Mindfulness: a Powerful Tool for Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

 

It is widely recognized that diverse teams produce greater returns. But this is not the case if teammates from an array of different backgrounds are not sustained by conditions within an organization that help them thrive. A quick way to kill innovation, trust, and invaluable critical feedback in decision-making is a toxic workplace in which employees sense it is too great of a professional or personal risk to fully express their ideas and concerns, or in which decisions are made with limited regard to such input.

In order to cultivate effective diverse teams and support them to reach their full potential, it is vital for an organization to establish an equitable and inclusive workplace climate. Psychological safety, analysis of different perspectives, and emotional intelligence are three key factors to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace optimal for high-functioning, diverse teams. These characteristics can be drawn upon through mindfulness practice in combination with behavioral design in the workplace. 

Psychological safety: Psychological safety is paramount to the creation of an inclusive workplace that values the diversity of contributions within teams. As previously reviewed in the article “Mindfulness Benefits in the Workplace“, a culture of mindfulness can heighten psychological safety in teams by endowing the practitioners with enhanced ability to give others their attention, to perceive the needs of others less ego-centrically, and to create a nonjudgmental space that encourages each team member to express their thoughts. Psychological safety is often compromised within work teams, or entire organizational cultures, when a culture communicating a high degree of urgency or competitiveness takes precedence over valuing the contributions of each team member. This may be observable in meetings, for example, when dominant voices and unheard voices are featured. Psychological safety can be promoted structurally within organizations by explicitly designing mindful and inclusive practices within teams, such as establishing a communication protocol in which each team member is given space and full attention to have their ideas recognized and meaningfully incorporated into the discussion without ridicule or marginalization. 

​Perspective-taking: One of the most significant potential contributions of diverse and equitable teams in organizations is the rich offering of distinct and alternative perspectives that may result in a range of benefits, such as enhanced service, problem-solving, negotiation, relationship-building, and innovation. A collective establishment of trust to share ideas facilitates analysis of diverse perspectives, which has been found to lead to more effective problem-solving in organizations (Bohnet, 2016). Further, diversity in the composition of work groups combined with mindfulness practice enhances perspective-taking capacity in a team, or organization. The workplace climate supporting diverse thought and perspective-taking encourages team members to share without fear of reprisal, resulting in increased learning and innovation. However, to encourage full sharing of perspectives and insights, the presence of diverse teams and good intentions are insufficient; structural equity is also needed. Perspective-taking can be advanced through mindfulness and behavioral design practices, such as a routinized collective reflection and analysis of discussion question sets for key policy-making decisions. Assigning a “devil’s advocate” or two is an additional practice to help challenge a commonly held perspective and think more broadly. It is also critical to develop policies that are inclusively informed and sustained by an array of perspectives and input from diverse stakeholders.

Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and understand emotions in yourself and in others, and the ability to apply this awareness for regulation of your behavior and relationships (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009). Emotional intelligence is central to an organization’s success, as it is recognized as “the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence” (Bradberry, 2014). As thriving, diverse teams are largely dependent upon cohesive relationships, emotional intelligence is a foundational quality in the development of personnel to create healthy relationships and sustain a diverse and equitable organization. Daniel Goleman, a reknown researcher of emotional intelligence, identifies empathy as an underlying key competency driving its successful application (2004). The practice of mindfulness is shown to generate empathy, which is necessary for the development of emotional intelligence to better understand oneself and others, and to produce stronger relationships across difference.

Organizations that seek to develop a more equitable and inclusive workplace will intentionally design an environment that values psychological safety, perspective-taking, and emotional intelligence. Mindfulness practice in combination with behavioral design are powerful tools for the cultivation of these qualities. To this end an array of exercises may be integrated into the protocols of teams and through their application, an organization will position itself to help its diverse teams thrive.

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