How to Be a Waymaker
Business leaders are spending more time than ever thinking about how to attract, hire, and keep the best employees. Employees are thinking about how to find a workplace that accepts them for who they are, taps into their talent and expertise, and helps them grow. Because the last two years have amplified so much of our human experience—the highs and the lows—what some employees experienced as a low hum of career dissatisfaction has turned into a cacophony. Today, leaders seek solutions to help them enable the success of both their people and their businesses.
In and through today’s workplace culture complexity lies a simple story: Those who lead equitably and inclusively have found themselves on solid ground. Those who don’t are digging out. It’s logical. When you consider and care for all people, show up for them when it matters most and open doors for those who have been shut out, employees notice. And they are more likely to stay.
There is no singular blueprint that will guide you toward leading more equitably and inclusively, but there are principles to follow. By following them, you will become the kind of leader who makes a way—who makes choices and takes actions that help those in your organization who have been historically misrepresented and ignored feel seen, respected, valued and protected. As a “waymaker,” you will become the kind of leader who uses your power and position to leave your employees, and your company, better than you found them.
As a leader and consultant in the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) space, I’ve seen thousands of leaders breathe life into these principles with great success. See if you can weave them into the fabric of your own leadership philosophy.
Empathy is foundational to leading inclusively. When we are unable to imagine another’s experience, we struggle to meet them where they are, and if we can’t meet them where they are, we can’t walk alongside them to new places where they—and your organization—might better thrive.
Practice empathy by cultivating your curiosity: What do you know about your employees? Their interests? Their lives? Their passions? Ask them to share their lived experiences…then listen to their answers.
“It’s not fair.” This is what one white male said to me during a session I facilitated about race at work. He found it unfair that we were spending so much time and energy focusing on race and was concerned that conversations like this would lead to an unfair advantage for Black people in his company.
This concern some have about losing ground lies beneath all diversity, equity and inclusion work—sometimes as a whisper, sometimes as a scream. Waymakers realize that inequity is an intricate, sometimes tangled web, and the way we guide others through it is with conscious leadership against the backdrop of systemic change. “Fairness,” particularly when we are talking about equity in the workplace, means recognizing that some have been standing on pedestals, while others have been standing in holes. Waymakers are deliberate about creating level ground.
Waymakers lead with courage, viewing people and process decisions through a lens of possibility and potential, rather than risk mitigation. An organization is only as powerful as the people who work within it, and if they do not feel seen, respected, valued and protected, the entire organization will suffer.
You must be brave enough to stand up to injustice, misrepresentation and the lingering impacts of systemic oppression. This won’t win you any popularity contests, but popularity isn’t the goal. Change is.
If you are the leader to whom people turn for guidance and direction, then the job of creating a more equitable workplace belongs to you, not your HR business partner or your small DEI team.
You must own the process, set the stage and initiate the momentum. Yes, it will be up to everyone in the organization to keep that momentum going, but the most forceful push must come from you. Get off the fence and into the equity arena.
In this world of compromised values and misaligned priorities, where political theater and toxic workplace environments are sadly becoming commonplace, remember that integrity matters.
On your DEI journey, do what you say you are going to do. Be the leader you say you are. Set the direction of your journey, collaborate with your colleagues and your team, and compromise for no one.
Let these Waymaker principles guide you. And as you continue your journey toward workplace equity, measure your progress and hold yourself accountable for becoming the kind of leader you aspire to be…and the kind your people need.