Inclusion in the Workplace
6 Ways Every Employee Can Contribute to Inclusion in the Workplace
Creating an inclusive workplace is imperative, both to support a more just and equitable world and to ensure a company’s long-term growth and survival.
Diversity vs Inclusion
While these words are often used interchangeably, there is actually an important distinction between diversity and inclusion. A good workplace will include both, but in order to do so, it is important to understand the difference.
Diversity in the workplace means that a company hires candidates of differing backgrounds, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and lifestyles. Inclusion, on the other hand, goes it bit deeper. It means that employees’ differences are acknowledged, respected, and valued and that each and every employee feels empowered and accepted for who they are.
Essentially, diversity provides everyone with a seat at the table. Inclusion ensures that all voices at that table have an equal chance to be heard.
Benefits of an inclusive workplace
So why is inclusion so important? First, it supports equity, social consciousness, and empathy – important values for many companies, as well as for a just and well-functioning society. Companies that focus on building true inclusion are doing their part to make the world a better place.
Second, inclusion in and of itself is good for business. Research has found that companies that foster true inclusion – walking the walk instead of just talking the talk – see increased improvement of business performance, better decision-making and more innovation, and greater employee engagement and retention.
In short, inclusion is a win-win!
How to build an inclusive workplace
Clearly, inclusivity is an important feature in today’s world. So how can we build a truly inclusive workplace? While certain factors, such as hiring practices, lie largely with management, there are some important things that every employee can do to foster more inclusion in the office.
- Educate yourself. With the recent resurgence of emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the workplace has come a deluge of educational resources on the topic. From YouTube videos to podcasts to books and blog articles, there is no shortage of information at our fingertips. Take some time to educate yourself about what inclusivity looks like in action and share what you learn with your family and colleagues.
- Listen to colleagues of differing backgrounds. One of the best ways to learn about different people and their experiences is to interact with them! Get to know your colleagues as individuals with their own stories and life experiences. For example, if you know that a colleague honors a different holiday than you, you can ask how they celebrate with their family.
Even more importantly, listen with compassion and empathy when a colleague speaks out about an injustice or act of discrimination they have faced. Allow them to share openly without questioning or minimizing their experience. However, do not just assume that your colleagues will want to share their experiences or expect them to educate you about issues such as discrimination and inclusion.
- Use inclusive language. Messaging matters! Try your best to use inclusive language in your communications with your fellow employees. This includes learning and using your colleagues’ preferred pronouns and saying “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife.” While this can take some practice if you are not used to it, it will go a long way in creating a truly inclusive environment in which all employees feel safe and seen.
- Pay attention to and recognize ideas and efforts. We all like to feel appreciated for our efforts and ideas. Unfortunately, due to implicit bias, the contributions of minority employees can sometimes go unacknowledged. Recognition and rewards from leadership are clearly important, but peer recognition can also play a powerful role in boosting the morale and retention of diverse employees.
Take the time to publicly thank colleagues who have helped you or contributed meaningfully to a project – this could be a company-wide email, a mention in a staff meeting, or a post on an internal message board. If your company engages in 360 performance reviews, offer to provide a review for a colleague with whom you work closely. These actions can also help remind leadership to do the same, thus stimulating more inclusive practices from the bottom up.
- See something, say something. Nothing changes without people taking action. If you witness an instance of active discrimination or an unconscious lack of inclusion in the workplace – speak up. For example, if a minority employee is being constantly interrupted in a meeting, call attention to it and request that they be given the chance to finish their thoughts. If you hear someone make a racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive joke or comment, remind them that that type of language is not acceptable in an inclusive workplace. And if you have concerns about a particular pattern of behavior that you believe to be discriminatory or non-inclusive, approach your HR team or your supervisor for a 1:1 meeting.
- Apologize for your mistakes. We all occasionally say or do something that hurts another person, even when we have the best of intentions. An important part of building an inclusive workplace, and society, is holding ourselves accountable and acknowledging when we make mistakes. If you inadvertently do or say something that could be construed as non-inclusive or offensive, an apology and a genuine effort to learn from your error will go a long way!
We all have an important role to play in creating more inclusion in our workplaces and our society as a whole. By starting to become more aware of how our everyday actions can help or hinder these efforts, we can help ensure that our offices are safe, enjoyable, and productive for all employees.
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