Soft Skills

4 Ways New Managers Can Lead Diverse Teams

Marie Deveaux

Udemy for Business instructor

March 28, 2019

50–70% of newly hired managers and executives fail at their new jobs and leave within 18 months. Why is that? There are a number of reasons new managers struggle, from a lack of support and training to a disconnect between managers and their teams. Women or people of color are at even more of a disadvantage since they’re already underrepresented at the management level of organizations, according to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2018 report.

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To help set new managers up for success, my course The Essential Guide for Effective Managers on Udemy for Business provides the skill-set to overcome some of these barriers. Through my extensive experience as a coach and trainer, I offer manager essentials training, both for brand-new managers and for experienced managers who could use a refresher. Here are a few tips on how you can prepare your organization and your new managers to lead diverse teams successfully.

1. Learn how new managers can promote diversity and inclusion

Women and people of color are underrepresented at higher leadership in the corporate world. McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2018 report found that for every 100 men to be promoted to a manager, only 79 women are also promoted. Because of these gender gaps, McKinsey found men end up holding 62% of manager positions while women hold only 38%.

But the gender gap in leadership isn’t just linked to hiring practices—it’s also a result of performance bias. In order for women to get promoted, it’s based on track record. For men, it’s based on potential. If you’re starting at the bottom at entry level, men are more likely to get promoted based on this biased criteria. If you follow that thread, you get fewer and fewer women at the top. Research published in Harvard Business Review has shown that women are more likely to receive vague feedback that does not offer specific details of what they have done well and what they could do to advance. Receiving biased feedback reduces women’s chances of improving, which then impacts their ability to advance in their careers.

One of the most important steps managers can take is to understand the performance culture of your company. Are people from diverse backgrounds being given the same opportunities for promotion and performance feedback? As a first step, managers can work on giving concrete feedback that direct reports (whether male or female) can apply on the job. In my course, I discuss how managers can give feedback effectively as well as avoid unconscious biases in how they treat their employees.

2. Encourage individuals to look for and become “centers of influence”

One of the challenges for women and people of color at the manager and executive level is that oftentimes, they are the “only one” at that level. As the minority in a group that’s dominated by people from other backgrounds, it’s difficult for these individuals to speak up, their ideas are challenged more, and they have to provide more data to support their opinions. This is why it’s critical to encourage empathy in how decisions are being made and create spaces so everyone feels included. At the same time, for managers who feel they are a minority at the table, it’s important to build a “center of influence.”

In my course, I teach managers how to communicate and navigate the workplace and become a “center of influence.” In order to achieve anything, whether that’s climbing the ranks or starting your own business, you need to find someone who has done it first. Those people who have already arrived are often very generous with their time. That’s why I recommend new managers find a mentor or role model as well as leverage peers to create a network of support at your organization. Does your organization already offer mentorship or training programs for people from diverse backgrounds? Creating a professional support system or cohort for your new managers to help them build allies and centers of influence is critical for their success.

3. Situational leadership: Treat others as they want to be treated

It’s also important for managers to think about tailoring their management style to the needs of each direct report, particularly with diverse teams. Instead of “treating others as you want to be treated,” managers should actually strive to “treat others as they want to be treated.” In my course, I focus on situational leadership which involves taking into account that every manager and every employee are different. It’s about understanding managers’ unique strengths and aligning these skills with their direct reports to create the magic of teamwork.

A key factor of situational leadership is developing manager empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ). When managers are empathetic, more ideas get shared and more innovation occurs. Leaders must work to create an environment where people from different vantage points feel encouraged to get their ideas across.

Understanding other people’s feelings and needs are key building blocks of emotional intelligence (EQ). Research has shown that EQ can have a serious impact on work performance: 23% of employees who don’t meet expectations during their first 18 months on the job fail because of low EQ. It’s not surprising that Udemy for Business found that EQ is one of the top 10 soft skills that are necessary for the workplace in 2019. In my course, I help managers develop their EQ and empathy skills so they can effectively practice situational leadership.

4. Prepare new managers for the stress of the job

Finally, being a manager is stressful: HR consultancy DDI found that nearly 6 out of 10 managers rated the challenges associated with securing a career transition as second only to dealing with divorce. According to DDI’s research, the top five situations managers feel least prepared for include reprimanding an underperformer, firing someone, going from coworker to boss, learning the ropes, and dealing with senior management. These findings align with Udemy for Business research that determined both conflict management and communication were top soft skills for the workplace in 2019.

This is why I focus much of my new manager training on communication such as mastering how to have difficult conversations. Moreover, building situational leadership skills and empathy with their direct reports can help managers more effectively navigate these more challenging issues. At the same time, providing new managers with cohorts and mentors to support them through these stressful situations can also set them up for success.

Better preparing managers for the stresses and challenges they are likely to face on the job will help them become more successful. And, of course, successful managers have a broader impact on their direct reports and your organization on the whole. To learn more about helping managers succeed, check out my new Udemy for Business course, The Essential Guide for Effective Managers.

Marie Deveaux has worked in management and business operations for over 14 years with the majority of that time devoted to training new leaders and building teams. As an executive coach and professional speaker, she focuses on magnifying the voices of women and minority leaders to better enrich work environments, and drive innovation. When not working, Marie enjoys reading about positive psychology, baking ridiculously sweet treats, and traveling the world. She lives and works in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.
Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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