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23 Oct Letting go of labels at work

My friends know I oversee Rêve Academy’s student-run digital agency, but they weren’t sure exactly how it worked. One friend asked, “Are all student interns from the same tracks at school? I don’t know how to say this, but are they all labeled high potential, or struggling?” I was excited to tell him no. Instead, we hire interns based on three criteria:

  1. Willingness to work on a peer-led team
  2. Desire to work hard
  3. Wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn tech and design skills

A team of interns from this summer was led by Paula*, a bilingual young woman who wants to study dental hygiene. She managed a group that included a recent immigrant, someone with a learning disability, a music aficionado who aspires to work in the business, and a gaming and technical wizard. Instead of holding them back, the variety of experiences helped this team earn a Net Promoter Score of 100% from their client.

Research supports what we see at Rêve: teams with diverse backgrounds can create more, not less success in the workplace:

  • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams delivered 60% better results[1]
  • Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians[2]

So how do we encourage diverse teams? Not only do we reduce unnecessary prerequisites in our hiring practices, we avoid educational labels like AP, ESL, IB, and ALC. These labels certainly have their place, but we prefer to focus on output. When we focus on the reality and outcomes of daily work, interns experience a world outside of the classroom. Instead of being a kid who fails their classes, or gets free lunch, or doesn’t speak English well, they are young professionals who have an important job to do. They are needed, engaged, and challenged.

After sharing this with my friend, he responded, “It’s cool how teens with a variety of labels and backgrounds successfully collaborate. I don’t know if that’s true in all corporations.”

So, for this friend and others, can you test letting go of labels or unhelpful prerequisites at your job? Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Re-assign roles like questioner, connector, and facilitator in a meeting
  • When bringing a team together for the first time, make introductions by saying, “I bring (skill/lens)” instead of “I am (job title)”
  • Encourage employees to edit their job titles and descriptions
  • Open up special projects to everyone, not just those who are already on your radar

[1] Larson, E. September 21, 2017. New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making at Work.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriklarson/2017/09/21/new-research-diversity-inclusion-better-decision-making-at-work/#340d05614cbf

[2] Hunt, V; Layton, D; Prince, S. January 2015. Why Diversity Matters. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

*Name has been changed.

Sarah Woessner
Sarah Woessner
sarah@reveacademy.org

Sarah is Rêve Academy's Director of Student-Run Businesses.