We hear a lot about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. While diversity and even equity can be measured, inclusion is a little more nebulous. Inclusion in the workplace means ensuring that every employee is given the room to thrive. Inclusive policy is how you give everyone a voice.
Whose responsibility is it to foster inclusion? Indeed, it is leadership’s charter to promote and instate policies around inclusion, but it’s also the responsibility of everyone in the organization to uphold this as a company value and to practice it. With so many people working remotely, it has been considerably more “work” to attend to inclusion during the pandemic. It has required empathy, creativity, and consistent practice.
So, what are some things you could do, as a leader or individual contributor, to ensure that your work culture is an inclusive one?
Put policies in writing
Policies must clearly state what inclusions means in the company and how it will be implemented. To have full impact, it should be part of job descriptions and performance evaluations.
Reflect on how it feels when you are included
Extend that, in some way, to others in your team and the broader organization. Perhaps your manager or colleague asked for your idea about a project plan, or maybe they invited you to a meeting about a new initiative.
Think outside “the box”
When thinking about how you can include others, think about how you have been included or how you have included others in other situations outside of work, such as at social gatherings or community programs. Consider how you could do some of those things to include others in the work environment; for example, if you have approached someone you have not met before
at a town meeting, you could introduce yourself to someone new at work and invite them to ask questions about the company and its culture.
Learn about inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a well-established term; it appears in company’s mission statements, values, and policies, but what does the “inclusion” part really mean? This needs to be understood by and clearly articulated from the C-suite for the rest of the company to embrace it. The Why it is important needs to be explored, stated, and embodied. In addition to inclusion being a “nice” and honorable value of the company, people need to understand and feel how important it is if they are to be motivated to fully embrace it. They need to know what difference it will make before upholding it as more than a slogan or creed.
Learning about inclusion goes beyond attending a compulsory couple-hour training; it means hiring consultants, holding seminars and discussion groups to talk about it, coaching, and providing articles and other educational material. It should also include experiential learning to instill its meaning and value.
Leaders must exemplify inclusion in the workplace. When doing things to include others, you are also modeling inclusion at work. Those who feel included themselves may also be inspired to include others, which builds and perpetuates an inclusive attitude and behavior, helping to reinforce it as a corporate cultural value.
Alternate meeting times
How does a company promote inclusion when people are not co-located; when they are in different places at different times? Many people are working remotely from different time zones nationally and internationally. To accommodate and include everyone equally, rotate
meeting times, so that they are not convenient for only people in one or two geographical areas.
Make extra effort to communicate
Communication goes a long way; check in with employees to find out how they are doing and how they would feel more included. Seek feedback from all levels through surveys, one-on-one meetings, skip-level meetings, and virtual suggestion “boxes.” Being curious, open, and asking questions brings people in and helps them feel seen and heard, two key aspects of inclusion. Inclusion takes intentionality. It is more than a set of policies; it is a choice every day.
Also, in hybrid work situations be sure to make the same information available to both in person and remote employees. People who are in the office tend to get more information via informal channels, sometimes when running into a colleague in the hallway. A truly inclusive system will provide informal virtual meetups and have structures in place to convey information to everyone, no matter from where they are working.
Step outside your comfort zone
It is often more comfortable to connect with people who seem more like us, but an inclusive work culture means breaking through barriers of perceived difference. Engage with and include co-workers you might not usually talk to. Working remotely may have expanded how organizations were structured in silos; whereby, people working in the office often sat in the same area as others in their department. Granted, it may not be easy to get to know others when you’re not meeting in person, but while most were not in the office during the pandemic, the “playing field” leveled somewhat. This has given everyone the opportunity to meet in the same virtual space, since they all have screens.
Create employee affinity groups
Employee affinity groups, such as Pacific Rim, veterans, Indian Subcontinent, Hispanic, African American, LGBTQ, differently abled, and other groups offer a forum to connect with others, get involved, and educate others. This is one avenue at work where one can feel included and can include others. It also fosters a sense of belonging with members of the same group.
When people feel included in a group of any kind, they usually trust others in the group. Trust is the foundation of an inclusive corporate culture. Without trust there is separation and exclusion, often rooted in fear and self-protection. Again, leadership must build trust and model it throughout an organization. Trust promotes a sense of safety and comfort that make people feel included themselves and want to include others.
The hybrid work world may challenge these inclusion practices even more but starting new from all we have learned during the peak of the pandemic will serve organizations well in their flexibility and adaptability. People at all levels of an organization are being faced with uncertainty and unprecedented working models and need to ask for help. The notion of asking for help to solve issues is a very effective inclusive act that requires “all hands on-board.” Ultimately an inclusive work culture promotes productivity, engagement, innovation, and retention.
What to do TODAY?
Karen Natasha Coaching helps many people build and access awareness about themselves, which can increase their understanding of themselves in relation to others to foster an inclusive work culture. We help people shift their energy, so that they can move forward with assurance, confidence, and renewed energy to achieve their goals and bring their best selves to work. Contact Karen Natasha Coaching for a consultation to experience how we can help.