Diversity and inclusion are vital, but can be seen or used as corporate buzzwords on websites and brochures to attract employees of diverse backgrounds without real substance behind it. Internal initiatives can be presented with utilitarian intentions, such as enhancing profitability, rather than emotional intentions, such as strengthening staff. Diversity and inclusion often resonates with employee-owned companies – the employees are the owners, after all – but these two words can also insight fervor and fury, especially when there are more feelings than facts or questions than answers.
It’s natural to be upset about injustice, regardless of whom you believe to be the perpetrator or victim. Your feelings are warranted because they are based on your own lived experiences.
Many of us are familiar with and have experienced racism and discrimination in different forms. We understand the basics of diversity, so what does inclusion look and feel like in the workplace?
Here are few examples:
1) Keep your eyes and mind open. Consider forms of diversity that are not rooted in race or other visually-apparent elements. We are more than the skin we’re born with and the clothes we wear.
2) Roll out the welcome mat/Accept the invitation. Invite and save someone a seat at happy hour and dare to include them in the conversation. They are probably just as uncomfortable as you are; it’s OK to make small talk.
Are you on the receiving end of an invitation and feeling skeptical about their intentions? Accept the invitation with positive expectations. If possible, bring a friend.
3) Check each other’s blind spot. If someone seems to be making a negative projection about someone’s ability or character that may be rooted in unconscious bias (not reality), gently call them out. Yelling or using hurtful words are unnecessary. We are here to build relationships, not ruin them. Try using language such as “I don’t understand why…” or “Why do you feel/think that way? I’ve noticed (insert example of why their belief may be misaligned).”
4) Question your hiring practices. When hiring, many companies actively move toward interviewing a diverse pool of candidates. This an incredible step, but I encourage leaders to take it a step further. Consider the established qualifications. Does the role really require an advanced degree? Does the criteria unconsciously eliminate people of different socioeconomic and/or cultural backgrounds?
5) Be slow to anger and quick to inquire. Be open to having conversations about inappropriate behavior rather than internalizing the hurt feelings or avoiding each other. Inclusion is a two-way street. Giving people a chance to clarify their intentions or express their need to be handled differently in the future is vital to shifting the workplace culture.
By taking one or several of these steps, we can start to embrace not only a diverse culture, but an inclusive one as well.