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The Workplace

Empathy in the workplace: A toolkit

The @Work Toolkit is a collection of additional resources and tips that might be useful when discussing the topic with your team.

“Empathy represents the foundation skill for all the social competencies important for work.”

Source: Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.

Definitions

Diversity: The presence of differences within a given setting. In the workplace, that can include (but is not limited to) differences in race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, and socioeconomic class.

Equity: The act of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual.

Inclusion: The practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. This means that every employee feels comfortable and supported by the organization when it comes to being their authentic selves.
Source: Built In

How to practice empathy

Are you comfortable when people start to start to talk about their emotions and their life experiences that have been difficult? Remember, empathy is a skill that can be improved with practice, so try to understand where your baseline is but don’t let it hinder your willingness to practice and improve. Julie Corliss, Executive Editor of the Harvard Health Letter, offers some tips for practicing empathetic behavior: 

  • Be curious, but ask questions sensitively. Assume you don’t know how the other person feels about a topic. Try asking “I might see this [topic] differently than you. What’s your experience? How do you see it?”
  • Once you ask for another’s point of view, listen actively. Face the person, and focus on them while you listen. Don’t interrupt or plan what you are going to say next. If negative emotions come up, don’t offer suggestions unless you are specifically asked. 
  • Finally, when you ask someone for their point of view, and they offer it, express appreciation. For example, “Thanks for letting me know your thoughts on this.” 

Empathy is not the same as agreement, but asking for input and then listening is a way to make others feel respected. 

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Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

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The Workplace Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

Why is workplace DEI important?

Ineffective diversity, equity and inclusion was cited as a key contributor to so-called ‘Toxic Culture’, acknowledged by researchers as the biggest driver behind the massive quit rates that drove The Great Resignation. Though they are part of the DEI solution, women and diverse workers were most affected by poor workplace culture. In this video, we’ll hear what research says about DEI, why this matters to you and how empathy can unlock a better result in the workplace.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
A survey of nearly 900 employees found that 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders were more engaged, which led to stronger employee retention. Source: Catalyst

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Joe Mahoney is the National Assigning Editor for Visuals at iPondr. Mahoney was a staff photographer and Director of Multimedia for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver for a decade. In 2000 and 2003, he was part of the photo teams at the News that won Pulitzer Prizes for Breaking News Photography. After the paper closed, he helped form the investigative news start-up, I-News, and later became the Director of Multimedia for the PBS affiliate in Denver when they merged. Mahoney started his career with the Associated Press. He and his family live in Colorado with Shiloh the Wonder Dog and spend too much time playing hockey.

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The Workplace Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

How companies win by leading with empathy

Organizations experience exponential success by creating cultures where diversity and empathy thrive.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
A survey of nearly 900 employees found that 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders were more engaged, which led to stronger employee retention. Source: Catalyst

Tumult in the workplace these last several years has given researchers a chance to understand why people quit jobs and what increases the likelihood they will stay. When companies and organizations fail to lead with empathy and  prioritization of diversity and inclusion, it can affect morale in the workforce and a company’s bottom line. A Sloan Business Review study found that disrespect in the workplace and poor DEI practices are 10 times more predictive of quitting than pay. Culture influences thoughts of leaving more than a company’s response to Covid or its benefits policy– by far.   

“What I’ve seen in my experiences is that some people in leadership roles believe that people who are different from them are not as good as them. Leaders can’t be exclusionary because they will exclude opportunities for innovation,” says Dr. Patricia Anderson, a leadership strategist and author of “You Know Less Than You Don’t Know.” Changing an organization’s culture must be more focused than checking boxes so that the optics look good, Anderson believes. 

Challenges in the workforce — resignation rates, for example, especially for high quality hires who are women and diverse — are essentially people challenges. They are also people opportunities. According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, companies that actively foster positive workplace culture are winning… big. The future will only bring more scrutiny of poor workplace culture environments; from consumers, investors, and C-suite leaders who increasingly see the risk to brand, reputation, and loss of opportunity that so-called “toxic culture” environments lead to. 

Here’s some good news for any enterprise, though: The solution for a better workplace culture is not rocket science; it’s empathy, a skill that can be developed. When empathy skills go up, so do results.  

According to a study conducted by Catalyst, 76% of people with highly empathic senior leaders report often or always being engaged, compared to only 32% of people with less empathic senior leaders. The Catalyst and Sloan studies show that environments where empathy and respect are present, do better at retaining women and diverse workers. This is true across sectors, in all types of work.  

A financial institution can foster positive or negative culture, and receive the positive or negative results from the environment that is created, as well as a manufacturing facility.  

It turns out, empathy practice pairs really well with learning diversity, equity and inclusion concepts. The very best form of empathy practice is to learn about the life experiences of others, especially people whose life experiences are different. In an article by Nathan Skillen, Stanford professor Jennifer Aakenr reflects on neuroscience studies, saying, “our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. Human stories evoke and develop empathy, and ring the bell of learning retention.” 

Getting on the journey toward a more inclusive and equitable workplace can also help companies attract top-level talent from across different ethnic backgrounds and the younger generation of workers.  Consider, Deena Pierott, a DEI pioneer and author, who experienced a total absence of diversity efforts while working for the City of Portland in the 1990’s. “I kept having this weird feeling that I didn’t belong, nor was it overly welcoming to me, or other people of color.”   She went on to found and lead initiatives, becoming an author and expert on diversity in the workplace. Some 30 years later, at a keynote address at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, Pierott noticed that Gen Zers across all racial backgrounds tended to be open-minded when it came to learning about the importance of diversity. 

“While giving my keynote speech, I realized that 85% of the audience were young, white male students. They told me that they were there because they want to be a part of the solution,” Pierott says. “Some were raised in spaces where family members would say negative things about other cultures. The students wanted to go on their own journey of self-discovery. I left that meeting feeling hopeful about this next generation wanting to see more diversity and equity.” 

Across the generations, things have changed.

When empathy is instilled within an organization’s culture, inclusive behaviors become more organic over time. Anderson points out, as leaders create an environment that empowers employees to feel a sense of belonging, greater innovation, increased productivity and profits follow. 

“If you have the same sort of people thinking the same way without diversity of thought, your company will lack growth,” Anderson says. “If you’re being inclusive and bringing other types of individuals with different experiences, it can lead to different ideas and innovation. 

“When people from diverse backgrounds see others who look like them succeed in an organization, it inspires them to give everything because they see a path forward.” 

That’s the essence of what diversity, equity and inclusion learning and empathy skills offer; a path forward.

AR Shaw contributed reporting to this story.

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Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

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Sports in Society

Abandoning Offensive Mascots: A Toolkit

The @Work Toolkit is a collection of additional resources and tips that might be useful when discussing the topic with your team.

“Based on responses to Project Implicit questions, prejudice against Native Americans increased in the year after a mascot was removed — specifically among Ohio residents after the discontinuation of Chief Wahoo; and, after the removal of Chief Illiniwek, among residents not only of Illinois, but also among those of all other states.”

Source: University or Washington and Project Implicit

Definitions

National School Mascot Tracking Database – NCAI (National Congress of American Indians) initiative tracking K-12 schools native themed school mascots. This database enables them to identify, track, engage and educate those schools that are having active coversations about whether and how to change their mascots.

How to talk about racist legacies

Take on the role of community archivist. Some institutions continue to uphold monuments and memorials to historical figures that uphold oppressive views in the U.S. For example, the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, will be removed to the city’s Black History Museum for further input from citizens.

Take on the role of a researcher of your own community: What are some historical relics in your city or town? Make a list of these relics. They might take the form of statues, plaques, mascots, team names, historic sites, or memorials. In short, these items are any material tribute to the past. Choose one item on your list. Conduct some research on this relic. Who is being celebrated? What do you learn about this person or event? What historical background, if any, can you dig up? Then, start to think critically about this relic: How do you think we might rethink this relic in terms of our present? What stories does this relic leave out? How might it represent a more inclusive story of your community?

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Sports in Society

Deconstructing superstitions and rituals in sports

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Identity Census 2020 ramps up debate on race, identity

Multiethnic in America

“America is a country of presumptions. It presumes you are of a certain class and ethnicity. It presumes to know you, where you’re from, your identities and preferences. When it simply has no clue, it others you. God forbid you don’t fit in one of the pre-established boxes.” – Anna Parisi

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Dondre Stuetley

Dondre Stuetley is a New York based photographer with a BA in Fine Art from Pace University . His work examines the reclaiming of black identity and space within a societal oppressive state. Through portraiture, he question the roles of patriarchy, racism, homophobia and gender discrimination on the dismantling of black subjectivity.

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Identity

Signing while Black

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Episode Census 2020 ramps up debate on race, identity

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Dondre Stuetley

Dondre Stuetley is a New York based photographer with a BA in Fine Art from Pace University . His work examines the reclaiming of black identity and space within a societal oppressive state. Through portraiture, he question the roles of patriarchy, racism, homophobia and gender discrimination on the dismantling of black subjectivity.

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Identity Approaches to reparations for Black Americans

Paying reparations, one student loan at a time

Black women carry disproportionate amounts of student loan debt. For young college graduates, direct reparations that reduce or eliminate their student loan debt offer a sense of relief and hope for their future.

Video editing by Liz Moughon

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Sarahbeth Maney

Sarahbeth Maney also known as SB, is a 2021-22 New York Times photography fellow covering politics in Washington D.C. Originally from the California Bay Area, her personal work focuses on education, disability, and issues that disproportionately impact Black and brown communities. As a journalist, her goal is to further representation within the industry and portray each story as honestly as it exists.   Maney received a bachelor\'s degree in photojournalism from San Francisco State University in 2019, where she also served as The National Press Photographers Association chapter president. During that time, Maney interned at The San Francisco Chronicle, Flint Journal in Michigan and S.F. Examiner.   ​Most recently, she received a grant from the Pulitzer Center and Diversify Photo to continue documenting a story about pregnancy and housing insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.​ ​ Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, CNN, The Guardian, HuffPost, Bloomberg, Forbes, and among others. 

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Signing while Black

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Contributor

Sarahbeth Maney

Sarahbeth Maney also known as SB, is a 2021-22 New York Times photography fellow covering politics in Washington D.C. Originally from the California Bay Area, her personal work focuses on education, disability, and issues that disproportionately impact Black and brown communities. As a journalist, her goal is to further representation within the industry and portray each story as honestly as it exists.   Maney received a bachelor\'s degree in photojournalism from San Francisco State University in 2019, where she also served as The National Press Photographers Association chapter president. During that time, Maney interned at The San Francisco Chronicle, Flint Journal in Michigan and S.F. Examiner.   ​Most recently, she received a grant from the Pulitzer Center and Diversify Photo to continue documenting a story about pregnancy and housing insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic.​ ​ Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, TIME, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, CNN, The Guardian, HuffPost, Bloomberg, Forbes, and among others. 

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Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

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The Workplace Empathy

How companies win by leading with empathy

Organizations experience exponential success by creating cultures where diversity and empathy thrive

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Businesses run by culturally diverse teams were more than likely to develop newer products than homogenous leadership. Source: Economic Geography

Deena Pierott’s first foray into helping organizations initiate change in workplace culture occurred after she recognized that her employer lacked an understanding of leading with empathy and addressing issues of diversity and inclusion. 

“While working for the City of Portland in the early 1990s, the first thing I noticed was the lack of diversity,” said Pierott. “I kept having this weird feeling that I didn’t belong, nor was it overly welcoming to me, or other people of color.”

An absence of diversity efforts within that workplace inspired Pierott to find ways to create change, while also using it as an opportunity to teach. In 1995, years before most prominent companies and organizations embraced the need for diversity and inclusion, Pierott established a diversity council within the City of Portland.

“I created our diversity council at one of the largest bureaus at the City of Portland,” Pierott shared. “We created initiatives so that potential job candidates had a diverse interview panel, and we also had a diverse review board when companies would bid for city contracts. Topline management staff had equity and diversity goals that they needed to meet and they were reviewed annually.” 

Pierott eventually decided to assist other organizations with their DEI efforts by founding a company in 2007 and becoming a diversity strategist.

“A company can’t create empathy, but people can,” Pierott shares. “So the people within those organizations have to do the work. You have to first impact the heart and impact the mind in this work. You can’t just put this cut and paste scenario to every company. It has to be tailored to that organization and the people within that organization. You have to want those people to be involved in the systemic change. That’s how you can start changing some of the systems that have been embedded in companies for centuries.”

When companies and organizations fail to lead with empathy and prioritize diversity and inclusion, it can impact morale in the workforce and a company’s bottom line.

According to a study conducted by Catalyst, 76% of people with highly empathic senior leaders report often or always being engaged, compared to only 32% of people with less empathic senior leaders.

And for companies to truly build a more inclusive work environment, diversity should be present at all levels. 

“There’s a distinction between change and transformation,” says Dr. Patricia Anderson, a leadership strategist and author of the book, “You Know Less Than You Don’t Know.” “Change is binary. I advocate for transformation which means it’s not about your actions, it’s about your mindset and your belief system.”

Changing an organization’s culture must be more focused than checking boxes so that the optics look good, Anderson believes.

“What I’ve seen in my experiences is that some people in leadership roles believe that people who are different from them are not as good as them. Leaders can’t be exclusionary because they will exclude opportunities for innovation,” she says.

At Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the school created the Bias Education & Response Team (BERT) that supports anti-bias education and responds to bias incidents through proactive resolutions. Yvette Davis, director of Dickinson College’s Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity, believes that a program similar to BERT would be effective in the workplace.

“If something similar to BERT was implemented in a workplace environment, it would have a diverse group who could represent different sectors of that workplace,” Davis says. “There should be a diversity of perspectives. We’re not only looking at bias incidents on a transactional basis, but providing education around communication, behavior, and an understanding of various cultures and identities. Not only referring to race and ethnicity, but also sexual identity.”

A focus on diversity and inclusion can also help companies attract top-level talent from across different ethnic backgrounds and the younger generation of workers. 

During a keynote address at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, Pierott noticed that Gen Zers across all racial backgrounds were open-minded when it came to learning about the importance of diversity.

“I think there’s a shift,” Pierott says. “While giving my keynote speech, I realized that 85% of the audience were young, white male students. They told me that they were there because they want to be a part of the solution. Some were raised in spaces where family members would say negative things about other cultures. The students wanted to go on their own journey of self-discovery. I left that meeting feeling hopeful about this next generation wanting to see more diversity and equity.”

When empathy is instilled within an organization’s culture, leaders create an environment that will empower employees and help to increase productivity and profits. 

“If you have the same sort of people thinking the same way without diversity of thought, your company will lack growth,” Anderson emotes. “If you’re being inclusive and bringing other types of individuals with different experiences, it can lead to different ideas and innovation. When people from diverse backgrounds see others who look like them succeed in an organization, it inspires them to give everything because they see a path forward.”

Share your thoughts

Assigning Editor

AR Shaw

The Workplace

Are empathy skills the key to DEI?

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