It’s 2020 and people still hold a lot of misconceptions about what creating a diverse and inclusive workplace actually means.
A lot of employers are under the impression that diversity and inclusion (D&I) means announcing a new equal opportunity hiring policy, maybe hiring a few marginalized folks, using LGBTQ colors in their company logo for a week… and that’s it, that’s where it ends. They think they’ve done their part. Some companies might go a step further and hire a Chief Diversity Officer and leave it up to them to sort out their organization’s systemic diversity issues, which unfortunately often fails.
Let me be clear: both of these approaches are ultimately meaningless gestures unless there’s real substantive action behind them. That means actuallylistening to and implementing alternative points of view. After all, what's the point of bringing diverse experiences and voices into a room only to ignore them?
It's a lot like values. Are your company values merely buzzwords posted on your website as part of your brand? Or are they tangible, observable, lived values which actually have an effect on how your business is run? True diversity and inclusion in the workplace means actually empowering marginalized people within your organization.
And it’s not just HR’s job, either. It’s up to everyone.
Diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility
Contrary to popular opinion, D&I doesn’t begin and end with creating a more multicultural, multiethnic workplace. Yes, representation is an important step—the first step—but it’s really only part of an ongoing process that, at a certain point, is beyond the control of HR. That’s when the rest of the organization needs to step up to create an inclusive workplace.
Are all employees being treated fairly? Do they have equal access to career growth opportunities? Do they have a voice in meetings? Are they taken seriously? Are they involved in decision-making? Are they able to contribute, create, collaborate, and lead?
If the entire organization isn’t onboard with creating an inclusive workplace, representation won’t matter. Inclusivity has to be supported and reinforced all the time, in so many different situations, and at so many different levels of the organization.
Why does diversity and inclusion matter?
A few of you might be thinking, ‘Why is diversity and inclusion something I personally need to worry about?’ First off, remember that diversity and inclusion aren’t mere goals to attain so that a company can say “look, we’re diverse and inclusive.” That’s not what this is about.
Rather, think of them as a valuable catalyst for innovation. D&I lays the groundwork for better decision-making, higher engagement, fresh ideas, and a wider impact in your community. If your organization is only able to think one way, well, good luck with that. Why not make use of your people’s diverse backgrounds, perspectives, education, and upbringing to chart a new course or try out a fresh idea?
So what can you do personally to ensure those around you feel like they’re able to openly express themselves? It’s all about expanding your self-awareness and mitigating your bias.
The first step to creating a more inclusive workplace is to realize that all of us, yes all of us, have both conscious and unconscious biases about the people around us. The way we were raised, educated, the struggles we faced and people we encountered—all of which informs the way we view, interact with, and treat our colleagues at work.
Often a bias might be completely unknown to you, until one day when it becomes apparent: an opinion you maybe never thought twice about, a perceptible shift in the tone of your voice, or rushing to the conclusion that someone is better-suited for a position because of their age.
Mitigating this at work can be a challenge for a lot of people because it requires a level of self-awareness that not all of us possess, or a resistance to what some might call self-censorship. The thing is, it’s not really about censorship at all. Instead, it’s about acknowledging and understanding why you reacted a certain way or made a particular judgment.
If your biases are harmful or otherwise non-inclusive, then you likely need to take steps to account for their impact in the workplace. Here’s what you can do (there are whole books written on this topic, but we’ll have to settle for a short list):
Be aware of and avoid using generalizations. Generalizations are insidious because we tend to rely on them too readily. Soon, they turn into stereotypes which we adopt without even thinking about it. Pay close attention to the way you and your colleagues rely on generalizations and try to make a change.
Challenge your way of thinking. Too often we get stuck in what I like to call default mode: this a natural tendency to think lazily or uncritically. Instead of asking ourselves why we’re thinking a certain way, we just absent-mindedly go through the motions. Make a conscious effort to question yourself when you’re in default mode.
Consider your impact. I know that sometimes it feels like we don’t have much of an impact on those around us, but that’s really not the case at all. The things you say and do, the way you behave, they all have a ripple effect on how people experience the shared workspace.
We all share a responsibility to make those around us feel welcome, valued, and accepted. Policies around increasing diversity and inclusion are a good step, but they’re only the beginning. Creating a sense of belonging for marginalized colleagues is something that happens on the ground, in day-to-day interactions. And belonging can only be created when people across an organization begin to do better.
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