It Starts with Us: Building a More Inclusive Workplace
Inclusion is a hot topic in the workplace these days, and for good reason. Fostering a culture of inclusion is not only the right thing to do, it also brings enormous benefits for companies and employees alike. When employees feel included–meaning when they feel they have a voice, are valued, have equal access to resources and opportunities, and feel a sense of belonging–they are apt to be more engaged at work, more loyal and committed to their company, more likely to recommend their company to other talented people, and less likely to leave.
Companies with more diverse workforces also tend to see more innovation and higher profits. With all these benefits in mind, the leaders of many companies have been eager to establish more inclusive practices, from improving their recruitment and hiring strategies to engage more diverse applicants to hosting unconscious bias trainings to hiring a Chief Diversity Officer. While these are all important signs of progress, however, a truly inclusive workplace culture isn’t built from the top down. It depends on the day-to-day interactions of all its employees. Inclusion starts with us.
There are lots of small steps employees can take in their everyday interactions to foster a culture of inclusion and make sure every employee feels valued, respected, and accepted.
The first, and perhaps most important, is to keep an open mind. A more diverse, open workplace may be new to you, and new environments can often feel uncomfortable. But if you approach increased diversity and inclusion with curiosity rather than fear, you’ll soon see the benefits!
Next, practice putting aside assumptions and stereotypes. As humans, we all have biases, both implicit and explicit; becoming more conscious of those biases and challenging them is a key part of building a more inclusive mindset. Note we said “practice”–challenging our biases is tough and not a skill we can develop overnight! So it’s important to be willing to learn, be accountable and admit when you make a mistake, and rectify the situation if necessary. Small steps forward will add up to big progress.
Be more mindful of how you communicate. Words carry great power, and we often don’t pay enough attention to how we use them. Of course, we should avoid inappropriate jokes, but inclusive language goes beyond knowing what not to say. Adopt inclusive language like “partner” or “spouse” when talking about a colleague’s significant other. Consider adding your preferred pronouns to your email signature or your Zoom tile, as well as asking people their preferred pronouns when you first meet them.
Be vocal about standing up for inclusion. Shut down inappropriate jokes or conversations in the lunchroom. Make sure your colleagues have equal opportunity to speak up in meetings. Intervene if you see someone being discriminated against (if it’s safe to do so), and check-in with the impacted person afterward in private to make sure they’re all right and ask if there’s anything else you can do to help. By doing these things you’ll make it known that you are someone who can be trusted, and you’ll likely inspire others to follow suit.
Finally, get to know your colleagues as people! We feel we belong when other people see us for who we truly are. Practice “bringing your whole self to work” –showing up authentically, quirks and all, and being open about your interests, dreams, and challenges. When we start to do this, it often makes it easier for others to do the same, giving everyone the opportunity to see one another as a whole person.
June marks Pride Month, a commemoration of the 1968 Stonewall riots that has turned into a month-long celebration of the LGBT+ community. What better time to practice inclusion and make our workplace an environment of greater belonging for everyone?