Workplace MVP: Soumaya Khalifa, Khalifa Consulting
On this episode of Workplace MVP, Soumaya Khalifa, President of Khalifa Consulting, joined Jamie Gassmann to discuss diversity, equity, and inclusion at the leadership level. Noting that diversity is now a given when hiring, Soumaya elaborated on the qualities an effective leader must have to be an inclusive leader. She and Jamie went on to discuss what diversity is, the impact when it’s missing, how leaders can uncover their unconscious bias, a culture of belonging, and much more. Workplace MVP is underwritten and presented by R3 Continuum and produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®.
Khalifa Consulting provides Fortune 100 companies, non-profit organizations, and governmental institutions with wide-ranging expertise and practical solutions to cross-cultural operations in the Arab world and the US.
Our team of top-level Diversity and Inclusion experts offers training and coaching services including Understanding the Diversity and Cultures of Arab Americans, Intercultural Communication, Managing a Cross-Cultural Team, Cultural Competency for Law Enforcement, and Keys to Success as a Woman Executive in the Arab World.
▪ For international business clients, we offer the specific cultural tools and information needed to successfully conduct business in the Arab World, including how to work within global/virtual teams, and crafting culturally appropriate videos and other media messages.
▪ For domestic and international business clients, we offer training workshops and individualized coaching to support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
▪ For US-based clients, we offer guidance and technical assistance on how to provide reasonable accommodations for their Muslim employees, by auditing current practices, making recommendations, and suggesting inclusive ways to support a positive work environment.
▪ For clients planning relocations to or from the Arab World, we offer general and specific direction for personal and family adjustment, practical shortcuts for managing new systems, and how-tos for everyday life.
▪ For our executive coaching clients, Khalifa Consulting offers personalized, ongoing, one-on-one high-level coaching to increase motivation, improve business skills and create work-life balance leading to thriving businesses and families.
Soumaya Khalifa, President, Khalifa Consulting
Soumaya Khalifa is the president of Khalifa Consulting, an Atlanta-based consulting firm specializing in intercultural coaching, consulting, and training. She is also an executive coach and teaches at Emory University Continuing education courses on Human Resources Management, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Women in Leadership.
Soumaya is passionate about her work to build bridges of understanding and help leaders and organizations positively impact their employees and their bottom line.
About Workplace MVP
Every day, around the world, organizations of all sizes face disruptive events and situations. Within those workplaces are everyday heroes in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite. They don’t call themselves heroes though. On the contrary, they simply show up every day, laboring for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption. This show, Workplace MVP, confers on these heroes the designation they deserve, Workplace MVP (Most Valuable Professionals), and gives them the forum to tell their story. As you hear their experiences, you will learn first-hand, real-life approaches to readying the workplace, responses to crisis situations, and overcoming challenges of disruption. Visit our show archive here.
Workplace MVP Host Jamie Gassmann
In addition to serving as the host to the Workplace MVP podcast, Jamie Gassmann is the Director of Marketing at R3 Continuum (R3c). Collectively, she has more than fourteen years of marketing experience. Across her tenure, she has experience working in and with various industries including banking, real estate, retail, crisis management, insurance, business continuity, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications with special interest in Advertising and Public Relations and a Master of Business Administration from Paseka School of Business, Minnesota State University.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios, it’s time for Workplace MVP. Workplace MVP is brought to you by R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. Now, here’s your host, Jamie Gassman.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:00:25] Hi, everyone. Your host, Jamie Gassmann, here, and welcome to this episode of Workplace MVP. Diversity and inclusion is an area of focus for many senior leaders and H.R. executives. A great number of workplaces are re-examining their organization’s approach to ensuring diversity and inclusion and looking for how they can improve, build or implement new initiatives for their work environments. There are a lot of ways employers can take to building their diversity and inclusion program. But to aid in their ability to ensure their program is effective and successful, their efforts need to start at the top where they’re leaders embodying what is called inclusive leadership.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:01:08] As an inclusive leader, you are aware of your own biases and you are actively seeking out and considering different perspectives to inform your decision making and collaboration with others. These leaders are committed to ensuring all team members are treated equitably, feel a sense of belonging and value, and have the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential. How does an organization ensure they have inclusive leaders or how do their leaders learn to be inclusive if not already? Where does this fall within the process of establishing or reinventing an organization’s diversity and inclusion program?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:01:47] Well, joining us today to share her expertise and recommendations for workplaces looking to incorporate or reinvent their diversity and inclusion programs is workplace MVP and President and CEO of Khalifa Consulting, Soumaya Khalifa. Welcome to the show, Soumaya.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:02:03] Thank you. It’s so wonderful to be with you today.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:07] Oh, we’re really happy to have you. So, I’d like to start out with you sharing with me your journey to becoming the President and CEO of Khalifa Consulting.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:02:16] That is an incredible question. It has been a long road and it also has been a very unconventional journey. I earned my B.S. degree in Chemistry of all things and decided that I wanted to do something with people and not in labs. So, what I did is I pursued my MBA in human resources, worked in Corporate America for many years in the H.R. field, which I truly loved. Towards the end of that career in Corporate America, I was involved in a lot of diversity and inclusion work as well as organizational effectiveness, and it’s really amazing that the two really kind of complement each other. When I went out on my own, I wanted to bring all of my journey, all of my experiences to my clients. And so, that’s when I founded Khalifa Consulting, and it’s been about 12, 13 years now.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:03:01] Wow. So, talk to me a little bit about some of the work and the business that you do with Khalifa Consulting and helping your clients.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:03:09] Khalifa Consulting is a boutique firm with a network of consultants covering the world. We specialize in executive coaching, intercultural and DEI training and consulting. I have a special interest in women and leadership and how to bring religion or faith into the DEI framework. We cater to large and mid-sized organizations and in the intercultural and DEI work, and also we do executive coaching for all sizes of organizations.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:03:41] Great. So, this topic we’re talking about is very near and dear to your heart. Share with me your opinion about workplaces having a diversity and inclusion program. Should they – is it – what’s the level of importance in making sure that they have something built-in?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:03:59] Well, you know, diversity is a given because our population right here in the US has been diversifying over the last couple of decades. So, it is a given. If we are, as employers, looking for the best talent that there is out there, we will get diverse talent. Now, the real issue is how do we make our workplaces inviting enough for that talent, that top talent, to want to join us, but not only in joining us but to stay with us. So, inclusion needs to be very intentional. What does an employer have to do to attract and retain the talent that’s out there?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:04:39] And, you know, it’s not only about talent. But if we have that talent, we are able to get into new markets. Because when we go into new markets, we have to understand them. And if we do have representation from them, that gives us an advantage, a competitive advantage to reach people in different markets. And, diversity is being invited to a party, and inclusion is being able to dance up the party. So, that’s the framework. So, diversity is a given, but what do we do with it in organization is the act and that is inclusion.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:05:19] Yeah. It’s such a great analogy. I’ve never heard it referred to that way, but it gives some context to how those two play together, basically. So, looking at that term inclusive, inclusive leader, you know, can you share from your expertise what that means? I know I gave a little brief definition of it at the beginning, but can you share from your perspective what that means?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:05:43] Sure. In my opinion, an effective leader by default is an inclusive leader. And if we are to look at some of the characteristics of an inclusive leader, they have to have commitment to cultivate a diverse and inclusive workforce, and that takes really time and energy from them. And they have to believe in the business case for diversity and inclusion and how that is driving or will drive or will impact on the mission and vision of their organization.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:05:43] They need to have courage. They need to have courage and not be afraid to challenge organizational attitudes and practices that yield homogeneity, even if their recommendations are politically or culturally unpopular within their organization. You know, they have to be very careful there.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:06:34] They need to also display humility by acknowledging their own personal limitations and seeking contributions from others to overcome that. Some leaders, you know, as we all know, find it difficult to admit that they don’t have all the answers. So if they are, if they do have humility and reach out to others, that makes them better leaders. They need to be able to recognize that they have biases. We all do this. It’s just human nature. They need to work on identifying what their own biases are and learn ways to prevent them from influencing their talent decisions.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:07:14] They want to also look at their policies, processes and structures to see if there are organizational biases that are undermining diversity and inclusion in their organization.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:07:27] They have to be curious. They have to have an open mind and a passion for learning and a desire for their own exposure to different ideas. And, they have to also be culturally intelligent. By that, I mean that they have to be aware of their cultural preferences. When they are on autopilot, how do they act? What do they go to? But they also need to learn about the cultures of people that they work with, their team, their colleagues, and be able to identify if there are gaps and how can they bridge those gaps to be able to leverage the best from all their team members.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:08:13] An inclusive leader needs to also be collaborative. They have to understand that collaboration is important for the success of their teams. And for them to be collaborative, they have to create a psychologically safe environment in which all individuals feel that they are empowered to express their opinions in the group. So, these are just some of the characteristics of an inclusive and, in my opinion, an effective leader.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:08:45] Great. And now, looking at those biases and thinking about diversity, just real quick, can you share with us when we hear the term diversity. I feel sometimes that can show up differently with different individuals. From your perspective, when you hear the term diversity, what does that include? What does that mean?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:09:07] Sure. Diversity, in my opinion, is everything that makes us different but also everything that makes us the same. So, a lot of organizations focus on race and on gender. And, within the US framework, that’s usually what is focused in on. But there are so many different layers of diversity that we need to look into if we are telling people bring your whole professional self to work in terms of, for instance, sexual orientation, in terms of religion, and many other different layers of diversity.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:09:51] People on the outside might look the same, but when we start peeling off the different layers, there are differences amongst them. So, we need to treat diversity in the broadest sense. And, what’s really interesting is diversity, we need to look at the history of the nation that we’re looking at diversity at. We need to look at the social construct in it and many other things.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:10:15] I was working with a client who works for a French company, and the French company’s diversity and inclusion philosophy is getting more women in and bringing more non-French people into their boards and into their leadership. So, that is how they define it in a French company. In a US company, that is defined a little bit differently. There’s more emphasis on race and on gender, of course.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:10:45] Interesting. So, looking at that inclusive leadership and looking at that work environment, why is it so important that you have inclusive leadership within that work environment? What are the consequences if you don’t? Or the impact?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:11:00] The impact there is really huge. And some of it is a direct impact and some is an indirect impact. If the workplace is not inclusive, where employees don’t feel like they belong, if it is a hostile work environment, it’s not a friendly work environment, then the implications can be very enormous, anywhere from a turnover rate where people are not – don’t want to stay with the company or the organization. People can get depressed. The medical cost of the organization that they pick up on productivity goes down. People call out sick more often. Just a lot of negative consequences if we don’t have an inclusive environment in our workplaces.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:11:55] I don’t feel like I belong. If I don’t feel like I belong and I could be myself, I don’t want to be there. I want to find somewhere else to go. And, I think with COVID-19 and if leaders were not intentional in diversity and inclusion because we went into more online and it was more difficult to provide that culture of inclusivity when we are online. So, leaders have to be even more intentional and organizations have to be more intentional to bring that inclusiveness culture into the workplace.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:12:31] Yeah. Interesting. I could imagine with the great resignation, if you will, if maybe some of that realization was coming through for some of those employees. Do you think that that had some contribution to it once they moved into this kind of remote work environment, feeling a little bit more isolated than before?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:12:50] I do believe so. I do believe so. All our worlds really turned upside down. We did not think that we could work from home as much as we did, and we adapted to it. Everybody had an opportunity to pivot. And, as employees, they looked at their priorities and what’s important to them and decided is this the right organization for me to stay in, or do I look for something else where I’m happier? Because happiness is really important for individuals now.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:13:24] Yeah. Absolutely. And so, looking at a leader in a work environment, you know, how do they identify the biases that they have? How do they know they’ve got them? Like, what are some ways that they can help themselves to maybe identify ones that they might have that they weren’t even aware of? So, just we’d like to get some of your thoughts around that.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:13:47] Well, thank you so much for the question. We all have biases and we have unconscious bias, whether – and they’re called unconscious because we don’t know about them and they could be really detrimental for us. If we don’t know about them, we can’t do anything about them.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:14:02] So, your question of how do we find out. Well, there are so many different ways to find out. One quick way of doing it is for the individual leader to look at their circle of friends. Do they all look like them? Look at who they’re hiring. Do they all look like them? This is similar to me impact. And, you know, so that is looking in the mirror and seeing what world have I created around me.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:14:33] I was involved with Leadership Atlanta and I went through that many years ago. And one of the things that came out of it is that we were challenged to look at our circle of friends. And many people from our class decided that, hey, I golf with all white guys or all black guys or whatever the race and gender happened to be. And they made a conscious decision that I need to diversify my circle of friends, circle of people that I go out with, circle people that I golf with, and that impacted them.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:15:15] Now, another way to find out about our own cultural biases or unconscious biases, I’m sorry, is to ask a colleague or confidant. That would be a very sensitive conversation. But there needs to be a very high level of trust there.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:15:32] There’s another way too and that is, there’s an online tool that is developed – that has been developed by Harvard University, and that’s an instrument to identify unconscious bias. And it’s free and it’s online. And, if one types implicit Harvard edu, then they will take that, take it to that website. And it’s really an amazing one. If you want to look at race or gender or religion or what have you, there are many different instruments there for people to identify what unconscious bias they might be playing.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:16:09] So, you kind of identified a couple of approaches that they can take by looking at their group of peers or that they’re spending a lot of their extra time with and look, you know, re-evaluating and identifying ways to kind of diversify that. But what are some other ways that they could overcome their bias, their unconscious bias, or even biases they know that they have and relearn a thinking, you know, that likely has been instilled in them from a really young age, because I think some of our biases that we have comes from how we grew up or how we, you know, life events that we’ve experienced. And so, how can one kind of relearn, if you will, how to look at people differently or how to kind of be more diverse or more inclusive?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:17:00] Yeah. That is such a great question. And, you know, we pick up our unconscious biases as children at the dinner table, what is said at the dinner table. So, parents and grown-ups and leaders, we need to be watching what is said at the dinner table because the younger generations are picking up on the biases that we already have, spoken and unspoken. So, we don’t have to say much of anything and that’s picked up. Kids are very, very smart.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:17:30] So, in terms of how do we get over that, I know that a client, he worked with very diverse background people. And one of the stories that he shared is they were talking about we don’t have, you know, we only have one Jewish person in the group. And to him, he looked and he said, “Who’s that?” And that Jewish person was somebody that he became friends with and he no longer saw him as Jewish. He was just Ed.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:18:11] And so, that is how we can work around unconscious biases. First of all, identifying what unconscious bias we might have, and then be intentional in terms of expanding our experiences so that we have meaningful interactions with people from whatever background that we have the unconscious bias on. And then, when we see people as individuals, the stereotypes or the assumptions we have based on the group kind of falls out the way. And that is a very effective way to overcome our unconscious biases. But, again, it takes awareness. It takes intentionality, and it also takes a strong will of wanting to do it.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:18:56] Great. Great, great advice there. Because I imagine there’s people who are like, I don’t want to be seen as that person that’s not inclusive because they might feel internally that they are and maybe aren’t aware of what they can’t see. So, very interesting.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:19:11] And, you know, more on that because that is a very important subject to think about. Again, unconscious, it’s not seen, it’s not felt. But knowing that the biases show up when we are in an ambiguous situation, such as if we don’t know about a person and we meet them, and all of a sudden we go to our stereotypes. So, we want to be able to minimize ambiguous situations. We you want to learn about all the situations we get into so we won’t be surprised. We won’t be able to surprise ourselves in a negative way when snap decisions need to be made right away, our hardwired stereotypes pop up. So, taking time to make decisions. And usually, it’s recommended that leaders make decisions early in the day when they have had a good night’s sleep and they’re less likely to make mental shortcuts.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:20:09] And, you know, being able to push back against default assumptions when we put a stereotype in our mind that’s hardwired, you know, and I’m a short person. I love to give that example. If our stereotype in our mind is that short people are not very smart and we see a short person, then the way the stereotype works is that they are not very smart. And if that happens, if that person happens to be smart, then we push back through those stereotypes. Well, well, they’re the exception. They’re not really the rule.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:20:44] So, we need, again, self-awareness to get over that. And then, being able to learn, learn and meet new people, be challenged and challenge our stereotypes and prejudices if they have gotten to that level.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:21:06] Yeah. Ask questions get to know people. Yeah. Be open to that. That’s kind of the approach that I like to take because I just love to hear people’s stories. So, which is why this show is so great because I get to hear so many leaders’ stories and expertise.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:21:19] So, real quick, we’re going to take a break and listen from our sponsor. So, Workplace MVP is sponsored by R3 Continuum. R3 Continuum is a global leader in empowering leaders to effectively support and help their employees thrive during disruptive times. Through their tailored workplace behavioral health support, disruption response and recovery, and violence mitigation solutions, they can help you create a work environment where your employees can feel psychologically and physically safe. To learn more, visit our r3c.com today.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:21:53] So, you mentioned in our previous conversation the importance of creating a culture of belonging within that work environment. Can you help kind of describe for our listeners what does a culture belonging look and feel like?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:22:09] Sure. Belonging is a sense one gets that they are a valued member of an organization. They feel a sense of purpose. A sense of belonging brings meaning into our lives and all the circles. I mean, let’s face it, we spend more time at work than we spend with our family. And if we feel good about ourselves, good about the organizations that we work for, just think about how that’s going to impact us individually, as employees, as leaders, but also the organization.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:22:44] So, there was a survey done in 2019 by an organization called BetterUp, and they found that workplace belonging can lead to a 56% increase in job performance. It can also lead to a 50% reduction in employee turnover. Workplace belonging can lead to 75% decrease in employee sick days. So, those numbers really give us the business case for why having a culture of belonging is very important. It adds to the bottom line.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:23:19] Wow. Sounds like – I mean, those are great statistics to show, you know, just by creating that environment that people want to be at and be a part of. Fantastic. So, looking at that, there was something when we talked before that really resonated with me in regards to religion and the symbolism around religion and certain holidays that are celebrated. And you and I were kind of discussing, in particular, the Christmas or Hanukkah and kind of that a lot of leaders have taken the approach of this broad messaging of happy holidays, and then removing certain symbolism like Christmas trees. And you talked about how not all your employees really want you to take that down, even if they don’t celebrate it.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:24:06] And so, the question I have is, you know, by taking and removing some of those symbolism, does it help to create that culture belonging, or what are some of your thoughts around how they can really handle those holiday seasons, you know, in an appropriate approach that allows all employees to feel like they belong and that their holidays are being celebrated.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:24:32] I love that question. I super love that question. I am not in favor of somebody saying happy holidays. First of all, I am a Muslim. And, most of the time I don’t have a holiday around Christmas. And, for somebody to say happy holidays, it really doesn’t resonate with me. And that’s not only for Muslims, but you have Buddhists and you have Hindus, etc., who do not have a holiday around the holiday season.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:25:02] I am not in favor of taking down the Christmas tree, but I am in favor of having an inclusive work environment that acknowledges and celebrates the religious holidays and traditions that are represented in the workforce. So, if we do have Jewish members, then Hanukkah, Passover, needs to be acknowledged. Holly, Ash Wednesday, Ramadan, and the list goes on. I want to be – I want to feel like I’m validated. By just saying happy holiday, I think it’s just a brush over and it alienates the Christians and it does not bring anybody into the fold.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:25:44] But we want to be intentional. Again, we want to be knowing who’s in our workforce and what matters to them. If we have a calendar, let’s put it on there that Ramadan starts April 2nd. Ash Wednesdays on that date. Hanukkah is on that date. So, bring all those holidays, acknowledged people, validate people, and they feel like, hey, my workplace cares about me enough to wish me a Ramadan Mubarak or Happy Hanukkah or whatever the holidays.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:26:16] Yeah. Well, even to allow other employees to understand how each of those faiths practice their various holidays and what the symbolism and meanings are behind what they’re practicing so that people can learn.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:26:30] Yes. And that’s the intention behind that. Because if I know – if I am – we have something called the iceberg. And the iceberg is where we say that what’s visible is what people see. But what’s below the waterline is what drives the visible attributes that we see.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:26:50] So, if people know that my colleague’s religion is Muslim and when he takes or she takes a longer lunch hour on Friday, it’s because they have to go to prayer, or they’re not eating from April 2nd to May 2nd lunch and they leave early and we know it’s Ramadan. What is Ramadan like? What is Hanukkah like? What is the Passover and High Holy Days are like? Then, we get to know people at a deeper level and that goes hand-in-hand with belonging. I am accepted for who I am. I’m celebrated for who I am, and I am appreciated for who I am. And I don’t have to fit a mold to be able to be a validated person.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:27:40] Yeah. I love that. So, looking at that and looking at that validation of a person because obviously, you know, not feeling like you belong, not feeling validated can start to really impact somebody’s mental health and obviously ultimately their productivity. So, how does a workplace that’s not culturally belonging in your opinion, what do you see as the impact on that mental health and productivity of its employees?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:28:08] There’s been a lot of research about that. And the outcome says – it was a 20-year research project. And it said that there’s increased depression of the employees, substance abuse, and health issues that kind of manifest themselves because of the stress and the pressure that they feel in that particular workplace. And, we know we’ve heard about people being disgruntled. We’ve heard people possibly committing suicide. We’ve heard people going postal. If the situation really gets out of hand and there’s a mental issue there, an employee could go back to the workplace and do horrific things, do it. So, it does have very negative implications.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:29:00] But, you know, we’re talking about the employee and their mental health, which is really important. But the research also shows that the organizations are suffering as well. So, they’re suffering from decreased productivity, lower levels of employee commitment, increased turnover, and that doesn’t take into account the higher medical insurance premiums that the employer will be paying, the use of the employee assistance programs. So, it’s negative for all concerned, both the employees, leaders and the organization.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:29:38] Yeah. Absolutely. You know, it’s like when you want to bring your whole self to work because you’re passionate about the work that the company is doing, but yet you don’t feel like your whole self can be at work. You know, you want to – it’s like when you’re at work, it gets like you’re home away from home is kind of how I call it when you’re in the office because you spend so much of your day there. You want to feel like you’re welcome just like you are within your own home. So, I could see where that could have a huge impact on those individuals.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:30:04] Absolutely.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:30:07] So, looking at cultural differences you shared previously that there are cultures that are relationship-oriented and then there’s cultures like the US that are very task-oriented. So, within our workplaces becoming more and more diverse, how does this show up? How does a leader strike that balance between allowing people to really congregate and socialize, you know, at the water cooler, if you will, when we get, you know, get that opportunity back to those days to really that task-oriented? How do they strike that balance?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:30:39] Yeah. So, I want to share that I ran into a website that is a Ramsey County Minnesota website. And what struck me is that that website has been translated into languages that I had never heard of before. I mean, Somali, Hmood, Oromo, and Kara. All right. I had to Google each one of those languages to see where they’re spoken. So, this is not a hypothetical question. This is a true question that we need to be thinking about is we have people represented from all over the world working right here. Different cultures have different orientations. You mentioned that task-oriented cultures and the relationship-oriented cultures and they are on a spectrum.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:36] So, the task-oriented culture is let’s get to work. We have a project to do. Let’s get down to what’s going to be done. What is it going to be done? Who’s going to be responsible? Where are the deliverables? And, relationships are really a second or third item that people will think about. Let’s just get the job done.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:31:55] Now, the cultures that are relationship cultures and all those languages that I just named off, they are relationship cultures, which means that before I start doing work with you, I want to get to know you. I want to get to know about your family. I want to get to know where you went to school. What do you like to eat? Let’s go out to lunch together. Right?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:32:15] So, if we have people who are on the opposite spectrums of that task orientation or relationship and we want them to work together, we need to be very, again, intentional. That word is very important for understanding who do we have in our teams. Come up with the team norms, identify what is a hybrid culture that will work for both the task-oriented people and the relationship-oriented people.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:32:44] The task-oriented people, just an FYI, will look at the relationship people and say, “Gosh, they waste so much time. Why do they need to do all this small talk and drink tea or coffee? Let’s just get down to business.” The relationship people will look at the task people and say, “Oh, they’re just so rude and abrupt. They don’t even say hello and drink coffee with me.” So, that can be a real issue in terms of breakdown and communication. So, as leaders, we need to know who is on our team and how do we create a culture that would be understood and accepted by both.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:33:20] When we look at a lot of data and research and looking at a homogeneous team versus a multicultural team and looking at when they are at their best and when they are very well managed, the multicultural team way outperforms the homogeneous team. So, it is a gift to have the diversity, but we have to manage it well to be able to leverage the results that we want to be able to achieve.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:33:55] Yeah. I find that there’s so much value in being able to build up some of those relationships. Even as a leader, you get to know people so differently. If you’re only focused on the day-to-day task, you’re not taking that time to get to know the people you’re working with. And so, when you think of that culture of belonging, it makes me think there’s benefit in trying to bring them closer to a balancing act. What are your thoughts around that and like how it contributes to that culture of belonging?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:34:26] Yeah. One thing that I want to mention here is we are in a business to do business. So, let’s not lose sight of that. Right?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:34:35] Right.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:34:35] And doing DEI is a very strong business case to do our business better. So, I don’t want us to just talk about DEI and not forget the bigger picture. We are doing DEI because of the bigger picture and we have to keep that very clear in front of our eyes. We are here to further and achieve the mission and vision of our organizations, and I’m a firm believer that DEI will help us achieve that.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:35:04] So, let me give you an example and we touched upon that just a little bit earlier when we include religion and the DEI conversation. All right. We want to be able to leverage the organizational values and how they are very much aligned with our employee values. And they’re probably aligned in their religious beliefs values. So, when we say bring your religion into work, it does not mean that, hey, let’s bring everybody together and let’s argue about which faith tradition is the right tradition that’s going to get us to heaven or what have you. But it is to understand what’s below the waterline for our employees is to get to know them. It’s to be able to celebrate them, make them feel like they’re validated. So here is the way, as an example with DEI, when we bring faith tradition into work, the parameters that we need to build around it. There shouldn’t be a discussion about or proselytizing or what have you, but it’s about the person, about my teammate, about my leader, about everybody matters. And that part of them, which in many situations is a big part of who they are.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:36:25] Yeah. Absolutely. And there definitely is that you still have a business to run. So, I love that you brought that up and, you know, sharing that you’re focusing on the business needs while also focusing on your employee needs. So, how do you know when you’ve got it right? Like, is there a way for them to measure that? I mean, is it employee surveying? Is it pulling? Like, what can a leader do to know they’re striking that right balance and that right chord within that organization?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:36:52] Well, yeah. Employee surveys are definitely something that many organizations look at and, you know, they’re done anonymously so people feel comfortable giving their true, honest opinions about the culture of the organization, about whether the culture has moved the needle to belonging or not.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:37:15] There is something called the stay interview, like the exit interview but for people who do stay in the company, to get a read on how others perceive in the company. There are employee exit interviews, of course, but hopefully, we don’t get there. But if we do, then we want to understand why people left.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:37:36] And one of my favorites is a very simple thing, and it’s just sitting down and speaking with employees and team members about how things are going. We look at performance management. A lot of organizations do at least that it’s done once a year, but we do ourselves a disservice when we do that. Managers and leaders need to have frequent check-ins with their employees to see how they’re doing, and hopefully, they have created a relationship with their employees where they’re open enough to share with them how things are going for them.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:38:12] A leader should not wait very, very long time to have that conversation, but the more frequent the conversations are, the better off it is. So, it’s not rocket science. It’s communication, it’s caring, and it’s letting the employees know that there is a positive psychology within the organization and they can speak their mind.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:38:36] Yeah. Awesome. So, the leader is looking to evaluate, build or reinvent their diversity and inclusion program within their organization. What is your advice for how they should prioritize this initiative and where should they start?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:38:51] Well, a couple of thoughts here is they need to be very clear on why they want to do that. They need to understand the business case for it. If an organization is doing DEI just to check the box, they need to rethink that. I believe that when just checking the box is done, it has very negative repercussions on the organization. And they can hire an outside consultant to assess the organization in terms of where they’re at with their DEI and collaborate.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:39:30] If somebody brings in a consultant, it needs to be a collaboration. It’s not, “Here, consultant, take this. Let me know what I need to do.” It needs to be a collaboration. It needs to be a commitment of time and energy and resources and to understand that DEI is really a journey and not a destination. We don’t get there. It’s always work in progress. So, a lot of times people want to say, “Okay, we’ve arrived.” There’s no such thing. It’s always work in progress.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:40:02] Great. Well, I know I personally have learned a lot from you, and I so appreciate you being here on our episode. But if we have guests that want to hear more from you, or to get a hold of you, how can they do that?
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:40:17] I am on LinkedIn, Soumaya Khalifa. Our website is khalifa.consulting. So, K-H-A-L-I-F-A, dot consulting. Send us a message at email@example.com, or call at 678-523-5080. I would love and appreciate hearing from you.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:40:40] Yeah. Wonderful. Well, thank you again so much for being on the show, Soumaya. It’s been such a great conversation. I truly appreciate you and all the work that you do.
Soumaya Khalifa: [00:40:48] Thank you so much. What a pleasure and honor to be with you.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:40:52] And we also want to thank our show sponsor, R3 Continuum, for supporting the Workplace MVP podcast. And to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’ve not already done so, make sure to subscribe so you get our most recent episodes and other resources. You can also follow our show on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at Workplace MVP. If you are a workplace MVP or you know someone who is, we want to hear from you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all for joining us today and have a great rest of your day.