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Solidarity Without Sameness: The Key To Working Together To make the most of diverse teams, leaders need to foster solidarity and a culture of community and belonging. But, it also comes down to individual employees to play their part in acknowledging and respecting differences.

By Cheri Beranek

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) policies are more than just feeling good about ourselves. Diversity drives innovation, and companies that innovate in today's fast-paced environment are the ones that come out on top. Socially-responsible companies are attracting more demanding consumers. But the more diversity we bring to a team, the more potential for crossed interests and differing opinions about what social responsibility implies, which can quickly escalate into conflict.

This is where building solidarity comes in.

Solidarity is not thinking and behaving exactly the same. It's rallying support as a team, welcoming and respecting open communication even when opinions are different, and agreeing to the course of action that best considers the company and its people. Fostering solidarity, not sameness, is the key to unlocking the benefits of a diverse team.

Related: Solving Organizational Diversity Is Still an Issue: The Cost Is Steep, But the Rewards Are High

Welcome the benefits of embracing diversity as a team

Everyone has differences, and the more diverse backgrounds, upbringings and histories we bring onto a team, the more opportunities for differences to exist. But from boards and management teams to organizing a charity fundraiser event, embracing group diversity brings more perspectives, ideas and alternatives that spur innovation and improve productivity. Diverse teams focus more on facts and process them more carefully, resulting in smarter decisions.

A 2015 McKinsey report found that embracing diversity also improves the bottom line. Companies in the top quartile of ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have higher financial returns over the industry average; companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely. Diverse teams that work well together outpace the competition.

Companies seek to advance diversity at all levels. Still, for those diverse minds to work well together as a team, they need solidarity — "unity, association, reciprocation, a good community or social interest, gratuity, justice and respect for human dignity." With a culture of solidarity, companies can more successfully implement DEI and ESG initiatives that reduce social and economic inequality within the organization, improving efficiency, productivity and the company's reputation.

Related: How Diversity Helped Bring My Company Together

Align everyone around individual responsibilities

Building and encouraging team solidarity requires an established set of values around personal responsibility to contribute to the effort. Sincere acknowledgment and mutual support build a culture of community, which can foster solidarity, but solidarity cannot be forced. It is a co-responsibility for the moral well-being of all others as equal partners on a common mission. Each person with their individual and collective interests needs to embrace solidarity around acknowledging and respecting our differences while arriving at decisions that best serve the collective "we."

People pick up on culture fast through the example of their leadership, so leaders should demonstrate acknowledgment and support of diversity to build that sense of solidarity in their teams. There are many worlds of thought with which I disagree, but I work hard to respect them and be understanding of the background from which they originate. So much of our foundational backgrounds embed themselves into who we are today. While I can't even begin to fully understand every person's background or how they got to where they are, I can at least respect the fact that it played a part in creating them, even when we disagree.

We can also build a community culture by recognizing the dynamic interdependence between all team members, emphasizing the need for dialogue, compassion, and understanding across a team. Start by making sure everyone feels they belong.

We just had our annual meeting, where everyone — those stationed outside Minneapolis and some even outside the country — comes home to the "mothership" to celebrate everything in Clearfield. We start by discussing the upcoming year, host lots of learning during the day and hold parties every evening. Especially in this new hybrid world, bringing everyone together is critical to maintaining their sense of solidarity.

Related: How to Promote Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

See everyone's potential equally

When I became a grandma, I developed a new perspective to understand inclusion in the face of diversity better: Look at people as babies. My six-month-old grandson is slightly over 19 pounds, while my 15-month-old is approaching 20 pounds. The older one is small for his age, while the younger one is big. To look at them, they seem totally different. And yet, I look at them as very much the same. They are both my grandsons, with the same potential for growth despite their differences. When we look at babies, whether grandchildren, children, or someone else's children, we so quickly look at them and see their potential. Each one is equally capable of becoming the next future star performer. If we can see the potential in babies, why can't we still see it when they grow up to become adults?

As leaders, seeing equal potential in everyone allows us to respect what their differences can bring to the team — as team members, seeing our peers full of potential will enable them to achieve their best for the benefit of the rest of the company. Look at someone and think about whose baby they were. Imagine someone caring for them, praying for them and trying to open doors for them; someone who saw them brimming with potential. Encourage others to imagine the same and help instill diverse teams with a greater sense of oneness and unity.

As former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon put it, "A world of peace and solidarity can only be accomplished by acknowledging and celebrating [sic] our diversity." Diversity and inclusion are more than just inviting people in: We need everyone aligned around creating an environment where people feel comfortable being their authentic selves and bringing those diverse perspectives to the table. Leaders need to build it into their team culture, but it also comes down to individual employees to take on their responsibility. Once someone takes charge, solidarity can quickly start to spread.
Cheri Beranek

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO of Clearfield

Cheri Beranek is the CEO of Clearfield and a 2021 Minnesota Business Hall of Fame inductee. Under her leadership, Clearfield has grown from a concept to a market cap of more than $500 million, providing optical-fiber management and connectivity solutions across North America.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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