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Emotional Intelligence and its role in Diversity & Inclusion

I am often asked what the best way to start building an engaged, inclusive and diverse team is. And whilst there are many answers to that question. I always start with asking two questions back...
  • ‘How emotionally intelligent do you think you and your team are?’

  • ‘How hard are you and your team willing to work to improve your emotional intelligence?’

For me, emotional intelligence is the bedrock of building engagement, inclusion, and diversity.

The concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ as a separate psychological theory dates back to the 1980’s with American organisational psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Their work has been built on by many, most notably Daniel Goleman, who outlines the 5 key components of emotional intelligence as...

Self-awareness –

How we recognise our emotions, and their effect on our behaviour.

Self-regulation –

How we control our behavioural responses to our emotions.

Empathy –

How we understand other’s perspectives, and listen with depth.

Motivation –

How we recognise our drive for achievement, set and commit to goals.

Social Skills –

How we utilise and practice our newly developed emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence plays a very big part in recognising our unconscious bias, and our willingness to be adaptable and listen to perspectives that are different from our own. Without a degree of emotional intelligence, innovation is impossible, because we remain closed to new ideas and ways of doing things.

We become unwilling to change our viewpoint, and we communicate only to be heard, not to be understood and to learn from others. Without emotional intelligence, we could not challenge our views on people different to ourselves, perhaps relying on long held and outdated or misinformed beliefs that are a result of learned behaviours.

One of my favourite quotes is from Maya Angelou, the great American poet and civil rights campaigner, who said...

“people will forget what you said, and they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel”

She clearly understood that human beings are emotional creatures – we respond and behave in reaction to our emotions – we don’t respond to information and data in the same way. What we ‘feel’ is often more important than what we ‘know’.

The good news is we can develop our emotional intelligence (sometimes called Emotional Quotient, or EQ), unlike our Intelligence Quotient (IQ).

Your IQ is relatively stable and hard to improve. Your IQ score at 15 is likely to be very similar to your IQ score at 50. Through practice, work and education, our EQ can develop significantly over time. Consider this as a way to differentiate between IQ and EQ. IQ is our ability to interpret and analyse data, and EQ is our ability to interpret and analyse emotions.

I think of a virtuous cycle between emotional intelligence, diversity (and diverse perspectives) and inclusion. Emotional intelligence allows us to listen and be sensitive to others and control our initial emotional reactions. This drives a sense of inclusion – we are not afraid of change or conflicting viewpoints or those who are different. We value the ability to learn from others. And as we value others, we welcome diversity and diverse perspectives...

I am also mindful of the importance of emotional intelligence to teams that work remotely from one another. At this moment in time, so many of us are working from home and do not have the same connections and interactions we had with our colleagues prior to Covid.

We must be far more sensitive to our emotions, and our emotional responses. Fear of the unknown and of the future, plays heavily on many and being able to recognise these emotions, and rationalise and interpret these really helps with anxiety and a feeling of overwhelm. Also, being sensitive to our colleagues and how they might be feeling.

Zoom or Teams calls can be very draining – and we don’t get the chance for nuanced human interaction. Emails can be a very bad way of communicating as there is often a degree of ambiguity or the potential to misread intentions. Recognising all these potential pitfalls, and being kind to ourselves and others, requires emotional intelligence.

We run many workshops and learning and development programs at Inventum, all with the aim of increasing engagement, inclusion and diversity within organisations.

And for me, developing our emotional intelligence is the true starting point to build a company culture that benefits from different perspectives. Those benefits are clear and well documented – more innovation, greater performance, a happier and more engaged workforce, higher talent retention, and more adaptable and resilient in the face of economic, geo-political, societal and environmental change.

- Adam Tobias, Co-Founder of the Inventum Group