As our society becomes more diverse, many companies are implementing diversity and inclusion programs. But simply hiring a diverse staff who can work cohesively together isn’t enough. True inclusivity denotes so much more than that. It means that companies are able to integrate the unique knowledge and experiences of professionals from diverse cultural backgrounds into their strategy. It means that company policies and standards reflect the equal rights and value of all employees. (We’re not just talking about legal rights here, but ethics, which can be two entirely separate things).
Because the law doesn’t begin to address the entire spectrum of what inclusivity means, doing so becomes the business owner’s responsibility. And while it’s a big one, implementing real inclusivity initiatives makes it so that you can share the responsibility with team members. The key is to encourage inclusivity in ways that are comfortable and enjoyable for you and your staff. After all, diversity and inclusivity in the workplace is something to celebrate...and use for the greater good of your business.
1. Start an Open Conversation about Inclusivity
This one may not sound like the most aggressive approach- and it’s not. The point is to make everyone feel comfortable to share their valuable input and play a part in making the workplace more inclusive. But if you don’t know what inclusivity means to your staff members, your business won’t be able to work together cohesively to become more inclusive. The meaning of inclusivity needs to be strongly defined by the company, but that’s not enough. Your employees also need to be on the same page about what it means to be an inclusive company, and how they can contribute to it.
You may be saying to yourself, “Obviously, all of my employees know what inclusivity means; I didn’t hire a bunch of idiots”. But since inclusivity is hardly ever actively discussed in workplaces, you’d be surprised at how many people have different ideas of what it means...and valuable insights about how to help your company a more supportive, effective team. For everyone.
The most important thing to remember? Inclusivity is not achieved by any one definite strategy. It’s a communicative process that takes a continuous group effort and happens over time.
2. Drive Inclusivity Through Structured Activities
Many people learn not just by talking, but through experience. Try doing some activities that encourage team members to get to know each other as people. Part of this involves learning about how other team members personally feel about what is going on in the world. Create a safe, positive space for your team members to discuss their reactions to world events. When there is open, respectful communication in the workspace, people feel more valued as individuals, see life from different perspectives, and learn from one another. Some examples of topics include- but are definitely not limited to- acts of violence in the news, mental health awareness, healthcare, disabilities, immigration and foreign policy, and the #metoo movement/women’s rights. When people feel comfortable to let their guard down and see situations through multiple perspectives, cultural differences add greatly to a company’s morale, productivity, and reach.
As an employer, you should make it clear to employees that you have an open-door policy. Many times, people have questions related to diversity, ethics, and cultural considerations- but they fear coming across as naive, ignorant, or offensive. Emphasize that you’re committed to providing a safe space for employees to discuss matters related to diversity and inclusivity. Make it known that there are no judgements or questions too big or small.
Obviously, the more comfortable team members are to communicate about these issues, the more cohesive and productive your company will be. Every person should not just feel tolerated and accepted but valued for who they are and what their culture brings to the table.
You can organize open discussions as panels in which alternating employees speak about a predetermined topic. Topics might range from world events to issues that affect employees on a daily basis such as imposter syndrome and gender bias.
While we’re on the topic of gender, societal archetypes and biases have wedged a large gap between men and women. Stereotyping does more harm than good because it’s unrealistic: Every person has a blend of masculine and feminine qualities that is unique to them. Although much of society is becoming more inclusive, many large corporations still profit from women’s and men’s insecurities by perpetuating unrealistic body standards. Marketing industries also capitalize on cultural biases. If yours is a beauty, fashion, or health and wellness brand, this is an important conversation to have. Ask your employees about their personal experiences with societal ideals about how they should look or behave.
If your company is new at diversion and inclusivity activities, don’t dive in headfirst. Start with icebreakers, or simple questions that still encourage meaningful answers from employees. After “breaking the ice” and establishing some rapport, you can move on to more personal questions. These activities can help team members recognize and correct stereotypes so that they aren’t perpetuated in the workplace. They can also help everyone find common ground and celebrate their differences.
Go further and ask your employees what makes them feel valued and good about themselves at work versus what makes them feel undermined and unconfident. What is most important to them at work? What are their professional and self-actualization goals, and how are they linked? How are their daily preferences and long-term goals linked to their culture, if at all?
Although spontaneous conversations are vital to truly getting to know one another, writing activities can bring perspectives more into focus. When we’re talking spontaneously, many times we’re not really thinking about what we are saying. (That’s the value of verbal interactions; they yield genuine responses, not cookie cutter ones).
However, writing has its own value because it gives employees the time and impetus to think critically. Try asking your employees to write about topics that get them thinking deeply. An example: What was the most defining moment in your life, and why?
You may also want to implement storytelling as a team-building activity. Because storytelling involves sharing core information about oneself, it promotes inclusivity. We recommend that you take the lead and go first, then invite others to tell their stories. A standard framework for storytelling as a team-building activity might go something like this:
● Who are you, and what is your job title in the company? What does it entail?
● What is unique about you as a person and employee?
● In what ways do you do your job differently than everyone else?
● What inspired your career?
3. Use the Briggs Myers Personality Test to Learn More About Your Employees
Many companies still utilize the Briggs Myers typology test to learn about the different personalities which comprise your company. Although doing this certainly doesn’t replace open, ongoing conversations about diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, it does give you personal information about your employees that you may not have known otherwise. Knowing who your employees are individually gives you valuable information about how they may respond in situations regarding diversity and inclusivity...and many other relevant areas.
It’s so important for employees to feel not just accepted- not even just celebrated- but supported. Make it known to your employees that you’re there to provide support about any matters related to their own unique identity.
4. Always Use Correct Gender Pronouns\
It’s no longer universally acceptable to make assumptions about gender identity based on appearance. Sexual identity is a complicated area of life, and society is beginning to understand that it encompasses much more than the way a person presents. Identity is how someone feels inside and relates to the world, so ask new employees what pronouns they use. If this isn’t something you’ve practiced before, you may feel silly asking people who already work for you what their gender pronouns are. You don’t have to feel silly or out of place! There are ways to have the discussion in an easy, natural situation in which people don’t feel put on the spot.
During a meeting or team-building activity, you might start by highlighting the importance of correct gender pronouns at work. Explain that as a way of honoring and respecting all employees as individuals, you’re going to go around the room and say gender pronouns. Even if everyone already knows which pronouns their team members use, establishing them out loud is good practice, and normalizes gender inclusivity as part of the culture of the company. It’s not a taboo topic that no one should address for fear of being offensive.
For example, your employees may make mistakes about gender pronouns. In an accepting, supportive culture, this is less likely to lead to tension. The person being addressed wrongly is more likely to feel comfortable simply correcting the mistake rather than feeling personally offended.
For review, gender pronouns include:
And remember, gender pronouns are not “male” or “female”. All pronouns are gender neutral. They can be used for any gender. Also, gender queer is a term used to describe an identity that is not exclusively male or female; non-binary is slightly different but similar. It means that a person identifies as neither male nor female.
It’s also very important for everyone to be familiar with and at ease using terms that describe sexual orientation. If you’re asking what sexual orientation has to do with work, the answer is: a lot. These terms are used and referred to in daily conversation; they are understood and implied everyday. Diverse employees feel much safer and happier to work with people who are educated about and familiar with their identity, orientation, and culture.
A brief review of orientation terms:
● Homosexual/Lesbian/Gay (Gay can be used to describe both women and men with same sex preferences)
● Queer (any orientation that is not exclusively heterosexual)
When people are not familiar, it makes people feel uncomfortable, undervalued, and as if they don’t belong to the team or the whole. Feelings of exclusion and loneliness are personally detrimental, and they’re detrimental to the well-being and productivity of any work culture. They can lead to aggression, poor conflict resolution, poor communication, negative behaviors, impaired performance, and so much more. Prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination leads to more violence and detriment worldwide than many people realize.
These are all reasons why something as seemingly simple as gender pronouns and sexual orientation terms are important at work.
5. Treat Disabled Employees As Equals, and Work Directly with Them to Accommodate Their Unique Needs
According to Work Without Limits states that, “Individuals with Disabilities represent an untapped candidate pool for businesses. Recruiting and retaining people with disabilities is one approach to counter the effects of the aging and shrinking workforce.”
Obviously, there is a broad range of disabilities, and each requires its own unique accommodations in the workplace. Furthermore, no two people with the same disability are alike. They may have some basic physiological things in common, but there are ranges of disability under in just about every kind of disability. People are also diverse in the way they handle their disabilities in the workplace. Everyone has different learning styles, but for people with some disabilities, it’s really important for them to be able to learn in specific ways.
As with any area of diversity and inclusivity, having a positive, supportive attitude and an open-door policy goes a long way. Your attitude sets the tone for the culture of the workplace and is a big part of your brand. Encourage employees with disabilities to talk openly with you and other employees about their needs and preferences.
6. Rotate Roles in Meetings
If you typically lead meetings or have one person who does, try changing it up periodically. You don’t have to lose your effective routine, but try putting different employees in different roles during some meetings. That can even just mean rotating who runs meetings.
When you put different people in leadership positions, it gives you more information about how each of your employees is handling issues related to diversity and inclusivity. Not only that, but it gives them self-knowledge about how they handle diversity and inclusivity. Besides, switching roles periodically in some capacity encourages leadership and listening skills in everyone- including you.
Hopefully, we’ve given you some easy, effective ideas about how to make the culture of your company more inclusive. Remember, promoting inclusivity in a diverse workspace is not supposed to be a chore. Diversity is something to celebrate, so make learning about each other enjoyable for your employees! Do fun activities, initiate intriguing discussions, and lead by example. You set the precedent for your company, so it’s in your power to cultivate a happy, supportive environment for your diverse team.