Contributed by Jay Sasidharan, Vice President of Adobe Customer Solutions, Asia Pacific
It’s a common scene in the workplace — employees seated in a conference room discussing business strategy. The outcome of the meeting represents a critical business decision, yet the strength of that decision is a reflection of the strength of each contributor and how they contributed their unique perspective. Often, only a few voices are heard and accepted more than the others. From my perspective, that’s a major disconnect — and a major problem. It’s not only about having the opportunity to speak, but also being heard and represented like any other that matters.
Having led multicultural teams in various geographies, I have observed that situations like these diminish equality and empowerment. Seven in 10 employees say empowerment is an important piece of their overall engagement, but just one in three feels truly engaged with their jobs. Personally, I always try to challenge unconscious biases and look for behaviours that signal that an individual can deliver beyond the roles they are in.
Empowering every story — and every storyteller
At Adobe we believe everyone has a story to tell and, with Adobe for All, we continue to focus on ways to empower every single voice to stand out and make their contribution.
Often, though, our push has to go much, much deeper than simple encouragement or opportunities for healthy, low-stakes discourse. Empowering every voice, in many cases, means breaking long-held stereotypes and unconscious biases defined by societal rules and workplace cultures. It is about addressing what’s said, what’s implied, and what toxic belief systems permeate every corner office, cubicle, and conference room.
It’s not an easy task, but, when a company can authentically tear down those walls and empower every voice, you can do more, together. That’s when true equity and belonging happen — when every single stakeholder gets the space, respect, and consideration they need to operate, contribute, and create to their fullest potential. And that’s when you can call yourself a supportive, empowering organization.
Four steps to empowerment and action
In my opinion, individuals are often held back without the opportunity to participate beyond their defined roles. Leaders should work to overcome those pervasive challenges within their immediate reach, at the very least. To do that, it’s essential to employ four best practices to empower every voice.
#1. Invite every voice
I have witnessed very talented people limiting themselves in their existing roles. They don’t raise their hand, they don’t tout their knowledge and insights, and they don’t come forward to express their opinions, even when they’re the most seasoned and the most passionate in the room. In many cases, though, these people shine when thrust to the forefront. When these individuals realize that they have the leadership support and respect, they immediately find the confidence they need to speak up and speak out — and, with it, make a greater impact than ever. And when that happens, we all win.
#2. Ensure everyone feels like they belong
Granted, it’s not enough to support equity and inclusion. While equity gives everyone a seat at the table and inclusion means having a voice in the conversation, true belonging means each individual voice is heard. There are no systematic barriers and no special accommodations — everyone’s insights, ideas, and opinions matter. When that happens, people feel a deep sense of belonging within their organization — and start to create more impact as a result.
#3. Amplify diversity of thought
It’s never the quantity of hires but the diversity of hires that makes you successful. You could have hundreds or even thousands of talented marketers, data scientists, analysts, and leaders, but if they come to the table with cookie cutter thoughts, insights, and opinions, your organization will never grow, scale, or evolve. You’ll simply be nodding at the sea of sameness and, as a result, recycling the same low momentum ideas and mediocre campaigns over and over again. Maybe they’ll perform, maybe they won’t. But without diversity of thought and opinion, nothing will ever change — and that’s never a good thing.
#4. Go beyond your comfort zone
As you work on your equity and empowerment goals, it’s vital to break one very important ceiling: your own. Think about your pre-existing limits — limits you’ve set for yourself and limits others have locked in place — and smash through them. And if you don’t get “heard” the first time, try again.
Together, these are simple but powerful steps. Empowered workers are more likely to go the extra mile to innovate, take calculated risks, and drive business growth. That, at the end of the day, is your goal. As a leader, worker, and valuable voice in your organization’s present and future success, it’s essential you look to empower every voice — yours included — no matter the circumstances, culture, or pre-existing expectations. Speak up, speak out, and cultivate an environment where everyone feels that they belong and that their voices aren’t just noise, they’re truly heard. Because when you do — and when they do — everyone wins.