While the diversity of thought and experience, as well as backgrounds and ethnicities, has been a hallmark of modern workplaces for decades now, many companies still experience uneven inclusion. Inclusivity is focused on making all diverse members of a team feel equally welcomed, valued, heard, and supported in their work. It is not enough to bring in employees who add diversity to the team if they feel ostracized or ignored in the workplace.
Leadership in your company should take the reins when it comes to guiding the company toward both diversity and inclusion. Learning more about what makes an inclusive work environment and then how to lead with inclusivity are the key steps to get started.
Creating an Inclusive Work Environment
An inclusive work environment is one where every team member feels valued and empowered to participate fully, speak up if something is wrong, and receive a thoughtful and clear response from leadership. An inclusive work environment, however, cannot be an "80% of the time" kind of endeavor. Instead, building inclusivity involves a lot of self-awareness from leadership. You begin by acknowledging bias affects us all unconsciously (if not consciously as well!), so that you can take measured actions. For instance, here are some of the small moments that matter a lot in an inclusive work environment:
- When a new team member speaks up with his or her first idea, the way you react is incredibly important. A dismissive attitude, even if the idea is not feasible, is going to stick with that team member and may lead them to feel unvalued or unheard. Practice strategies for suggesting that the topic be discussed in further detail in a one-on-one, rather than simply shutting a person down in front of their colleagues.
- When instances of unfairness or injustice in the workplace come to light, working under the assumption that they should be taken seriously is key. Employees who experience discrimination only to have it made light of by their leadership are unlikely to feel connected to or empowered by their organization. Yes, there are instances where misunderstandings occur, but it is imperative to start an investigation seriously and scale back if new information comes to light, rather than invalidating an employee's experience because you assume that discrimination doesn't occur.
- Policies can also be a place to promote inclusivity. From making sure that promotion and performance review standards are clear so that all employees can work toward excellence, to outlining a clear grievance policy and process for mediation in employee conflicts, you can lead the way for inclusivity by not leaving policies for equality up to the individual managers.
Leading With Inclusivity
Leading with inclusivity involves a shift in mindset. When a workplace gains true diversity, you as a leader can make far fewer assumptions about the experiences of those around you. They likely have had very different lives. This means that you need at least a few core traits to lead with inclusivity:
- Humility: Acknowledging that there are things you don't know and must learn, even if you must learn them from subordinates.
- Clarity: You can't just leave vague instructions or guidelines because you think they aren't important. Your employees cannot read your minds, and vagueness benefits those who have the most similar background to your own.
- Transparency: Whenever possible, disclosing why decisions are made will improve communication and help your team understand what is going on. Transparency lets you be held accountable, which is frightening to those who worry that they may have made a mistake. However, a track record of transparency and accountability, even for mistakes, is one of the surest ways to gain trust from a diverse workforce.
- The Ability to Differentiate Your Style of Communication: All of your employees are equal, but they are not the same. When your employees come to you with distinct needs, you need to make policies and choices that are equitable rather than expecting diverse people to all meet a single arbitrary standard. For instance, an "equal" policy might be only 10 days of paid sick leave per year, but an equitable policy might be "10 days of paid sick leave per year, with the option to discuss more in order to accommodate chronic conditions or frequent appointments." Everyone may not need more sick leave, but some individuals will; if you make your policy inflexible, you may lose out on excellent employees who feel they must find a more flexible employer to thrive.
Understanding inclusion takes time and practice, and a great way to move your own understanding forward is to take a class on diversity, equity, and inclusion. These courses are online so that you can fit them around your schedule, and you'll find applications for your learning in your everyday work environment. Portland Community College offers classes through PCC Climb. The professional development coursework offers flexibility and continued growth for students all over.