be a socioeconomic piece to all of that. Some people have less comfort showing their home, and it can become readily apparent what your lifestyle might be. That can be really stressful for people, understandably.
ANDRÉA: Absolutely. We’ve experienced this with newer entrants into our workforce, right? So, for example, if you’re an intern or an entry-level employee, you may have four roommates, right? And so, that might mean you have to do your job from a very small space or a closet, right? And I think in that case, to offer the flexibility for a paid WeWork type space or encourage them to work from a coffee shop, I think it’s just really important right now to be flexible, and as managers be in tune with our employees and colleagues to really understand what makes them thrive. So, if you don’t have a big, beautiful home, you may be embarrassed to share the space via virtual environments.
DOUG: Yeah. So, how can we get leaders of organizations, and is it up to the leaders to be as thoughtful about these topics as you are? Or is it more from the ground up?
ANDRÉA: I think it’s everyone’s job, right? I think sometimes leaders may not be aware of it because they don’t have that lived experience. But I do think while it is everyone’s job, that’s a part of leadership, right? It is our responsibility to look out for the people that work with us and work on our client teams, etc. And it’s also important for us to be comfortable stepping out of our comfort zones to tackle these types of business challenges because to your earlier point around the workforce ten years ago, things have changed. And that is a mantle that we pick up as leaders to tackle these challenges head-on.
DOUG: So, you do a lot of DE&I work with your clients. So, what are some of the suggestions you’re making to them? And then we can get into what are the strategies to make sure that they take those suggestions because that’s always a challenge for people in communications.
ANDRÉA: So, as a communicator, I have been really most recently suggesting conversations. That’s a great starting point to understand the lived experiences of folks on your teams and in your workforce. I think that really allows leaders to have a more open aperture or perspective on what people are really experiencing, right? And it’s almost like, well, if you hear directly from the folks that are being impacted, then you can make informed decisions around your business strategies and operations. So, communications is the greatest tool for really finding solutions for this problem.
DOUG: Yeah, and there’s a lot of sensitivity about how those conversations should be handled, whether people involved as leaders even have the standing, you know, do I have the standing to understand what a 23-year-old or 25-year-old might be experiencing because when I was in the workforce at that time, things were quite a bit different. How do you navigate that to make sure that your clients don’t make mistakes and bring up these conversations in a way that brings comfort to everyone and an opportunity to be heard?
ANDRÉA: Yeah, that’s such a great question. So, lately, we have been suggesting things like reverse mentorships, right? So, someone who may be an SVP or EVP, basically, pairing them with someone who is not of their generation, can offer a different perspective so that it once again opens their mind so that they don’t step in landmines that make people uncomfortable. That’s one of the great suggestions and strategies that we’ve used, and there’s been a lot of positive learning. As leaders, it’s really important to make people feel empowered to approach you with the issues that they may be experiencing. And so, I think more than ever in hybrid and/or virtual environments, it’s important for leaders to have an open door policy in lieu of actually having a door that’s open at the office.
DOUG: Yeah, I think you make such a great point that you have to create that open door comfort of bringing things together. So, I had an experience years ago where I was in a conversation, and later the more senior person who was there was like, “Doug, why did you say that? I think that person felt really offended”. I was like, “Oh my God, what? How?” They explained how it came across as opposed to what I was intending, but it gave me a chance quickly to clarify what I was actually talking about, and it made a big difference in comfort, because otherwise, I have no idea I had offended someone, they’re just upset, and it just builds and builds until it becomes a greater problem. Any final thoughts to leave us with? It’s really been such an informative discussion.
ANDRÉA: I would just say just be cognizant of the fact that it’s been an incredibly tough time for many people, right? And so, we as professionals and people being in the workforce for several decades, it’s very easy to get accustomed to the old way of doing things. So just reach out to someone that’s different than you and get some additional perspective because knowledge and learning never hurts, additional perspective is always a positive.
DOUG: That’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your great perspective with us in our audience.
ANDRÉA: Thank you for having me.