Creating an inclusive work environment isn’t the same as creating a diverse workplace. Diversity requires us to acknowledge similarities and differences between people with different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. Inclusion requires us to embrace those differences.
Here’s an example to better explain this point. A diverse office would have employees from different religions, sexual orientations, countries, etc. An inclusive workplace, on the contrary, would have an environment that accepts all such differences while also celebrating them.
That is to say, that diversity is only half of the picture. You can hire people with different backgrounds, but they still won’t feel at ease if the workplace isn’t welcoming. To help them feel that way, you must get the inclusion part right. Here’s how you can create an all-inclusive workplace:
Connect With Your Employees
You have to lead by example if you want to create an inclusive workplace culture. That means (re)considering the relationships you have with your employees. Do they feel they can speak their heart to you without judgment? Here’s why the answer to this question matters.
Only when your employees are comfortable while interacting with you could you hope to create an inclusive office. That’s because you need their help more than they need yours in creating a workplace that celebrates the differences of each of its members.
Here’s how you connect with your employees for creating an inclusive work environment:
- Give them a voice.
- Try to create a culture of employee recognition.
- Seek their advice and act on it.
- Encourage them to smash their personal and professional goals.
- Talk to them about topics unrelated to work.
Do keep in mind that this approach could lead to a few difficult conversations, as not everyone in your organization will share your inclusive mindset. You must come prepared for such dialogues and be ready to defend your beliefs when someone is opposing them. Help is available if you need it and many HR service providers specialize in helping you create an inclusive work environment.
Most of us believe that only others have stereotypes and assumptions. We refuse to acknowledge that we, too, harbor beliefs that make those around us uncomfortable. Only by accepting that we hold such stereotypes can we keep ourselves from making generalizations about other people. That’s not all.
Pre-made assumptions prevent us from making an effort to get to know people whose backgrounds are different from ours. The urge to pigeonhole others influences how we think about – and behave towards – people we don’t know, keeping us from making meaningful connections.
All of these are reasons why being open-minded is just as crucial in creating an inclusive work environment as connecting with your employees, clients, and fellow workers. With this in mind, let’s look at a few tips that might help develop an open mind:
- Have respect for different viewpoints
- Listen for understanding and not for replying
- Try to keep your composure upon hearing differing opinions
- Don’t make assumptions and ask questions about things you don’t know
Provided you control the urge to react in anger whenever you hear a differing opinion, you’d eventually realize which of your ideas are appropriate and which aren’t. This, in turn, will let you know how your behavior contributes to inclusion (or lack-there-of) in the office.
Reconsider Your Meetings
All companies would admit that meetings matter. They provide the people in the organization with a forum to come together, share ideas, make decisions, and get their voices heard. Meetings are where a company’s culture takes shape, grows, and takes hold.
So it should go without saying that meetings are the place to begin for any corporation wondering how to create an inclusive environment. However, anyone who has ever led a meeting might tell you that making meetings inclusive is easier said than done.
Instead of giving everyone in attendance a voice, most meetings are dominated by alpha-individuals: a person or a group of allies with many things in common, such as job seniority, personal interests, or gender, which allows them to drown out differing viewpoints.
Without going into the specifics, it’s your job as the meeting’s leader to ensure that everyone in attendance has a voice. Try to codify inclusive meeting conduct and don’t hesitate from putting repeat offenders on notice when they (again) over-step the mark.
Offer Sponsorship Programs
Multiple corporations have launched programs that help people of color and women by pairing them with sponsors (senior leaders) who help them learn the ropes – not just in their first days or weeks on the job but over the coming months and years.
Sponsorship programs help the historically disenfranchised classes by giving them access to a broad range of learning resources and development tools at no extra cost. They also provide them with tactics and strategies using which they can progress their careers.
Little wonder, then, that this approach works. Women of color with sponsors are 81% more likely to be satisfied with their career progression than their counterparts without sponsors. They are also more likely to carve a pathway for them to more senior positions.
Promote Cultural Diversity
To promote cultural diversity in the office, start with creating a culturally sensitive holiday calendar. That means not limiting your company-wide holidays to your culture but also including popular holidays from other cultures – Holi, Eid, Chinese New Year, etc. – in your calendar.
The next thing you could do is dedicate one day each month/quarter/year to one culture. On that day you could invite people from a particular background to share the best parts of their culture with their fellow workers. This practice might help bust widely-held stereotypes.
You can also promote cultural diversity by asking people of different cultures about their challenges at work before trying to rectify those issues. This will let your diverse workforce know you care about their problems and motivate them to deliver their best work.
Create Safe Spaces
Many companies have taken a gigantic step towards promoting gender-queer and non-binary inclusion by offering gender-neutral restrooms. Other examples of safe spaces include lactation rooms for new mothers and meditation or prayer spaces.
Safe spaces aren’t restricted to physical offices only – they extend to remote work too. Create virtual safe spaces by inviting your employees to add pronouns to their user names. Encourage them to reserve time for personal needs by marking it on the calendar. Make digital meetings optional for introverts.
Research has made clear the benefits companies can get by creating an inclusive work environment. Organizations that are more diverse than average achieve higher innovation revenues, and are more likely to attain higher profits and build leaders. This should be enough to convince any organization hoping to stay relevant now and in the future to try and create an inclusive workplace.