Someone Not Like You: Kelly McDonald on Diversity in the Workplace

By Hannah Fullmer | Aug 15, 2019
Kelly McDonald
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Kelly McDonald is a marketing and advertising specialist who speaks about diversity in the workforce. On differences in the workplace, she says, “We are all working with diverse team members, as well as customers and suppliers, and it’s not always easy to work alongside someone who has a different approach to work, a different background or perspective.”

A favorite speaker at NECA events, McDonald addresses the stress and frustration that occurs when people don’t see eye-to-eye. In her courses, she hopes to provide attendees with insights and specific tactics to keep their businesses moving forward constructively and professionally.

McDonald spoke with our staff, sharing her insights on how contractors can work effectively with people not like themselves.   

The electrical contracting industry is aging, and companies are actively seeking young workers to join their ranks. How can employers create a work environment that satisfies both groups? 

The key to a work environment that pulls people together rather than breaking them apart is alignment. The company’s values and its goals must be clear and understood by all. Studies show that when workers understand what their company’s goals are, they work together to achieve them. When the goals are murky or unclear, that’s when divisions among associates occur, because each team or department is “doing their own thing” without regard to how their work affects the big picture. Leaders and companies must be clear about what they’re striving for and engage associates to contribute to achieving that. That alignment in achieving the vision is what unifies teams, regardless of age, gender, level of experience and more.

Often when trying to reach younger workers, companies’ efforts can come across as hollow or inauthentic. I think of companies trying to use “cool hip lingo” on social media? How can ECs avoid this pitfall? 

It’s kind of like listening to your parents try to be cool; It doesn’t work. Companies should focus instead on what makes their company great. What kinds of career paths, mentoring, work challenges and inclusion do they offer young associates?

Younger workers place a very high premium on continuous learning and training, managers who will mentor and advocate for them, and opportunities to try new things. They like challenge but want to know the company and their manager have their back.

It’s also important to younger workers that they work with companies that give back. They’re very interested in what the company does in the community to make it a better place. The answer is to be straightforward and not try to be something you’re not, while emphasizing all the great things that await those who join the company—and spell those things out clearly.

ECs are also seeking to tap the skills of underrepresented groups in the industry, including women and minorities. How can employers get their employees onboard with these hiring goals? 

Different people bring different perspectives to jobs and challenges. Diversity of thought is what employers value because it leads to innovation. Asking “what if” and “why” and “let’s try this” are the very bedrock of innovation.

ECs must explain the value of diversity to their teams. Doing so prevents others from thinking “oh, she got the job because we need a woman,” or “he got hired because he’s Hispanic” (or any other race or ethnicity). When employers and ECs talk openly with their teams and address the labor pressure the industry is under and the fact that new talent brings new ways of thinking and solving problems, employees feel part of the process of expanding the team’s talent.

Employers and ECs should also talk openly and candidly about how the industry has not historically been that diverse and that the lack of diversity no longer reflects the communities we live and work in. It’s important that companies reflect the communities and customers they serve and adding diverse talent to the team accomplishes that. It’s an important conversation to have because when employees understand why diverse talent is being brought in and the value of diverse perspectives, it avoids tokenism.

What techniques can people employ to stay open-minded when working or having a conflict with people different from them. 

Stop saying “let’s agree to disagree”—it doesn’t work. It’s a conversation ender, and in business, we always want to keep the conversation going and move the business forward. Say instead, “I see it differently”. That’s a phrase that is clear and direct, but not confrontational or antagonistic. And it’s a conversation starter, because if you say, “I see it differently” to me, I will likely respond with, “Tell me how you see it,” and then we are having a conversation, not a debate. It leads to sharing viewpoints and often, when we learn where the other person is coming from, when we really understand their viewpoint, the conflict eases or dissolves entirely.

Another key technique is to realize that you don’t have to like everyone you work with. In fact, it’s not likely that you will like everyone. It’s OK. You do have to be respectful and professional at all times, but you don’t have to like someone in order to be effective in your role. There are all kinds of examples of high-performing teams where it’s not likely, or possible, that everyone likes each other. Think football teams and military units. There is no way that everyone in a military unit likes everyone else, but they function effectively and get the job done.

What are the most common differences (in personalities, communication, etc.) that can become obstacles for ECs when working with or acquiring clients? What techniques can ECs learn to navigate these issues? 

The most common differences that I see in the EC industry are those of thinking and decision-making. Some people make decisions quickly and decisively; others need to ponder and mull things over. Some people are introverts and solve problems by quietly reflecting on them until the solution comes to them. Others arrive at solutions by brainstorming with other people and kicking around ideas and options.

There’s no one right way to do business. When working with clients and prospects, ECs must listen carefully to their clients and customers to determine how they operate and what they’re most comfortable with. For example, if a large organization makes decisions slowly and methodically in a long process, the EC can ask, “What can I provide you that will be helpful in making your decision? When would you like me to have that information to you?” That allows the client or prospect to call the shots and it allows the EC to deliver what they requested. That, in turn, builds trust and confidence. If, on the other hand, the client would rather the EC be in charge, the EC can adapt to this dynamic and outline how best to proceed, obstacles that need to be addressed, develop timelines and essentially run the show. It’s up to the EC to be able to read the situation and adapt to the client, not the other way around.


About The Author

FULLMER is the senior editor at ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. Contact her at [email protected]





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