What do you really want from an employer? Maybe it's a friendly manager, great perks, and plenty of vacation time. Or the chance to continue learning and further your career. But while those things are all valuable, a positive work experience depends on more than just benefits.
If you've ever worked for a company that doesn't value you as an individual, you know what I mean. Every day, you shrink a little bit more, take fewer risks, and pull back from your co-workers.
On the other hand, a culture of acceptance and mutual support can serve as the building blocks for a fulfilling experience with an employer. Because, ultimately, if you work for a company that values you as a person and helps you grow, there are few challenges you won't be able to overcome.
At IBM, building a culture that accepts people of all backgrounds is at the heart of the organization. Here's why you should strive to make acceptance a priority.
What Acceptance Means
Being accepted for who you are is bound to make you feel good. Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, Chief Diversity Officer at IBM, says, “When every employee feels safe and supported, they can be their best, authentic selves."
And she's not alone in that opinion. Studies show that the more compassion and emotional support an employee experiences at work, the higher their levels of well-being and performance.
Darius Glover felt the power of this on his first day as a Digital Strategist at IBM's New York City office. Glover, who is an early career professional and identifies as part of the LGBT+ community, helps lead multiple working groups at the company, including IBM's Black Network of New York. “When you're allowed to stand on who you really are—instead of focusing your energy trying to hide a part of yourself—you can actually put more energy into your job," he says.
For London-based Acquisition Sales Leader Vicki Cooper, acceptance in the workplace is a huge part of why she continues to grow her career at IBM as a working mom. “I work long hours, but sometimes, I need the flexibility to do something with the children, and I have to catch up later," says Cooper, “To me, acceptance is all about flexibility."
Cooper works to extend these principles of acceptance and flexibility to every employee. As the leader of IBM's women's network in the UK, she empowers women with the soft skills they need to advocate for their own growth and needs, which creates positive ripples throughout the organization.
Having the Hard Conversations
We live in an increasingly polarized world, so it's crucial that companies work toward acceptance and flexibility in the workplace. And by adapting to the needs of all employees, organizations support a diverse workforce.
But, IBM employees still find themselves wanting to bring up tough issues. And while these conversations are not always easy to initiate, open conversations are encouraged. The company supports healthy dialogue and gives employees the tools to recognize, rather than stifle their differences.
Glover is a leader in bringing these issues to the forefront. This year, he planned a screening of Moonlight, the acclaimed, coming-of-age film about a black man grappling with his identity and sexuality. Before the screening, a diverse panel of IBM employees discussed the themes of the film as they related to their own growth and evolution.
“These conversations are hard to have, especially when you don't want to say the wrong thing," says Glover. “But they're important. There's a guy on my team, and around the time of the screening, we had a good conversation about what it meant to be black and in IBM's workplace." Glover credits the conversation with creating a deeper sense of connection and understanding with his colleague.
Diversity is Key
By encouraging conversations around complicated topics like race, sexuality, gender, and privilege, you can strengthen the performance of your teams. “We firmly believe that our ability to collectively think about tough problems from a number of diverse dimensions really results in game-changing outcomes," McIntyre says.
She's right. Conformity, it turns out, doesn't make you more creative or innovative. Cutting-edge research shows that these tough conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, but diverse teams yield greater collaboration and more meaningful change. To benefit from a collaborative culture, companies need to highlight and support the differences between people rather than downplay them.
Despite the temptation to get comfortable with other people just like you, acceptance and diversity enriches experiences at a company. So, when you're looking for your next job, start asking the hard questions before you start. The more open and accepting the culture, the more likely you are to reap the benefits of a dynamic, diverse workplace that's poised to grow with you.