Making Room At The Table: Cultivating An Inclusive Workplace

Making Room At The Table: Cultivating An Inclusive Workplace

Raising awareness is the key to inclusion. We’re all fighting against centuries of conscious and unconscious bias in the workplace. The first step is acknowledging and accepting that fact. The next is to correct the bad behavior when we see it.

We also need to discuss bias openly and honestly. For example, I can admit that, as men, we were able to advance our careers in settings not always afforded to women. Traditionally, we had time on the golf course and in the hours after work grabbing drinks and talking sports — it was easy to connect with the other guys in the office.

However, those same opportunities weren’t always (or ever) offered to the women in the office. Women have had to learn to network and use their strengths in different ways. They want and deserve the same opportunities as their male counterparts but often connect with their colleagues differently.

As leaders, we must understand how to appreciate and nurture each person’s strengths as they look to accomplish similar goals — whether it’s becoming a better leader or becoming a better employee. When you swing too far one way or the other when trying to appeal to every individual employee, you’re totally missing the point.

The Importance Of Inclusion

When you’ve got different people with different motivations gunning for the same goals, it’s your job as a leader to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Put simply, inclusion should be more incorporation than accommodation.

Sure, you can let a new parent leave early to pick up their baby from daycare. But I believe that a more effective approach would be to incorporate these added responsibilities to their role. Maybe this means adjusting office hours or allowing your employee to work remotely. As suggested in an article by HR Technologist, when employees are supported by leadership and able to work the way they want, they can deliver better results.

The Difference Between Diversity And Inclusion

At this point, you might be thinking, “Isn’t there a word that usually precedes ‘Inclusion’?” That word is diversity. However, to assume these two are the same is a mistake.

Diversity is about representation in the workplace, while inclusion focuses on the emotional connection that brings team members together, attracts diverse talent and spurs creativity. Both are important in bringing a wide range of ideas and perspectives to the table. But remember, if employees can’t form an emotional connection with their work and the people they work with, they likely won’t last long.

As Vernā Myers has been quoted: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Find Your Tribe

To strengthen your workforce, it must become a connected workforce with its members working together toward a shared vision. Seth Godin’s book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, discusses how membership to your tribe should be voluntary, respectful of others, supportive and dynamic. 

No matter your generation, life stage or breadth of experience, if employees aren’t able to connect with their colleagues, their tenure likely won’t last as long with the company. That’s why employers need to offer the right opportunities to people so that they can find each other — even if they aren’t located in the same office.

For example, employees could create small subcommittees or groups of like-minded people to connect with. Employers can help through events and initiatives that bring people together. Recognition programs that allow you to recognize and appreciate the efforts of other people you’re working with can also help to build that tribal identity, being with people you want to be with.

Make Your Efforts Count

Although many organizations have established programs for diversity and inclusion, employees aren’t feeling it. According to research by Boston Consulting Group, “only about a quarter of employees in diverse groups said that they have personally benefited.” And that’s a problem. There’s a lot of time and money that companies are investing in programs that are not actually helping the company.

In order to ensure the success of your inclusion initiatives, keep these four things in mind:

1. Gain Leadership Commitment: Executives and managers will be instrumental in your inclusionary efforts. As a leader, you will need to lead by example, not only in training but in action. Goal-setting, working with diverse groups of employees and listening to their viewpoints help to demonstrate your commitment to an inclusive workplace.

2. Tailor Approach Based On Organizational Needs: Boston Consulting Group notes that the best programs are not designed for a single diverse group or situation. “Instead, they are developed with broad input that ensures that they function for everyone involved and are supported with the appropriate resources.” When developing your program, keep in mind how it will function day to day to improve the culture of your workplace for your employees.

3. Create A Community: Give a voice to employees to help drive the direction of the program. Internal events such as bringing in a local speaker or conducting cultural training, as well as providing employee resource groups, are great options that bring teams together. These can help people not only expand their knowledge and worldview, but also connect with one another over common interests. Social software like Chatter and Jabber can also help promote employee engagement by fostering easy, open communication, whether you’re in the office or working remotely.

4. Raise Awareness: Inclusion is not an overnight solution. It’s a new lifestyle — one that you must commit to forever. It starts with leadership and manifests through all company communications, events, recognition and values. It’s OK to talk about it! Assuming “everyone knows” is fatal. Rather, assume everyone has unconscious bias and would welcome awareness and strategies to mitigate bias.

Your inclusion initiative should ensure employees have as many opportunities as they can to engage in a way they want to with an organization. Ultimately, we all want opportunities to learn and develop to be good people, no matter our background, life stage or experience.