Inclusion is all about inviting people to come together to meaningfully contribute and create a sense of belonging. It reduces employee turnover and increases profits and productivity levels, all while improving employee engagement. Inclusion focuses on encouraging insights while working to decrease racism, homophobia, and sexism.
As an individual, regardless of our role in the workplace, we are responsible for contributing to and influencing inclusion. It starts with changing the way we think about inclusion, which isn’t as difficult as we make it out to be. All it takes is getting to know people as individuals and making them feel welcome as they are.
Some of the points below involve budget and implementing fundamental organisational change. Others are simple and change the way coworkers interact within their departments. Use this list as a jumping point to spark discussions and ideas that lead to more inclusion in your workplace.
Diversity without inclusion doesn’t work
You can have a diverse company, but without inclusion, it’s all for nothing. You need to cultivate an inclusive environment with thoughtful and deliberate discussions, followed by definitive, organisational change. It’s important to remember that a minority group may be one individual or multiple people. Regardless of the size of these groups, if they aren’t made to feel included they won’t stay in your organisation.
Ask what inclusion looks like in your workplace
Before you rely on your own observations and experience, take a moment to ask your coworkers what inclusion looks like to them. Don’t let your assumptions (based on your own experiences) get in the way of truly understanding another person’s perspective. Only by having a true idea of the issues they face daily will you be able to work on your inclusivity.
Rotate who runs and is invited to meetings
Mix up the routine to be more inclusive. A diverse group in meetings will inspire new approaches and encourage healthy debate. Give everyone involved a chance to facilitate reoccurring meetings. Provide a framework to work from but allow staff to be creative in their approach to hosting the meeting. This small change can bring different voices to the table and drive solutions.
Understand schedules differ
The business world typically runs on a Western secular year and by preconceived 8-5 work hours. But cultures and personal situations differ drastically from employee to employee. It’s lunacy to presume everyone will be comfortable working within these limits. Realise that employees may request time off for religious observances, differing New Years celebrations, and family care obligations. While a company or manager may not be able to accommodate every schedule request, they can be open to understanding these needs and provide solutions that work for everyone.
Gender friendly bathrooms
If you have the opportunity, consider putting floor-to-ceiling partitions in all stalls. Or in the future, if you move offices, make sure that this is an element of your layout design. Don’t let this simple structural change stand in your way of being more inclusive.
Create accessible spaces
Accessibility is an incredibly overlooked aspect of office design. Work with Health and Safety guidelines to make sure that clearance around desks and through doorways is up to standard. Work with your building management to make sure you have ramps where there are stairs, or that there is meeting room space on the ground floor if you don’t have an elevator. No one you work with may be disabled, yet one of your clients may be. How will they work with you if they cannot even get into the building?
Nursing rooms for mothers
If you have the space and decide to provide a nursing room, make sure the room has a lock and covered windows, as well as a special fridge to store pumped milk. Only allow that room to be booked for this specific purpose instead of being seen as another small boardroom available to everyone.
Use gender-neutral language in company policies
There is nothing preventing you from rewriting your corporate policies, job descriptions, and benefits policies to use gender-neutral pronouns, as well as removing gendered references and phrasing. Tackling new policy wording can be challenging while there isn’t (and may never be) a universally agreed upon set of concrete guidelines. But there are a number of starting points you can reference in this great article.
Remember not everyone drinks alcohol or eats meat
Whenever you cater corporate events or office parties, remember that not everyone drinks alcohol or eats meat. Make sure you have a range of non-alcoholic beverages, vegetarian and gluten-free options. If you have specific religious requirements, accommodate those as much as possible. While it may add a little effort to order a special kosher meal, this inclusive action shows the utmost respect for personal life choices.
Quiet space for religious observance
It can be very uncomfortable for coworkers to pray out in the open. If you have space, think about creating a non-denominational religious room for all employees to use. This reduces the stigma around religious practice and opens communication around what can be a very sensitive topic. When space is made, it allows employees to communicate their needs to managers instead of frustration building during uncommunicated employee absences during the day.
Recognise and celebrate religious and cultural holidays celebrated by employees
When religious and cultural holidays come around, take the opportunity to work with employees celebrating to educate coworkers. Only by fully understanding why an event is important can we begin to understand and welcome these practices into our lives. It is how we learn the correct language to use instead of being offensive. By asking to be educated, we can be understanding instead of intrusive. It’s about inclusion, not exclusion.
Don’t allow bad behaviour
It’s up to each of us to respond when we see a situation of exclusion occur. Don’t laugh at an offensive joke; instead, take your coworkers aside and explain why what they said or did was offensive. Be polite and gentle instead of angry and confrontational. Until someone clarifies to them why what they did was inappropriate, they may never know. Never assume that they already know better.
Acknowledge any biases
We all have habits based on unconscious bias. It is important to acknowledge these and work to resolve them. Try mentally flipping the person you are dealing with to someone else to test for biased reactions. With your new awareness, make sure all your decisions are inclusive no matter what your biased, initial reaction may have been. Don’t leave inclusion to chance when it will reflect on your reputation.
Looking for a more inclusive workplace?
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