How to Promote Increased Inclusivity in the Workplace
By Rochelle Ford
When it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we often view it from two camps: diversity of thought, and race and ethnicity. Both should achieve the same goal: people bringing their unique perspectives, experiences and knowledge to the table and respectfully engaging with each other.
However, it is often not enough to just hire a diverse group of employees. That is an important first step, but once the right people are hired, it is essential that every team member works to promote a more inclusive environment. Crucial to understanding our own role in this effort is recognizing the most innocuous ways we obstruct inclusivity. After self-evaluation, there are two essential tactics we must take: promoting empathy and combatting microagressions.
Cultivating a work environment based on empathy involves implementing programs and initiatives that will elicit positive engagement from team members at every level. Setting up programs for mentorship and affinity groups is a great way to connect employees with people outside of their usual circle.
Mentor programs that focus specifically on under-represented employee groups, such as women or ethnic minorities, can prove monumental in creating a positive learning environment for both mentors and mentees. Not only does the mentee gain advice from an experienced professional on how to navigate challenges, but the mentor also gains valuable insight into the conversations and resources that may currently be lacking in the company. Mentoring relationships that cross race, gender, age and ethnicity are important for people to learn about each other but also to emphasize solving organizational problems together.
Likewise, affinity programs, or employee resource groups, can also help build a more inclusive workplace by connecting employees who share a similar identity or cultural background and providing them with an avenue to seek support and career advice. These programs give employees the assurance and comfort of knowing their thoughts and opinions are being heard — whether it’s through regular interactions with a higher executive or connecting with team members from similar backgrounds in a familiar setting. Each program has its purpose, but they all aim to encourage team members to listen and connect with the people around them.
The second key step in successfully promoting inclusivity is learning how to combat microaggressions. They don’t have to be obvious, like blatant racial slurs, to be harmful. These actions can be seemingly small, ranging from verbal remarks that demean an employee’s heritage to language or behavior that exclude the feelings of employees who represent a different group. Executives have the responsibility to implement training programs that educate employees about the damaging effects of unconscious bias and microaggressions.
Employees on the receiving end also have a responsibility to combat this behavior and change the conversation moving forward. Knowing how and when to respond when confronted with microaggressions is critical. According to Jody Gray from the University of Minnesota and the American Library Association, the most important thing to do is take a minute to reflect before responding on an assumption. Asking a person to explain or restate their comment can often serve as a check for them to rephrase it in a more inclusive manner. If a response is needed, focus on the event, not the person—this lowers the likelihood of a defensive tone and can make the other person more receptive. Respond how you want to the other person to act, and avoid sarcastic or condescending tones. Gray suggests using yourself as an example: talking about how you’ve “unlearned” certain behaviors is a good way to get on the same level and can help reframe the conversation in a way that makes it click.
Additionally, if someone witnesses what is seemingly a microaggression toward someone else, the witness needs to follow the same steps but adding in the question of “Why am I offended?” Once that understanding occurs, keep the focus on oneself and not the supposed recipient because that person may not feel offended and may not want or need the witness to “come to the rescue.” Instead, follow the same steps of clarification, focusing on the event, using yourself as an example and creating a possible learning opportunity.
At the end of the day, creating an inclusive environment simply comes down to respect—authentic and mutual respect for your team and the common goal you are working to achieve. It’s important that employees understand and utilize the resources and programs that are in place to foster a workplace based on growth and personal development. From top to bottom, employees at all levels and backgrounds want to feel supported and valued for their different perspectives, and achieving inclusion requires full commitment and patience from all team members in order to succeed. What are other programs or initiatives that have been used in your own workplace that have proven successful in promoting diversity and inclusion?