Why Soft Skills and DEI Matter for Professional Growth

Why Soft Skills and DEI Matter for Professional Growth

Take a look at some soft skills and how they can influence DEI in the workplace.

So you’re looking to hire staff and need to select the right candidate. Besides their technical skills and board certifications, what do these individuals have to offer their prospective employer? On the other hand, you’ve just received well-deserved job promotion as a supervisor or manager, so what new job skills do you need to manage both people and projects?

As Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS) professionals, we see many sides to workers’ and management personality and belief that impact society, economy, policies driving business and industry, work practices and how work gets done to deliver products and services. There also can be a regional, national or global influence on decisions and how business performs and evolves in the future based on current geo-political and socioeconomic times. However, the business impact of diversity, equity, equality, justice and inclusion (commonly referred to as DEI) and the effective use of soft skills are taking center stage in how we do our job. So how can we become more engaging change agents for people, profits and planet?

Many OEHS professionals have some clarity about business concerns such as market pressures, hiring and retaining qualified human talent, quality and production, customer service, productivity, profitability and prosperity. Sometimes a good idea by senior leaders for either short- or long-term goals may be a terrible idea from the perspective of the workers implementing change on the shop floor. Other workers and business owners believe in business as usual and change only should occur when something is broken. But how do OEHS professionals convince the workforce and stakeholders that change is necessary to remain relevant into today’s marketplace?

Leaders sometimes fail to connect with the workforce; pivot responsibly in an upside or downside market; head warnings of headwinds or tailwinds to upgrade or invest in the business; and engage with all interested parties before rolling out organizational change that can affect everyone resulting in outrage, confusion, poor quality, delivery delays and other labor-management issues. Winning over the hearts and minds of everyone requires careful thought, planning, understanding and deliberation of all viewpoints. Understanding the complexity of your workforce, work environment and the encompassing business is even more important. In reality, business is all about people. We need to learn from the past, embrace the present and prepare for the future.

We should understand that success lies in the way everyone works together as a team to meet demands that impact both socioeconomic imperatives. In many maligned businesses, both workers and leaders see things differently and disappoint each other. This is especially true with disparities with respect to DEI. Some of the disconnect may lie on developing and using of our soft skills to effectively communicate, understand the workforce and work environment and reciprocally share our thoughts, knowledge, vision, understanding and experience to resolve ongoing or potential threats.

Soft skills are an umbrella term for “people skills.” They are very different from hard skills (also known as technical skills), which are directly relevant to the job. Soft skills impact how we build relationships, work together and, ultimately, do our jobs. Soft skills are common sense, core abilities like critical thinking, effective writing, understanding general hierarchies, an aptitude for teamwork, the ability to read tone and body language, public speaking and other communication skills. Words and actions mean everything to people. Additionally, networking, organizational and interpersonal skills can be positioned for success, thanks to your ability to read a situation and adapt. The importance of each soft skill in the workplace cannot be overstated. Enhancing your personal and professional career can often be made easier with the right application and use of these skills. So let’s take a closer look at these soft skills and how they may be useful.

Over the past several years, the pandemic has shown that business can be resilient and persevere only when everyone comes together with unbiased ideas to make change. Change is necessary to ensure transparency and longevity of the organization to improve brand, image and reputation and provide workers with more engagement in decisions and a better work-life balance. In the workplace, soft skills represent our ability to work effectively and harmoniously with others, and it’s for this reason employers have a more engaged workforce. While hard skills are learned, soft skills may be inherently based on individual background and shared experiences.

According to the Society of Human Resource Management’s 2021-22 State of the Workplace report, 77 percent of Human Resource (HR) professionals said that improving employees’ soft skills was key to their organization’s future plans. Soft skills are not usually tied to any specific profession but rather they relate to individual personalities and, as such, they are highly transferable skills. Although they are less tangible than hard skills they can still be learned and developed, and employers will value any qualifications that workers demonstrate a willingness to improve them. So let’s take a look at some soft skills, which are all interrelated with each other.

In a recent survey of 860 HR leaders in July 2022 found that the other top organizational priorities for HR leaders next year are organizational and change management (53 percent), employee experience (47 percent) and the future of work (42 percent). Social and political turbulence, work-life fusion and flexible work arrangements are redefining the leader-employee dynamic, yet 24 percent of HR leaders say their leadership development approach does not prepare leaders for the future of work. As today’s work environment changes, business leaders must embrace human-centric leadership, defined by three traits: authenticity based on true self-expression for themselves and their teams, empathy by showing genuine care, respect and concern for workers’ well-being and adaptivity by enabling flexibility and support that fits the team needs.

Character traits are core soft skills that characterize relationships with other people. These transferable skills can help people be successful in the workplace and in their personal life. Employers look for soft skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills, in job candidates. Additionally, employers are increasingly seeking soft skills because they are harder to teach than hard and technical skills. Soft skills involve a combination of people and communication, attributes, social and emotional intelligence skills among others. Soft skills are uniquely human. In the workplace, these skills cannot be replicated by Artificial Intelligence. The business value of soft skills and character traits will only increase their importance in the future.

Communication skills involve a variety of skills like verbal to written interaction and nonverbal to listening. It includes presentation and technology-based communication skills to different audiences, level of comprehension and academic backgrounds. In essence, communication is the transference of information from one person to another by writing, speaking, or using some other medium. It is a medium used to influence people and the ability to relate to others clearly and effectively. Listening, speaking, observing and empathizing constitute communication skills. Communication can foster a more engaging workforce which encompass other soft skills like adversity, intelligence, social, spiritual and emotional quotients that connect with people.

Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the score of a worker’s emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence is the ability to control emotions positively to manage stress, control impulsive actions, overcome challenges and achieve personal and professional goals seamlessly. In today’s world, there are many influences that can affect worker health and safety and performance. EI is a highly sought after soft skill especially after a personal tragedy or unexpected event at work. Being able to harness individual emotions whilst understanding a colleagues’ motivation and feelings will lead to more harmonious and genuine relationship. While closely aligned empathy, it is the ability to sense other peoples’ emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. This desired workplace skill allows workers to build rapport and trust with coworkers, clients and customers.

Stress management is one major element of emotional intelligence. It depends on whether a certain individual lets his or her emotions affect their rationality and important decisions. With the rising stress levels and hectic work and personal schedules, the consequence of triggering mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, for example necessitate developing an emotional quotient.

The Adverse Quotient (AQ) looks at the person’s ability to face the adversities and the capacity to overcome personal and professional challenges by making rational decisions. This type of intelligence is important to control thoughts over actions in order to be adaptive to a changing environment. AQ is one component of EQ which is applied while facing adverse situations of life.

Spiritual intelligence defines a person’s spirituality or self-awareness. First of all, spirituality is not related to any religion or community, it depends upon the idea of being connected to your inner self. A spiritual person is aware of his or her consciousness that makes the person serene from within. The spiritual quotient is a lot more connected to a person being happy, contented and humble. For workers, the spiritual quotient is a very important aspect of their life, especially in times of a humanitarian crisis. Careful consideration must be given to someone’s personal beliefs.

Social intelligence skills come from experience with people and learning from success and failures in social settings or in one's life. The concept that comes from understanding socialization, where concepts of societal institutions, peer group, family and culture are primary players. It is more commonly referred to as "tact," "common sense," or "street smarts. Leaders tend to build their network with interconnected people.

Workers pivot whenever market pressures place demands on non-routine events such as the pandemic, inflation or recession, or supply chain concerns. Moreover, workers can become a valued human asset in times of a natural or man-made disaster. OEHS training and education should connect to a workers’ level of understanding and the work being done. Many workers have social disadvantages but occupational health and safety should be paramount. Everyone should return home without experiencing injury, illness or death while on the job.

Sometimes social intelligence includes interpersonal skills. These skills are required to effectively communicate, interact and work with individuals and groups. These include active listening, teamwork, persuasion and public speaking. Interpersonal skills include everything from communication to emotional intelligence. Interpersonal skills can make all the difference when taking a new position, leading a team, or influencing others on a critical decision.

Decision-making skills are another part of the mental process of choosing a logical choice from available options. It is sometimes one of the hardest parts of being a team leader and usually a big focus for managers and supervisors. It can be a monumental challenge for new and seasoned professionals alike. Learning these soft skills can help you determine the best choice from several options, which could save time, money and resources down the line.

Critical thinking is soft skill that demonstrates a person’s ability to reason and analyze information effectively. In the workplace, critical thinking involves the process of taking information or problems and processing them in the most logical way to extract value and find real world solutions. It’s a highly valued soft skill because it works so well in tandem with other soft skills. For example, if you have strong critical thinking skills, it will improve a worker’s time management because they can solve problems quicker.

The Creative Quotient (CQ) is the person’s ability to think outside the box. Creativity is the capacity of any individual to think of innovative approaches to a problem different from traditional solutions. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report placed creativity in the top five most important soft skills for the future. LinkedIn ranked creativity as the most valuable business asset out of 50,000 work-based skills! But creativity as a soft skill about learning to think in a creative way and finding innovative solutions to solve problems for the organization. As repetitive working tasks are increasingly automated, it’s the creative worker who will be highly valued as they can not only complete the work but also think about how to improve the process itself.

As OEHS professionals we must be aware of the business value of organizational change but also the human side of how it impacts workers’ lives and livelihoods. Some workers are creatures of habit and don’t like change while other embrace change if there are incentives and opportunities for growth. We have the opportunity to shape the minds of future generations of OEHS professionals by using creativity to relate to more people. The more that we can connect with our creativity, the easier it will be able to solve some of the world’s problems like climate change.

Other important soft skills include problem-solving skills, which are the abilities that allow OEHS professionals to resolve problems and attain critical goals. When people lack problem-solving skills, they may find themselves stuck in an untenable situation. These skills help evaluate a situation, consider pros and cons, weigh up potential courses of action, predict possible outcomes and decide on an appropriate way forward based on a collaborative approach with stakeholders. Business leaders and managers seek to find the best socioeconomic fit to any given situation.

Leadership skills are personality traits needed for management positions. They include teamwork and collaboration, flexibility, problem-solving, strategic thinking, creativity and the ability to lead by example. These soft skills are critical for OEHS professionals who manage teams, projects, change and motivate workers and their piers to achieve their best performance. Additionally, true leadership skills require a repertoire of traits like perseverance, confidence and inspiring others by setting a positive example.

Time management skill is a group of soft skills to effectively plan and accomplish goals in a timely manner. Having good time management allows OEHS professionals to accomplish more in less time. That outcome leads to more free time, which lets you take advantage of creative thinking, learning opportunities and lowering stress and anxiety. People who have good time management skills easily prioritize tasks and implement a workplan. Alternatively, poor time management skills may waste valuable time and missing out on time sensitive business opportunities.

Collaboration, also known as teamwork, is the ability to work effectively with your colleagues. It encompasses other soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, adaptability and communication. Working collaboratively means workers can solve problems quicker and better understand their own strengths and weaknesses by listening and understanding the situation. Working together fosters a healthy work environment of learning and sharing between colleagues. Working together with others forges a common goal of many roles, so being able to do it effectively is a skill worth the investment.

Adaptability or flexibility embraces change and challenges with a positive, resourceful attitude. All workers face unexpected problems in the workplace, but those with strong adaptability skills are able to approach these calmly and find solutions quicker than those who might be less flexible. Also, as the modern workplace is constantly evolving, having a level of resilience to pivot around these changes and view them as opportunities rather than obstacles is an attractive asset to employers. You can improve your adaptability by being more resourceful, curious and persistent.

Negotiation skill is a quality that allows two or more parties to come to an agreement. These skills often align with other abilities such as; listening, communication, persuasion, planning, strategizing, and cooperating. Negotiation skills include different tactics that can be useful to persuade the other parties but the ability to listen to various viewpoints. Professional negotiation is a part of everyday life. It can happen between colleagues at work, employer, customer, or with an outside stakeholder. It is an important soft skill that is used in a conflict or dispute resolution.

Conflict resolution is another soft skill of resolving a conflict or dispute. It may involve conflict prevention, reconciliation, or the intervention to address deep-rooted causes of conflict. People who can identify conflicts and pinpoint the cause, acknowledge different opinions and build a consensus are valuable to many organizations. They make it more likely for personal differences to be set aside so work can continue. This soft skill uses other techniques such as active listening, bias for action, perspective talking, facilitation, mediation, problem solving, responsibility and accountability for actions.

Finally dependability is a soft skill that enables workers to get the job done, on-time. It’s about reliability, meeting commitments and expectations, maintaining product delivery or service obligations when possible, and showing up for work on time. Dependable people keep their word, complete tasks without being asked, and can be counted on during challenging situations.

So how can soft skills influence diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)? Diversity “includes race, color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, societal status, education, marital status, language, age, gender, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability, genetic information and learning styles.” We know many people are inclusive to many socioeconomic and geopolitical climates. It is incumbent upon us to talk about the issues using our soft skills.

Inclusion is about diversity, equity, equality and justice. It’s the act of welcoming, supporting, respecting and valuing all individuals and groups. Equity is often used interchangeably with equality, but there’s a core difference: Where equality is a system in which each individual is offered the same opportunities regardless of circumstance, equity distributes resources based on needs. We live in a disproportionate society, and equity tries to correct its imbalance by creating more opportunities for people who have historically had less access.

Demand is growing for skilled workers to drive management change and influence organizations. It doesn’t matter about your thinking style, language, ethnicity, religion, experiences, nationality, skills, gender, physical abilities, age or culture. We all have a story to tell and capacity to share thoughts, experience, information, ideas, concepts and knowledge about the issues that matter to business and industry while protecting the workforce, public and the environment. As OEHS professionals, we need to help those who need to learn about the workforce, assess their needs and capabilities, provide resources and opportunities to on promises or expectations.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed in 2021, which is a substantial increase over years past. These rising numbers are indicative of the fact that employers are striving to create a culture of DEI in the workplace, which has a positive impact and helps to strengthen the workforce. It is imperative that employers create a workplace environment focused on DEI. Everyone should have sense of belonging especially for underserved workers with and without disabilities so they can make a meaningful contribution. Workers oftentimes need a heightened level of support from their employers and co-workers.

Studies have shown that black workers face higher levels of occupation-related hazards than do whites. But little attention is paid to racial or social inequality and the impact on the economy and society. Minority workers are employed in hazardous jobs and, as a result, they are at high risk of developing occupational disease or injured. Immigrants also represent a rapidly growing segment of workers in agriculture, sweatshops, gig and day laborers and construction. Globally, two billion workers work in the informal economy as street vendors and home-based garment workers.

In April 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor published its Equity Action Plan to support marginalized, vulnerable and underserved communities to advance DEI. You may be aware that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Its goal is to educate everyone about the vast ways people with physical and mental disabilities can contribute. While workers with disabilities can become wonderful employees, they need support, capacity to learn, understand, communicate and share their experience to do the job.

So it's important to elevate your soft skills to accommodate these workers. To help improve your soft skills, the Future Learn has several courses to help you master these concepts. Most courses are designed with lesson plans that require a commitment of two to four hours per week over two to five weeks. The information garnered from each course may be invaluable for both personal development and people management. Soft skills are lifelong tools that help people work well with others, and they're vital in today's workplace. Whether OEHS professionals want to improve their soft skills, think more creatively or learn how to lead at team; these courses and other interventions can help you become more receptive to daily challenges in a global work environment.

Here are some gaps and how soft skills relate to DEI. First, identify your individual, organizational and business strengths and weaknesses. This can be done by becoming more aware of your character traits and how you interrelate to the people around you, how your organization benchmarks against your competitors and how the business, as an industry, fits in the global marketplace especially during difficult times. Review the list of soft skills presented herein and how they can be used to improve DEI in the workplace. Ask your trusted colleagues, friends or former supervisor to tell you where personal or organizational improvements can be made. Consider asking for feedback from co-workers, colleagues or business associates. If they do share feedback, listen without being defensive, accept criticism and always be open to positive suggestions. So how do we improve our soft skills and become a change agent relative to DEI in the workplace? Well here are a few tips to consider on a personal level:

  1. Pick a skill you want to improve and practice it consistently. You can improve any soft skill if you practice it. Most soft skills are a matter of routine. For example, you can practice dependability by improving punctuality (showing up to work or events on time or early or starting on projects at work earlier so you can complete them ahead of schedule.
  2. Observe and mimic the positive soft skills you see in others. There are people you know or work with who have strengths or personality traits. Develop these soft skills by observing the practices of others and use them into your daily routine.
  3. Set milestone goals to improve soft skills. Set measurable goals by carefully reading your performance reviews at work or asking trusted friends and colleagues for constructive criticism. This can help you to identify areas for goal setting and areas of strength.
  4. Find resources to help you learn. There are many resources—such as books, podcasts or online classes—that can help you learn tactics for improving specific soft skills.

Many employers value strong soft skills over technical skills because they reflect personality traits that can be difficult to teach. Anyone can improve their soft skills with experience and practice. It is estimated that nearly 93 percent of employers seek qualified candidates who have a myriad of soft skills and who can apply them during these adversarial times. While hiring the right person is important, the organization and industry must also become change agents to position themselves in the current socioeconomic and geopolitical world.

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