4 tips for a more inclusive environment

Four tips for a more inclusive environment

Creating a diverse and inclusive environment was once a passion of mine. Now it’s a burning fire. Having worked on many different teams, in different industries, and in different continents during my professional career, I have witnessed the incredible results that can be achieved by teams who embrace the unique perspectives and experiences of each team member. And I’ve often been asked to share my experience and what I have learnt about inclusion along the way.

When it comes to building an inclusive team, we all have a part to play. Whether you’re new to the team, welcoming someone else who’s new, or simply striving to create a more inclusive environment within your current team, I hope sharing my insights may make it a bit easier.

Vanguard HR Chief John James offers four tips for an inclusive workplace

Immerse yourself

If I’m changing locations or teams, I take some time to assimilate to my new environment. It’s helpful to observe local customs and team practices—things that seem as simple as personal greetings, fashion choices, or meeting “norms” may be quite different from one situation to the next. For a change as big as moving to a new city or country, I also make sure to learn about local sports, cuisines, hobbies, and events; and I look to my new team to help me get up to speed.

When I was put in charge of Vanguard UK/Europe in 2015, I chose a local football team (soccer in the U.S.) to get passionate about. I put time into picking a team that matched my personal values, and then I wove the team’s results, history, and culture into the local story when talking about Vanguard’s strategy for building a growing business. It was a fun way to connect with my new colleagues, helping them understand both my character and the vision for the business.

Make connections

I gave the example of using a sports team to communicate with my colleagues, but that metaphor may not resonate with everyone. Knowing that, I also try to connect with each of them on an individual level. I treat every meeting and person I interact with as the most important interaction I will have that day, irrespective of location, hierarchy, race, gender, or department. This is a personal value that drives me to ensure we all get a fair shot. By sharing our diverse experiences, we can feel safe questioning the status quo and empowering each other to be a unique part of the team.

I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to understand an individual and what makes them tick. I am always amazed at how hearing a person’s story and learning what drives them can completely change the type of relationship you have at a more personal level. When you know the hurdles that have been overcome to be where the person is today, you far better appreciate their capabilities to maximize their impact and help a team get a little better every day.

Look back to move forward

As a forward-looking person, I feel most energized envisioning what could be. But creating an inclusive environment also means understanding what came before you. I have learnt that I must consciously ask questions to understand the history of what, why, and how the team operates before seeking to influence. Taking the time to do my homework shows respect for what the team has already achieved and better allows an outsider like me to give informed input as we look to the future.

When I first worked in the U.S. with Vanguard in 2008, I was struck by how many times I wanted to comment (and critique) what our key intermediary clients were doing compared to what I had seen be successful elsewhere. I realized that instead, I needed to ask why. There was so much context and history worth absorbing to help frame my contribution to the conversation. Today I am super conscious of a new member to a group, asking questions to better understand their background while sharing team history to help them understand where we’ve come from and where we’re headed. I’ve found this exchange of information to bring the best out of the diverse experiences and personalities in the room.

Dare to be different

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is to remain true to yourself. You bring valuable new ideas and experiences to the table. Share them with your team as you immerse yourself in your new environment. Although it can be intimidating to join a new team, this change is most often exactly what the group needs. Just do it at the right pace.

My most recent transition led me not only to another country, but also to an unfamiliar role. When I first started as Chief Human Resource Officer, I had big shoes to fill. I constantly asked myself what my predecessor would do in certain situations or how she would lead the team. Finally, I woke up one day and realized I’m not in the role to do it exactly the way she did. I had to remind myself that I was chosen to lead HR because of who I am, what I bring to the organization, and how I can personally deliver on Vanguard’s mission. I challenge you to adopt the same mindset.

My big thing is, fostering inclusion is ultimately about unleashing the team to achieve their best. The less each individual worries about proving their own contribution, the more a team feels empowered to step up in such a change. That is what the best leaders and high performing individuals do, they make teams better. While it may seem a harsh reality, it is not about you as an individual. It is about the team as a whole achieving great results for clients.

Creating an inclusive team environment may seem daunting—it’s a commitment I must renew each and every day. But by working and continuously improving together, we can bring out the best in everyone.

-John James, Managing Director of Global Human Resources (CHRO) at Vanguard

LinkedIn John James

If you’d like to learn more about my background, please visit my profile on LinkedIn.


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