How to Cultivate a More Inclusive Workplace

Aug 16, 2022 | Culture

These days, it seems like everyone is talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. And with good reason: ensuring that workplaces are diverse, equitable, and inclusive is beyond a doubt the right thing to do, for both business and ethical reasons.

Research has shown that businesses that are more diverse are more profitable and innovative; and they also boast higher employee engagement and retention. 

But diversity alone will not help businesses and business leaders to achieve these results.

Getting diverse team members on board is a start – but a culture of inclusion ultimately needs to be in place to make diversity count.

In this blog, we’ll share concrete strategies for building a workplace culture that is more inclusive. But first, let’s define our terms:

Diverse workplaces are environments where team members reflect the diversity of the community, along axes such as gender, race, culture, religion, sexuality, disability, age, socio-economic status, etc.

Equitable workplaces are environments where efforts are made to equalize opportunities and remove barriers for equity-seeking, diverse groups.

Inclusive workplaces are environments where members of diverse groups feel like they truly belong – all team members feel valued, seen, and respected.

You can bring on diverse team members, but if your workplace is not equitable and inclusive, those individuals will either leave quickly or stay, but fail to contribute in the ways you had expected.

If employees feel that they cannot bring their whole selves to work or that they fundamentally don’t belong, then they will hold back from voicing their opinions, conceal parts of themselves to fit in, and ultimately be less high-performing, innovative, and impactful.

So, what can you do to maximize the potential of your people through inclusion? Here are our top strategies:

De-Segregate Your Inner Circle

As a leader, the best thing you can do to ensure your workplace is more inclusive is to take a look at your inner circle. Who is on your leadership team? Who advises you and helps you make decisions? Who do you turn to when you need to move an important initiative forward?

And now, be honest with yourself: in what ways is this group homogenous? Do they all share the same gender or sexual identity? The same race, culture, or religion? The same socio-economic background?

If they do, this is not meant to make you feel ashamed or defensive. This is entirely normal. While our cities are incredibly diverse, our neighbourhoods and social and professional networks tend to be incredibly homogenous.

That being said, this needs to be addressed. For leaders to lead inclusively, they cannot lead from an echo chamber.

Reflect on how you can bring more diversity to your inner circle. This could include starting formal sponsorship/mentorship programs that encourage sponsors and mentors to match with individuals that are different from them, or bringing in outside speakers or advisors.

Ensure That Diverse Voices Are Heard

Again, take a look around the rooms (or virtual rooms) where your team collaborates, innovates, or makes decisions. Who tends to be the loudest voice? Who tends to be the quietest? For diversity to “work,” we need to make sure all voices are heard.

Take steps to build relationships of trust with your quieter team members and understand the best way to help them share their perspectives. Create a team environment where making space for all voices is valued and model a culture of asking questions, listening for responses, and following through on people’s contributions. This doesn’t mean that you have to say “yes” to every idea – it simply means you need to acknowledge that an idea was shared and explain why it will or won’t be taken up. People contribute when they feel safe, valued, and heard.

Build a “Call In” Culture

A big part of building a more inclusive culture is working to understand some of the microaggressions – or small acts of discrimination – that we engage in unwittingly. It is important for team members at all levels to have training about unconscious bias (the ways we treat or perceive people differently, often without realizing it) and microaggressions (the small but insidious ways in which bias can sometimes manifest). For instance, an unconscious bias might be that women like to run events. A microaggression would be always asking the one woman on your team – whose portfolio is the same as everyone else’s – to manage all of the team’s social events.

Microaggressions are small, but they add up. A recent study found that only 3% of Black professionals wanted to return to the office full-time after the pandemic, compared to 21% of white professionals. Researchers believe this gap is due to microaggressions: virtual work environments spare diverse groups many of the microaggressions that are traditionally levelled at them in casual workplace conversations and interactions.

Education and training are key to making the workplace more inclusive, but it’s also important to publicly build and model allyship. When you notice someone saying or doing something discriminatory or exclusionary, think about how you can call that person “in.”

Call in culture is a culture where people are encouraged not to call each other out – pointing the finger of guilt – but to call each other in. It’s saying, “I noticed that you said ‘x’ and I think it was kind of inappropriate. I know we are all trying to do better; I am too. Can we talk more about how we can do better together?” Call in culture is about allyship with less defensiveness and building a culture of collective responsibility around inclusion issues.

Check Your Bias

Finally, we are all biased. That might never go away. We are all likely to “click” with people who we feel similar to. The key is awareness of our biases and a commitment to do better. Ask yourself: what are my personal biases? How do these biases contribute to how I act and interact at work? Acknowledge where you could do better and create a plan to continuously learn and listen. And, better still, share that plan with others. Not only will this make you more likely to succeed, but it’ll be a meaningful step in advancing inclusion at your organization – modelling your learning journey will encourage others to take similar steps and signal the importance of inclusion to your team and the organization as a whole.

At the end of the day, inclusion is a journey and not a destination. We will never be perfect when it comes to inclusion, but if we are trying to be better, we are on the right path.  

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