5 Ways You Can Create a More Inclusive Workplace Immediately — and Why You Should

The more diversity you bring to your team, the greater your chances of finding groundbreaking insights and solutions.

Frans Johansson
CEO of The Medici Group

Between President Donald Trump, Uber and Google, diversity and inclusion issues have dominated the headlines recently. In response, companies like Facebook, Lyft and Netflix have released their diversity numbers — though what exactly these companywide figures mean is still very much a guessing game. As many as 150 CEOs from some of the largest companies in the U.S. have publicly committed to diversity and inclusion efforts, pledging to “foster more open discussion about race and gender in the workplace.” Hiring, compensation and promotion practices are under fierce scrutiny, and many companies are scrambling to get ahead of the issues before they become tomorrow’s headline.

Related: How We Built a Tech Company That’s 40 Percent Women

In all of this, gender and race have become the defining and, in some cases, divisive factors for diversity. Of course, these factors do matter; gender and race do shape how one thinks, in addition to their experience, background, expertise, education, hobbies and interests, etc. Some factors are more obvious than others, so hiring practices skew toward what’s discernible. But, the fact is that diversity is little more than a checkbox without an inclusive culture.

Inclusion isn’t some glorified term that human resource management teams throw around. It’s real, and it matters whether you’re an organization that’s 50 percent female, 40 percent minority or 55 percent white. Inclusion gives everyone an opportunity to contribute, and divergent perspectives and approaches can be discussed openly. A woman in a male-dominated company can disagree without being labeled with the “b” word. A recent hire — regardless of gender, ethnicity or origin — can initiate something new without being told it’s not “the company way.” No one is being told to conform or called out for not being a “cultural fit.”

While company leaders are ultimately responsible for prescribing and setting the workplace culture, employees can do their part in making it a more inclusive environment and inspire new ways to engage, collaborate and step out their usual teams. The more diversity you bring to your team, the greater your chances of finding groundbreaking insights and solutions.

Here are five ways that you, as an employee, can help create a more inclusive workplace immediately:

1. Bounce an idea off of someone unexpected in your office.
Companies are structured for narrow execution, so chances are, you are sitting on a team of experts skilled and experienced in one area — product development, let’s say. Around this team, you regularly interact with other relevant teams such as marketing and sales. It’s not likely that you would have shared an idea or challenge with someone in procurement. Why would you? At tech companies, for example, software developers often doubt they could ever learn anything from marketers. But, if you have 10 minutes, give it a go and see what questions or insights that unexpected colleague gives you in response. Once you start looking for people you don’t normally interact with, you can become a connector for others in your day-to-day circle.

2. Change up your environment.
If you can do it in your workplace, leave your desk and work in a different area of the office for a few hours. You’d be surprised at how it can really change up your perspective. You may have interactions with people you otherwise wouldn’t, especially if you put yourself where there is a consistent movement of people. This small change of scenery will allow for more collisions and spark new ideas.

3. Rotate who runs your meetings.
Let’s face it, most meetings are either too long or end up rehashing the same topics again and again. In some cases, you may have the same people talking and talking and talking, while others remain silent or disengaged. Change up the dynamic by rotating who runs meetings. Give that individual the leeway to be creative, while ensuring you’re in alignment on the goals of the meeting. This gets people engaged and sends a signal that everyone’s contribution matters. When done well, this creates openings for everyone to weigh in and, hopefully, inspire lively discussions and decisive actions.

4. Leave your assumptions at the door.
It is easy and often natural to make assumptions about others in the workplace, leading to misunderstandings, biases and often wrong conclusions. The next time you find yourself assuming something of someone — even if it’s as simple as “She’s probably too busy” — stop yourself. And ask the question first of that individual. Even if you confirm your assumption, you now have an informed understanding as a basis for further exploration and clarity.

5. Talk about something other than work.
It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day responsibilities of your job and not take the time to actually get to know people in your office. Disrupt the work paradigm by having a conversation with a colleague you don’t normally talk to and engage them on a non-work related topic. As you consider ways to bring your whole self to the office, it is good to find a connection with others outside of work. This connection will often improve the ease of the working relationship and enhance overall communication.

The topic of inclusion can be broad and intimidating because it’s not always clear what role individuals can play. Don’t think of inclusion as a massive challenge you need to tackle alone. Instead, consider yourself a piece of a larger puzzle and focus on what you can do to improve the work environment as a whole. By taking these small yet incremental steps, you can make your workplace a more inclusive (and ultimately successful) environment right now.

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