How to Build an Inclusive Work Environment

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 31, 2017 9:00:00 AM / by Karin Novelia

Karin Novelia

How to Build an Inclusive Work Environment.png

So you’ve done it. You managed to get more diverse candidates through the front door and into your company. The data shows that your diversity numbers are starting to rise and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

But the real work has yet to begin. Hiring diverse recruits is only the first step to getting them on board. The next step is crucial in making sure those employees you worked so hard to seek out actually stay: fostering inclusion.

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” — Verna Myers, diversity consultant.

Appoint a diversity manager

Often, companies see diversity as an afterthought and delegate the job as extra work to anyone who is able—usually the underrepresented minority themselves. While URMs should be involved, it is unfair to ask them to do the heavy lifting.

If the lack of diversity in the workplace is due to a cultural issue, having a underrepresented employee advocate for diversity can even affect them negatively. According to Harvard Business Review, a study of female and people of color executives showed that those those who promoted workplace diversity were often rated worse in terms of competence and performance by their bosses. White males, however, see no negative effects.

In fact, companies that have the majority (usually white males) lead their diversity efforts see more tangible changes in their culture. Having white males advocate for their underrepresented peers makes it easier for them and their concerns to be heard and properly addressed—people are more likely to listen to people like them after all

Open communication channels

The key to inclusion is to build an open environment where everyone is encouraged to speak and their opinions are valued. Establish communication channels which underrepresented employees can use to air grievances. Make sure they can do so anonymously to prevent any backlash from speaking out.

During meetings, ensure that everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and facilitate open discussion. Some employees might feel too daunted to speak up, so provide alternative channels such as sending suggestions through email, or approaching employees personally and having other employees advocate for their peers’ ideas —while also making sure to give credit where credit is due.

Embrace differences and acknowledge them positively

First of all, get rid of the notion that being diverse means being colorblind. People who say that are often overcompensating and in denial about their own biases. Being colorblind also means being purposefully ignorant about the challenges that people of color face, making them feel dismissed and invalidated. Instead, differences should be brought up when they are related to challenges an employee faces and done in a constructive way—offering solutions rather than just sympathy.

Diversity training is a method often employed to educate employees on their biases. However, it often doesn’t work and even promotes bias rather than reducing it. This is because diversity training often teaches people to categorize people and see them less as individuals. Diversity training should instead teach people that everyone’s differences means that they have different needs and challenges. Proper communication and empathy should be emphasised and put into practice.

When differences are acknowledged, it should be done in a positive and constructive way. That requires being aware and mindful of what you say. The most well-intentioned of employees can make others uncomfortable with an misworded comment—often referred to as microaggressions. For example, a female employee might walk into a room for a talk on Artificial Intelligence and be asked by a male coworker if she meant to go to talk on design in the next room. While he was only trying to be helpful, he signaled to the woman that she was being excluded due to assumptions of what a woman is interested in and good at. Employees should be made aware of such biases and consciously work to minimize them.

Foster belonging through mentorship

People are likely to stay at a company if they feel like they belong. A sense of belonging can even help them perform better. One way to foster belonging is through mentorship programs. By pairing new employees with mentors who are underrepresented like them, they have a chance to see someone like them as a role model and source of support.

Minorities are also likely to feel appreciated for their capabilities and skills as the company is making an effort to invest in their personal and professional development. Although mentorship is one of the least popular diversity programs, it has been proven to be the most effective in increasing participation and retention. A Scientific American study showed that the number of minority groups (including white and black women, Latino and Asian men and women) increased as much as 40% after mentoring programs were launched.

Have people interact with each other

Diversity is all about how your employees interact with each other in the workplace. A Harvard Business Review article, showed that one way to track inclusivity is by mapping how your employees interact. Having an understanding of who and why an employee reaches out to another can help clarify whether or not people are included in the company’s network.

With this picture in mind, make it easier for underrepresented minorities to interact with their coworkers. Organize events that help them get to know one another, both in and out of the office. This helps correct any biased misconceptions and helps coworkers see each other as complex individuals, rather than just by what makes them different.

Build teams that are diverse from the get-go. Not only does working together allow employees to embrace differences, the diversity can also help their performance and boost innovation and productivity. A study shows that the the ideal team should be 30% diverse in order to reap the benefits; for example, only boards that were made up of 30% women showed positive returns on equity.

Be transparent and flexible

A lack of diversity often translates into a lack of awareness for a specific group’s needs. Often employees leave a company because they had limiting policies in place that could not address their needs. Women, for example, often cite poor maternal leave policies that drive them to leave their jobs in order to care for their families. By being more flexible with work arrangements, companies are more likely to retain employees.

This flexibility also needs to be exercised on the go. Bringing in more diverse candidates onto your team might bring up situations you’ve never had to deal with before. For example, an LGBT+ employee adopting a child might ask to go on leave in order to take care of them. A policy that covers child adoption leave might not be present at your company, but moving forward you can work with your employee to be aware of their needs and implement better policies in the future.

Topics: Diversity

Karin Novelia

Written by Karin Novelia

I do Marketing at ROIKOI, a smarter sourcing platform where you get your own database of candidates pre-filtered for talent and fit.