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What should inclusion really look like in the workplace?

January 18, 2018
Diversity & Inclusion

Inclusion is the only scalable way to build diversity within an organization. Without thoughtful and deliberate discussion and action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are for naught. The employees, so painstakingly recruited, will be gone within three months.

Why do I know this? Because I was that person who put all my efforts into hiring for diverse candidates, only to watch them fail or walk out the door in less than a year. I didn’t put enough thought into how my team’s or my organization’s culture needed to shift in order to allow this diverse collection of people to coalesce and flourish. Time, money, and talented people were lost because I didn’t proactively address the deeply nuanced issue of inclusion.

At my current role as COO of Startup Institute, I spend a lot of time thinking about inclusion, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act of including; the state of being included.” A very simple definition that becomes more complicated upon implementation within organizations because of the different affinity groups that can exist and how to discover, fulfill, and include each affinity groups’ unique needs. It’s important to recognize that an affinity group may constitute merely one individual or multiple individuals. Regardless of size, all groups merit the active efforts of inclusion.

We certainly see affinity groups of different sizes at Startup Institute, where we develop and train people whom organizations seek to hire. Because our mission is to give access to the innovation economy to those who want it and need it the most, we are lucky to have students who represent diversity in the broadest of terms: age, race, gender identity, physical ability, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, religion, and socioeconomic status. And that’s just scratching the surface.

As I sat down to write this article, I began pounding out words from my own observations and experiences. That went on for a good half hour before I abruptly stopped. Indeed, I had fallen for the same fallacy that fells those who shape organizational culture. I failed to ask. So, I asked. And our students and alumni responded. Below is a compilation of their experiences and actionable tips as well as my own to the question: What does inclusion really look like and how can you build it?

  • All gender-friendly bathrooms: There are many different ways this could happen, but one powerful way is to provide partitions from floor to ceiling in all stalls.
  • A nursing room for mothers: Complete with a door that locks, covered windows with proper ventilation, a special fridge that allows them to store the milk pumped, and only allows the room to be booked for that specific purpose. I will shamefacedly confess; not so long ago, I was that inconsiderate person who saw an empty conference room and booked it.
  • Using gender neutral language throughout company benefits and policies: “They” is a preferred gender-neutral pronoun.
  • Not everyone drinks alcohol: It sounds so simple, but including non-alcoholic beverages at company events lets those who don’t drink know that you care.
  • Executives and top management should reflect the diversity the organization seeks: As one alumna, succinctly put it, “Honestly, I think most organizations need women of color in hiring positions. Inclusivity happens organically when you have diversity at the top of the organization.”
  • Tampons and pads: Make them available in all bathrooms.
  • A space to disconnect: Providing a quiet, meditative, no-technology, no-talking space where weary introverts can go to restore and rejuvenate is critical.
  • Acknowledge all religious and cultural holidays celebrated by the organization’s employees: One policy could be to offer “designate your holiday” days to your employees. As an alumna shared, “…having a special fridge to put Kosher food so it’s not contaminated is a small but powerful gesture.”
  • It’s more than the written word: Policy is important for legal protections, but daily actions, unconscious and conscious, cultivate the everyday experience for employees. As one student said, “Inclusion means to consider everyone’s backgrounds, thoughts, and opinions when assessing a situation or idea. Inclusion is oftentimes not a conscious thought…the unconscious effort to include someone in a process is what seems more natural and effortless.”
  • It’s asking: It’s knowing what you don’t know and just asking. Do proactively have discussions and solicit input and feedback. There’s no need to wait until someone is uncomfortable or unhappy. One alumna, who works in Berlin with co-workers from over 40 countries, illustrates this point eloquently, “From people coming in with different ideas around humor and what’s deemed offensive, to what kind of physical contact signifies respect versus harassment, seeing so many different perspectives on the same topic is not only inclusive, it feels really enriching.” We need to foster an environment that allows these kinds of conversation to happen.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. It comes direct from current and future employees. Some of these are easy action items that can be implemented today. Many will take the effort of a thoughtful and committed community of diverse individuals with engaged senior leadership. I hope this jumpstarts the conversation at your organization. It sure has at mine.

By Peggy Yu

Source: Forbes

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