Why empathy matters in business
Matt Nathan is the editor in chief of DiversityQ and has worked for New Statesman and The Guardian
We interviewed employee experience and diversity & inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA, Sarah Kaiser about her experiences delivering successful D&I strategies and the importance of empathy in business. She shares insights on:
- Her reasons for optimism
- Reassuring non-diverse team members
- Why empathy is important in business
Reasons to be cheerful
From what I see at Fujitsu, I can only be optimistic. Everyone is so on board with this, recognises it, and we’re always looking at the next thing we can do. So for example, this year we started a reverse mentoring programme for our senior leaders, working with more junior people in the business from a diverse range of backgrounds, to increase their understanding of what it’s like to work in Fujitsu if you’re from a diverse background and how they can be more inclusive leaders. We are seeing more and more diverse role models in our business attaining senior positions and we’re seeing more collaboration and interest in this globally. So for me, I can only see positive changes here.
What I do worry about is we have seen recently a bit of a rise in Europe and the West of – there’s certainly been more ugly rhetoric around difference, there’s been a bit of a backlash, and that does worry me. I think within the workforce we often create this inclusive bubble where people can really be themselves; right now it’s not always like that in society and I worry about that impacting on the workplace in the future. I think it’s really interesting that businesses have chosen to create that bubble and it is because we know it’s better for our people. We get better results, we get more productivity, more engagement, more creativity. And so I hope that that will be something businesses will continue to champion, despite what’s going on in the outside world.
See also: How to embed diversity in the workforce
Better for everyone
If you imagine a see-saw and at the high bit of the see-saw, historically, you’ve had certain groups of people who have found it easier to get to senior leadership positions, easier to create things, get recruited, get promoted, do whatever they want, get money for their investments.
So now we’re trying to level the see-saw and that will actually be far better for everyone but the person who is at the top coming down, they’re going to feel that bit of a loss. And I really understand how that feels; it’s challenging, it’s going to be slightly harder for them. We’re actually creating a more level playing field for everyone. Ultimately what we try and say is if you are that white, straight, nondisabled man and you’re going to be part of a more successful business because of the diversity, then that will benefit you too. It’s about having a balance of people and the skills and a real mix of people and that’s what makes us strong.
We’re actually creating a more level playing field for everyone. Ultimately what we try and say is if you are that white, straight, nondisabled man and you’re going to be part of a more successful business because of the diversity, then that will benefit you too.
Sarah Kaiser, employee experience and diversity & inclusion lead at Fujitsu EMEIA
See also: Agility through diversity
The importance of empathy in business
I would increase empathy so when we talk about a thing like unconscious bias in the workplace, for example, you’ll often hear people say that unconscious bias training doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is that in the half-an-hour training, you’re not going to change years and years of social conditioning and the way your brain works. What really does change people and shift biases is empathy. When we have more empathy and can understand the situation that other people are in, how they see things, what they want, what they need, then we treat people differently, we work more effectively together and we ultimately get better results. So I’m really passionate about seeing more empathy in business. It’s not a word you often hear in the boardroom, it sounds like it’s soft and fluffy but actually, empathy would make the world of difference and would really change quite a lot of what we see.
I’m really passionate about our reverse mentoring programme because I see that as a way of helping to build those relationships and increase your understanding. I’ve seen them having more impact than hours of classroom training; I think it’s all about relationships, it’s about people, it’s about understanding.
You can read the first interview in this series of three Successful D&I Strategy with Sarah Kaiser