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What Top Leaders Get About the Importance of Diversity in the Workplace

What Top Leaders Get About the Importance of Diversity in the Workplace

Genetics science tells us that life itself thrives via diversity. Your company does too.

Within your company, very different people with amazingly different backgrounds can produce astounding results providing they work together. This is the opposite of companies where a lack of diversity can lead to monolithic thinking.

It is up to you, the leader within your organization, to make sure diversity works well. This provides you with the largest of talent pools to hire from and the most rapid integration of ideas.

In this article, I will look into the reason why some leaders are reluctant to workplace diversity and how you can embrace it for success.

Resistance to diversity

It is worth noting that the opposing elements of comfort and stress.

We humans like the familiar. Things we know and understand are comforting, easy to contend with and lack material stress. This explains why modern Silicon Valley has had a diversity problem. Not only have technical degree earners remained largely white and male, but the established executives are as well and find no stress in hiring people like themselves.

These managers and executives may lack any overt prejudice, but when hiring, they “go with what they know”.

Adding diversity to a workplace increases the workload and stress for some leaders. They have more to contend with, less understanding of the subtle cultural elements, and different team interpersonal frictions.

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It is understandable, though not acceptable, that these managers take the easy way out and hire people for which they are familiar and for which they have a trust bin performance within a team.

But diversity is like manure; the added stress stinks but it helps you grow. Part of diversity expansion in any organization depends on managers understanding that long-term diversity is healthy for the organization and rewarding for managers and their teams.

Diversity requires work

In my book Tough Things First, I speak to that subject – doing the tough things first. They are those monumental and difficult tasks on which we humans tend to procrastinate, and by doing so, fail.

Diversity is a tough thing. It requires real effort. It requires executive and organization-wide commitment. It requires personal and corporate discipline to get it done well. A diverse organization left alone will not likely succeed.

In the list of tactical processes that follows, you will see that successful corporate diversity requires active participation, both in weeding out those elements that block functional diversity but also that accelerate its effective adoption.

How prejudice blocks functional diversity

While I was the CEO of Micrel, my staff had a meeting with Human Resources to discuss which universities we should recruit from. One of the proposed universities happened to be the one I graduated from. A vice president, who was unaware of this fact, said “no good students come from that school.”

He felt pretty awful when the VP of HR informed him that it was my alma mater. He had a tough time looking me in the eye.

I was not in the least offended by his comment. I put my arm around him and told him I appreciated his feelings. By choosing not to be offended, I was able to maintain a good relationship with him.

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Indeed, one of the best ways to overcome prejudice – and thus enhance diversity – is to never be offended by comments and to encourage not being offended as part of corporate culture.

Remember, everyone has a right to their own opinion. Only unwarranted opinions lack value.

Key then to a diverse company is this lack of prejudice because diversity becomes adversity when prejudice abounds. Contrary-wise, diversity without prejudice is wonderful.

Helpful diversity tactics

When establishing your corporate culture, your policy and procedures, or even just chatting with employees, there are a number of tactics that deal with prejudice in the workplace and ensure a diverse and productive organization.

1. Look for all the varietals

Prejudice comes in varieties – politics, religion, race, education, social status and many other personal biases.

Encouraging thoughtful reception of everyone’s opinion goes a long way to quieting any type of prejudice.

2. Know that prejudice is universal

Statistics show that everyone harbors some form of prejudice (though most people won’t admit they have any).

Acknowledging that this is a common human trait allows you to think in terms of combatting all forms of prejudice, not a small subset. With this holistic viewpoint of humanity, you can address the disease, not a set of symptoms.

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3. Be the example

Never say anything unkind about anyone. If something you say or do is not edifying and uplifting, it likely is evil.

In the workplace, where competing ideas are shared and debated, negativity is anti-diversity – it is a form of in-your-face denial. But positive attitudes cannot be universal within a company if its leadership is negative.

4. No swearing

I know some people are having a “you must be kidding” moment, but know that swearing builds barriers. Not everyone is immune to harsh language, and much of it comes from places of anger.

We had a zero-tolerance policy for vulgar or condescending language at Micrel for 37 years and it worked, as evidenced by us having the lowest employee turnover rate in our industry (and 36 profitable years).

5. Reward kindness

Promote kindness and understanding by rewarding employees who demonstrate these traits.

People do what you watch and what you reward. If you want a positive and supportive organizational culture, and one that embraces diversity as a norm, make sure the underlying mechanics of diversity are recognized.

6. Hire broadly

You need to hire great talent but often you have multiple candidates from very different backgrounds. You can foster diversity by hiring employees that don’t fit any one mold.

At Micrel, we had nearly 1,000 people with about every nationality background and culture you can think of. I believe this made Micrel one of the more interesting places to work, caused employees to constantly think outside of their boxes, and made us one of most successful semiconductor companies in the industry.

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7. Respect

Having respect and dignity for every individual was another Micrel cultural pillar. When you look upon most prejudices, they come from a position of lacking respect. This in turn projects upon the recipient and reduces their dignity.

By making respect a core value, your organization simultaneously increases the effectiveness of diversity while reducing the isolation caused by diminished dignity.

8. Honesty

Nobody can work effectively when trust is lacking. Trust begins with honesty.

Integrity – doing what is right even when nobody is looking – is the highest form of trust.

9. Encourage involvement

Acceptance can be tacit or involved. Putting yourself into the other person’s world, no matter how slightly, communicates open acceptance and thus trust.

In order to help foster acceptance of different cultures and nationalities at Micrel, I made it a practice to learn to communicate with employees in their native tongues. Doing this promoted good feelings among employees who knew they were respected no matter what their nationality or culture was.

Diversity and friction

For workplace diversity to succeed, the friction between people of different sexes, genders, races, and cultures must be reduced, and preferably be eliminated. This can only happen with an overarching corporate culture based in trust and kindness.

Companies that create such cultures will dominate in the global economy because they will draw from the largest talent pools and have low-friction environments that allow everyone to focus on doing great things.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn is an inventor, entrepreneur, investor, angel, bestselling author and the longest serving CEO of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley.

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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

If you work in a company office:
You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

If you work from a home office:
Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

Chair and Table

If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

If you work in a company office:
Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

If you work from a home office:
Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

Clutter

Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

Room Color

The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

Room Temperature

Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

Room Scents

Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

Try using these scents to stay focused:

  • Pine – Increases alertness
  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

Noise Level

The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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Air Quality

Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

Different Spaces

If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

Organization of People

Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

Idea Storage

Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

Refreshment

Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

Bring in Nature

We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

Digital Space

For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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