When the topics of diversity and inclusion come up, I have found that the conversation is far too often focused solely on getting more diverse candidates in the pipeline. Having been in the industry for quite some time, however, I know that diversity doesn't mean anything if we don't create an inclusive workplace environment once people are hired. Establishing trust is the key component to doing that. This is especially true in cyber security, where trust is the cornerstone of the entire industry.
I became aware of the value of trust in my technology career working in the dot.com era in the late 1990s. I was young and female, but it didn't matter to my manager because he and I were working toward the same goal. He hired me because I knew things about IT networks that he didn't. And he certainly knew things about running a company that I didn't. I brought my best to him when discussing networks and security, and I had the confidence to explore issues and bring them to his attention. Then, with my insights, he would make decisions that were right for the company.
I know that diversity doesn't mean anything if we don't create an inclusive workplace environment once people are hired.
Because of this trusting relationship, I grew tremendously and was able to optimize my potential. We worked through some rather tough things: security networks in a country divided by civil war, Y2K, technology changes, and growth that was critical to security communications networks. It did not even occur to me that the situation was unique until much later in my career. We had built a culture of honesty and trust that was important to us, and that’s how we operated.
I believe there are common themes that we all need to be successful – in your personal life as well as in your career. We all want to grow. We all want to feel like we belong. And we all want to be trusted and valued for our contributions. These common basic needs that we all share are powerful reminders that in the end we all want the same things. However, because we are diverse human beings with different backgrounds and identities, we will not all follow the same path to achieve our goals.
Now is a good time to point out that 'diversity' and 'inclusion' – while often partnered together – are actually two very different things. Diversity is the who and the what, and inclusion is the how. For example, much attention is given to diversity – generating a diverse pipeline and getting people interested in cyber security before they reach the workforce – but equal attention needs to be given to consciously including people from diverse backgrounds once they reach the workforce. And we need to continue to be consciously inclusive throughout their career.
We all want to grow. We all want to feel like we belong. And we all want to be trusted and valued for our contributions.
Furthermore, different stages of a career require different areas of attention. In my experience, many new managers fail to recognize the nuances of individual circumstances. It takes a lot of effort and awareness to build a plan for employees that is centered around trust and inclusion through growth. Conscious inclusion requires paying attention to the individual needs and context of each person, working throughout their career to establish and build relationships.
Each employee has a unique evolution of purpose. Throughout their career, life changes and things happen – the challenges they face today may not be the challenges they face tomorrow. It is equally important to be aware of the natural evolution that people go through over time: people are ready for different growth at different stages of their career. It is vital to have a high level of trust that encourages discussion and exploration of new paths as those changes occur. This ensures that the organization, the manager, and the employee all get what they need from the relationship. Organizations benefit most when their employees thrive.
It takes a lot of effort and awareness to build a plan for employees that is centered around trust and inclusion through growth.
Establishing this trust is not only the role of the manager; there is also a certain amount of personal empowerment required. Employees need to recognize when they have a trusting relationship with their manager, be aware of when and how their needs change, and take accountability for their own growth. The cardinal rule I often tell people is: you care about your own growth more than anyone else so it's up to you to ensure that you are leveraging the trust that you've built. You need to build a plan that gets you where you want and deserve to go.
Bob Dylan sings about trust: “Trust yourself to find the path where there is no if and when…” To find your path, you need to be able to trust yourself, your manager, and your organization. The beginning of the year is a great time to look ahead and plan your path. I encourage all of you to also ask, “How do I inspire trust?” If you are a manager, how do you inspire trust with your employees to ensure that they can come to you when they face new life challenges or discover that they would like to explore a new path forward? As an employee, how do you inspire trust so that your organization and manager are in a position to recognize new paths and opportunities for you? And how do we all enable mutually beneficial conversations that allow us to continue to grow and flourish indefinitely?
Inclusive leadership begins with an inner commitment to self development. When we are more mindful of the impact of our biases, perspectives, and interactions, we create a more inclusive environment for everyone.
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