Diversity and equity efforts are critical to company success. But they’re practically useless if you don’t have an inclusive workplace.
In fact, diverse workplaces are more innovative and profitable, according to research from McKinsey.
But a diverse group of employees won’t flourish if they don’t feel like they actually belong where they are.
“If the ‘B’ – the belonging – is absent, it makes it more difficult for the diversity part of the equation to work,” says Kimberly Reed, Chief Transformational Officer, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategist at Reed Development Group, and author of Optimists ALWAYS Win! Moving from Defeat to Life’s C-Suite. “Without it, the diverse population feels left out.”
So while most HR pros and their organizations have made great strides in increasing diversity and equity (D&I), many will want to focus deeper on the inclusion and belonging elements.
And that means for everyone. McKinsey found employees with all kinds of backgrounds didn’t feel included at times. Still, women, ethnic and racial minorities and employees who identify as LGBTQ+ felt it the worst.
So here are five ways to become a more inclusive workplace:
You can’t make people be nice. Fortunately, most people are nice. And that’s one of the most effective and least invasive ways to improve inclusion, according to research from Juliet Bourke, an adjunct professor in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School.
Researchers found that “instrumental assistance” – helping colleagues with work by providing information, making introductions, endorsing others in meetings and offering advice – plays a key role in inclusion.
What’s most significant about instrumental assistance is that it’s normally things done outside of people’s job description. It’s generally the nice, collegial things to do.
But you might be able to make collegiality an intangible part of your job roles.
For instance, when I started in the editorial group at Successfuel, the parent company of HRMorning, my director explained our collegiality expectation. We were – and are – expected to help colleagues. We share appropriate resources, jump in when others are overwhelmed and generally help when we can.
Perhaps you can write similar expectations into your workplace policies or job descriptions.
Speak the same language
People feel included when co-workers understand where they’re coming from and where they stand. Much of that kind of belonging is wrapped up in the language people use when talking about and to each other.
This is particularly important to the LGBTQ+ community. And the Human Rights Campaign created a glossary that can help employees who might not be familiar with gender identity terms.
That’s just a start, though. HR might want to give employees guidance on the terminology and definitions that are appropriate for your workplace in relation to race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation and gender. Work with your diverse group of employees on what’s appropriate.
Make sure all of your HR communication reflects inclusive language, too. Some examples. Choose:
- “spouse” or “partner” rather than “husband” or “wife”
- people-first language such as “people with disabilities” rather than “disabled people”
- gender-neutral terms such as “Hi, team,” “Can I get everyone’s attention?” and “Let’s go, colleagues” rather than “Hey guys” or “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” and
- “child” or “parent” rather than “son/daughter” or “mother/father.”
Provide room for social care
Bourke also found that employees feel included when others at work care about, support and are genuinely interested in each other.
At inclusive workplaces, employees socialize with each other, joke, banter, vent and take interest in what their co-worker’s care about outside of work – such as hobbies, pets and children.
And again, HR can’t make people socialize or care about others. But you can give them opportunities to build genuine relationships.
While Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are a positive for diversity and inclusion, they’re still built around a common interest or passion. So they can become homogenized groups.
You’ll want to continue to encourage and support ERGs. But also offer social opportunities where larger, diverse groups can mix, talk socially and get to know and appreciate each other.
Recognize, celebrate differences
You can help build inclusion by asking employees to share and celebrate the things that make them unique. At the same time, it gives others the opportunity to learn more about their diverse workplace.
One way: Create a shared calendar where employees can add holidays, festivities and events that are important to their culture. Employees can fill it with religious holidays (such as Hanukkah and Kwanza), fun events (such as Chinese New Year or Cinco de Mayo), and beyond.
You can choose the degree of celebration. For some, it might just be wishing colleagues well on their special day. For others, employees might want to plan an event. An example: We have a long-standing tradition at Successfuel for Chinese New Year. People sign up to attend lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant and our colleague, who is from China, explains the history and significance of the coming year during the meal.
Another idea: You might ask employees to share information and stories about their important events in the company e-newsletter or your internal communication app. For instance, someone might write about Pride Month. Another may share insight for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
Keep the conversation going
Some companies and their leaders do annual obligatory diversity and equity training, basically checking the box.
That’s not the way to make your workplace inclusive.
“DEI training is not the first line of defense,” Reed says. “We need more ‘Courageous Conversations.'”
Courageous Conversations should be an ongoing dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. They give leaders the opportunity to hear if employees feel like they belong there and are part of something important. Then they can assess where they stand in the DEI world.
“Consider holding regular book club-type meetings to share wins, talk about challenges and have conversations around inclusion and belonging,” Reed says.
Invite all employees to join in the conversation and give feedback. Then you can “ensure that you’re embracing and listening to diversity in thought. You understand the portfolio of thought you have,” Reed says.
That’ll help you direct your next steps in an inclusive journey.