How to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

“Diversity is getting invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” 

-Vernā Myers

You may have built a diverse workplace. There may be African-Americans, people from the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and a diverse age range. Great, you’ve hit your diversity goals. Now what?

Do women in your office occupy positions of real power? Can trans people make it through the week without an invasive question? Are there microaggressions when a Muslim steps out of a meeting to pray? Do black folks keep getting complimented for being so well-spoken? Do Latinos get to enjoy their lunch without a Taco Tuesday comment?

Now that you’ve built a diverse team, the real hard work is about to begin. 

Beyond tokenism

It’s tempting to think that you can just throw all of your properly proportioned team members into the same room and expect them to suddenly be highly innovative and productive. 

But unless you take an inclusive approach to diversity, all you’d done is made the issue worse. 

What you have created, my friend, is tokenism, or only hiring these people to avoid criticism and to make it appear that your company treats everyone fairly. 

The diversity you have created doesn’t mean much if your staff doesn’t practice inclusion. Moe Carrick, founder of Moementum, Inc. says diversity is the mix while inclusion is what you do with the mix. So, how do you create an inclusive environment that brings out the beauty and power of our differences? 

There’s good and bad news.

The bad news is you can’t do it in a day. Or in a week. Or a year. It’s not that easy. You can not root hundreds of years of discrimination with a half-day diversity training program. There are people who devote their entire careers to this and look back to realize everything moved a few inches. 

The good news is that if you, as a leader, can bring about a change in the mindset of your employees. It’s a long and difficult road, but you can get there. You can lead by example and make your employees see that we must acknowledge our differences and treat each other with dignity.

Bring your bias to the dais

As a team leader or functional head, the onus of instilling an inclusive culture in your team falls on you. And guess what, you have a ton of bias just sitting inside you. Take a look at any of Harvard’s implicit bias tests if you need proof. 

The absolute best thing to do first is to call out your own biases and name them. When biases go unnamed, they keep the power. They love to lurk in the darkness and are easy to deny. Instead, when we bring them out in the open, they don’t seem so insipid. 

Lead by example and others on your team will be more comfortable to be open with their biases. 

Stop using the phrase “culture fit”

The norms of power and the embedded rewarding system in most organizations are directed at people who ‘fit’. In our interview with Leron L. Barton, he said:

I just thought back to whenever I would interview at a company or tech firm, they would always stress culture fit. “Well, you have to fit the culture here. We have a certain work culture here. Or our culture at this company is blah, blah, blah.” And so, I just found that that was a new way to discriminate against people and block them from saying, “Oh, well, yes, on paper, he or she was fantastic. But they didn’t really fit the work culture.”

It’s a dangerous word because it can exclude. It’s usually code for “you’re not like us”. It stops managers from hiring people who are different from themselves. It stops people from fraternizing with their coworkers. 

Pay close attention during your meetings

Meeting behavior tells you everything you need to know about inclusion–whose voice is heard and who gets interrupted, who speaks the last word, and how the dominant group responds to an outlandish idea. 

It’s highly likely that white males dominate the meeting and women and people of different races do not get their due credit. Whose ideas are discredited? Who forces everyone to listen? Who summarizes other people’s thoughts? 

If you notice these subtle behaviors and microaggressions, then you know your workplace needs a dose of inclusion. Establish clear meeting policies that allow people to participate freely and amplify the voices of women and other marginalized communities. Experiment with appointing a leader to keep the meeting on track, someone who isn’t the usual person in charge. Ensure that people don’t interrupt each other and give credit to the original idea creators.

Hand over the power

It’s tempting to want to take charge of this and every conversation regarding inclusion. But the best thing you can do is to give up as much power as possible. Who plans your holiday celebrations? Who gets the final say for decorations and art around the office? Who plans the company offsites? Even if you try to be a benevolent privileged group, it isn’t the same as turning over full power and authority to people from marginalized communities.   

Be a good human

There’s no point in having extra seats for marginalized people at the table if they don’t feel like they belong there. Adding to what Verna Myers said, belonging is dancing like no one is watching. 

Human things like sitting down and listening, asking for someone’s opinion, making eye contact, and giving genuine appreciation are always appropriate. 

Over to you

The topic of diversity and inclusion is broad and extensive and it’s a massive challenge we all need to tackle to create a better workplace for everyone. Hiring goals are the first step an inclusive environment but this won’t automatically create one. 

Inclusion is not a one-off thing but it’s an ongoing process. It’s close to impossible to teach employees how to be inclusive because it requires them to identify unconscious biases, put emphasis on key moments, build new habits, and be a good ally. Take the first step today!

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