This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
I started my career at an advertising agency. I then gained experience in telecom before ending up at Virgin Mobile. I believe in the power of digital to tell stories. I’m passionate about ensuring brands speak to consumers like human beings. I recently moved out of the city, and I love having a big backyard. I am a proud uncle of 10 nieces and nephews. I’m also gay and have an amazing husband.
That’s a quick snapshot of who I am, but I’d like to think I’m more than just a combination of what I believe, do for a living, and love. I try to never define myself as one single thing.
With World Pride wrapping up this weekend in Toronto, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity, specifically in the workplace. It occurred to me that the best teams are representative of the community that the business serves. An organization is a collection of people (hopefully) working towards a common goal, and when those people come from various backgrounds with varying experiences, their ideas and solutions tend to be more diverse. Teams that blend different sorts of people tend to breed a culture that fosters innovation and fresh thinking.
I’m not an expert about how exactly a diverse team becomes greater than the sum of its parts, but I truly believe it does. Here is what I’ve learned along the way that has helped me create and manage a passionate team within an open and supportive environment at Virgin Mobile.
Be all that you are, not one part.
I work with a diverse team of individuals all of who possess a variety of business skills and personality traits. We’ve got team members who are sports fanatics, fashionistas, and music lovers. There are introverts, extroverts, vegetarians, jet-setters and parents. These categories only define a part of each of my colleagues, not all of them. I don’t believe you can define someone from one term.
I’ve never let my sexual orientation fully define who I am. It’s part of me, but I am so much more. I don’t hide my orientation, but I also don’t feel the need to broadcast it. If someone asks me what my plans are for the evening, I’ll happily tell them I’m grabbing dinner with my husband. In the workplace, I’m a collaborator, a leader and a colleague, and none of those aspects of my working life have anything to do with my sexuality.
Create a safe space
As a leader, I believe it’s imperative that managers help create workplaces with an inclusive culture, one that enhances cross-cultural awareness and skills through communication, training, and education. This is critical for creating fair, supportive and safe workplaces.
Managers need to be both proactive and reactive to create a safe work environment. Proactively, it’s about being aware of your team’s dynamic and creating a social culture where people feel encouraged and comfortable expressing who they are. A team often takes its cues from its leadership, so it’s up to managers to take an interest in who their employees are, not just what they do for the business.
The need to be reactive rises when ignorance occurs, either through intentional or accidental insensitivity. This needs to be addressed immediately. It’s important to let colleagues know that intolerant and discriminatory behaviour will never be tolerated. Insensitive jokes and casual remarks can send an unmistakable message, even when not directed at one particular employee. It may seem a little like elementary school to remind people that their words hurt, but it’s important to make a conscious effort to give all our colleagues (and people in general) the acceptance and respect they deserve.
It’s also important to ensure you are well versed in your company’s discrimination policy, and know also about where to direct coworkers who may need additional assistance. It isn’t just about having a policy in place, it’s walking the talk.
I’m lucky enough to have worked in environments that allow me to feel comfortable being myself. Hiding who you are must be incredibly difficult. This is not to say that this approach works for everyone. At the end of the day, what you choose to share about yourself is a personal decision. My only hope is that the decisions you make are based on preference, rather than fear.
It’s about fit
When applying for a position, look for a company with values that match your own. Understand what kind of culture you value, and seek out an organization that fosters that same environment. For most people, work is a central part of their lives so it’s critical to work in a place where you feel happy, valued and supported.
If you discover an organization is a bad fit, it’s okay to walk away. I would never pour my energy into an environment where I wasn’t accepted and respected.
The more we can accept and respect each other in the workplace (and in life), the more things hum along smoothly. And everyone, no matter what gender, background, title or sexual orientation, can work together towards a common goal. At the end of the day, it isn’t about where you come from or who you love, it’s about the whole of who you are.
Joseph Ottorino is managing director at Virgin Mobile Canada.
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