Remembering the “I” in D&I: How to Foster Inclusion
In the wake of 2020’s massive social movements, many companies have invested time and resources into improving the diversity of their recruiting, hiring, and promotion practices. But building a diverse team, while important, is not enough to ensure long-term change. Inclusion is the other side of the D&I coin and requires ongoing commitment to developing a workplace culture where all people are respected and supported.
Why Is Inclusion Important?
At the most basic level, fostering inclusion is important because it’s the right thing to do. We live in a society made up of a multitude of races, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences, gender identities, and physical and mental abilities. Embracing these differences rather than ignoring or discriminating against them allows us to build a more just community.
There is also a strong business case for strengthening inclusion in the workplace. Studies have shown that when employees who are different from their coworkers are properly supported and appreciated, they contribute profitable ideas, skills, and innovations. More inclusive companies also have higher retention rates, particularly for minority employees, and save money on recruiting and onboarding.
How to Foster Inclusion in the Workplace
True inclusion doesn’t begin and end in the C-suite. Rather, it needs to permeate employees’ day-to-day interactions and experiences. Inclusive workplace cultures are built both from the bottom up and from the top down. Here are some steps that CEOs, managers, and lower-level employees alike can take to make the work environment work for everyone.
1| Model Empathy
In order to feel like we belong at work, we need to feel like our colleagues know and care about us. In a “normal” office environment, personal connections are often forged in the break room or in conversations across cubicles. In today’s world, where many of us are still working remotely, these connections take a little more conscious effort to form. Schedule a virtual “coffee break” with a co-worker you haven’t talked to in a while, or send a message over Teams or Skype asking how someone’s weekend was. The point is to make an effort to try to get to know your co-workers on a more personal level and to check in on how the people “around” you are feeling. This is especially important for managers and supervisors: regular check-ins can alert you early on if someone on your team is having a problem and help you advocate for them more effectively.
2| Engage in Structured Teambuilding
While informal interactions are critical to building real relationships among co-workers, structured teambuilding also plays an important role in building company culture. Company-sponsored teambuilding encourages connectedness and can bring together employees who might not engage with one another on a day-to-day basis. Again, in a remote environment, this takes a little more effort but it’s still possible! Schedule virtual team-wide or company-wide coffee breaks or happy hours, and build time into your staff meetings or team meetings to recognize recent employee achievements. And to make sure you plan teambuilding events your employees actually want to attend, get them involved! Ask for ideas in advance for exercises or games to help staff members get to know each other, and allow different employees to take the lead during the event.
3| Expand Your “Trusted Few”
It’s normal to develop a “go-to” group of people you rely on at work when you run into a challenge. When we look beyond our usual circle, however, we can gain fresh perspectives and creative solutions we might not have otherwise seen. Look for opportunities to engage with different colleagues on projects or to ask someone for suggestions in their area of expertise.
For managers and leaders, expanding your inner circle can help you make sure that all employees receive equal development and promotion opportunities. Get to know the goals, interests, and strengths of all your employees so that when opportunities arise, you can immediately think beyond your trusted few.
4| Get Employees Involved in the Conversation
Inclusion is an ongoing conversation, not a one-time decision. Employees need to have safe platforms through which to voice their ideas and concerns and engage with leadership and one another. One such platform is an inclusion council formed of dedicated leaders who have shown a passion for and commitment to workplace diversity and inclusion. Inclusion councils can help inform recruitment and retention practices, evaluate inclusion and culture-building efforts, and advocate for underrepresented employee groups. They can also form an important bridge between lower-level employees and C-suite leadership, ensuring transparent communication and helping employees feel safe to bring up problems.
Employee resource groups, or ERGs, are another great tool for building inclusion and getting a broader range of employees involved. ERGs are typically comprised of entry-level and mid-level employees from common backgrounds: members of a particular racial group or parents with young children, for example. Since we often feel more comfortable speaking freely and expressing ourselves around people with whom we have something in common, ERGs can provide employees a safe space in which to share their experiences (both positive and negative) and gain support. ERGs can also bring systemic problems to the attention of the inclusion council, which has more power to bring about change at a higher level.
5| Experiment with Different Meeting and Communication Methods
When all is said and done, our daily experiences and interactions do a lot more to shape our opinions of company culture than a once-a-month staff meeting. Things like meetings, emails, and conference calls make up a lot of our day-to-day, and a one-size-fits-all approach to these factors isn’t conducive to true workplace inclusion. Try to come up with strategies to make your meetings and communications more effective for everyone involved.
Plan team meetings for later in the day to help accommodate parents who might be rushed and stressed first thing in the morning. Extend your “open door” policy to include emails for people who might communicate better in writing. If you have staff members in different time zones, rotate your meeting times to make sure one person isn’t always inconvenienced by early or late calls. Send out agendas and other meeting materials in advance for employees who prefer more time to process information before discussing it. Simple tweaks can help everyone on your team feel like they are valued and respected.
6| Celebrate Your Differences
Finally, make it fun! While fostering inclusion is a vital process in the ultimate success of a company, it shouldn’t be a chore. Find fun and interesting ways to celebrate employees’ differences and let them share their experiences if they choose. Host a virtual “potluck” where employees can share recipes and traditions from different ethnic backgrounds. Add holidays from different religions to the company calendar and invite employees to share how they celebrate.
Varying cultures, experiences, and perspectives make our lives more colorful and interesting, and by embracing these differences, we make our co-workers feel valued and welcomed.
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