Blog: 5 steps to building an inclusive workplace

Life @ Work

5 steps to building an inclusive workplace

Here are five ways in which we can make any workplace a workplace for everyone, every day.
5 steps to building an inclusive workplace

New Year's resolutions are usually about improving ourselves — healthier habits with food, exercise, sleep, or money. But what if we resolved to change our work habits to make things better for the people around us every day?

Here are five ways in which we can make any workplace a workplace for everyone, every day:

Appreciate the Unique

We are nearly infinitely different physically — short or tall, right- or left-handed, light skinned or dark skinned, straight haired or curly haired… and on and on. But we are wired to unconsciously prefer and gravitate to those like ourselves. Appreciate the Unique is our term for a simple but powerful mindset shift that can immediately make people feel more understood and valued. We need to listen more and talk less to get to know a coworker or team member on both personal and professional levels. Hear out a new idea without interruption and say that you appreciate the perspective. (And really mean it!). These are small and easy investments of time — short conversations with coworkers, sprinkled throughout the pace of our everyday work. But they can make a tremendous difference in making people feel special, and that is at the heart of building a workplace where everyone belongs.

Amplify Others

A high-performing team relies on everyone’s ideas and knowledge being fully harnessed. In the meeting context, there is no question that extroverts are at an advantage:  They are comfortable “talking through” the information and throwing out ideas. The introvert — who often wants to be thoughtful and well-prepared before making any remarks — gets left off to the side as the rampaging extroverts keep the floor. To level the playing field, here are some things I try to do for my meetings — especially larger meetings where some participants may feel less comfortable:

  • Publish the meeting agenda and goals in advance.
  • At the start of the meeting, make it clear that I want to hear everyone’s perspectives (giving a heads-up so people know they should contribute).
  • Proactively call upon anyone who hasn’t spoken without putting them on the spot (e.g., “Chris, do you have anything you want to add?” versus “Chris, what do you think?”).

For those of us who work for large, global companies, dispersed meeting participants are a daily reality. Video technology helps – at least we can see someone’s non-verbal cues – but lag and sound issues can still make it challenging. Until technology reaches some kind of perfect solution for this, we really just need to be sensitive and inclusive — proactively including everyone in the conversation and making sure that in-person folks are helping the remote ones follow along.  

In my view, the hardest aspect to fully control is the power dynamics between individuals in the meeting. It’s really up to all of us — especially people on the higher end of the power scale — to make space for everyone’s voice be heard through awareness, careful listening, and occasional intervention. Those small things can make a huge difference.

Enhance the Team

The hiring process can be a petri dish of every human pressure and emotion in the workplace. As we put this petri dish under the microscope, let’s pose a question:  Should a team be comprised entirely of people who all have the same profiles, personalities, and work experience? 

‘Pedigree’ bias isn’t an official term that I have ever seen in writing, but it’s one of the most troubling dynamics at play in the hiring process. It applies to both a candidate’s university degree and past employers. To break the ‘pedigree’ bias, here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t let a brand name – whether it’s a school or prior employer – short-circuit your own due diligence with a candidate; evaluate all candidates for demonstrated skills and experience
  • Work to understand each candidate’s personal story, which will put their school and work history into a richer context

Another common challenge in diverse hiring is similarity bias. The more we hire people like ourselves, the more we limit the opportunity for healthy tension and the innovation that comes from different perspectives. 

Some ways you can counteract similarity bias in the interview process:

  • Include a wide variety of team members (race/ethnicity, gender, age, background) in the interview panel, to help round out your observations and to increase the opportunity for the candidate to feel connected.
  • Insist on having a diverse slate of candidates for every open role; be especially careful of employee referrals, who may bring lots of similarities to the existing team.
  • Ban the term “fit” – culture fit, team fit – from your hiring vocabulary; “fit” is often a proxy for people who are just like us. Instead, consider how the candidate can “complement” your team.

Rethink Routine

We love routines because they make life easier, with less tax on our overloaded brains. Many of us fall into routines at work too. And unfortunately, when it comes to creating a more inclusive environment for the team, that lack of conscious thought can be harmful. Here are a few areas where routines are most likely to create an unlevel playing field:

Meeting roles and team assignments: Every team dynamic comes with so-called ‘housekeeping’ duties — note-taking in the meeting, capturing photos of the whiteboard, arranging for the meeting room, etc. If you’re a manager, when it comes to meetings and project assignments:

  • Rotate the “housekeeping” responsibilities so all team members share them equally over time.
  • Offer stretch assignments to a variety of employees to help them grow and develop.
  • Avoid relying on one team member’s strengths for something that should be expected from everyone.

Team outings: Social time as a team can be really valuable, whether it’s an official team off-site gathering or a casual lunch out. But they can be full of pitfalls relative to making everyone feel equally comfortable. If you’re responsible for planning a team outing:

  • Try soliciting open suggestions from the team rather than deciding the plan based on what you personally enjoy.
  • Encourage feedback on a few curated options, letting everyone know you’ll make the final decision after people have a chance to privately weigh in.
  • Consider even one strong objection as a “veto” rather than making the process democratic.

Social interactions and manager access: Being left out doesn’t feel good. If you’re a manager, this takes on much greater importance: team members can benefit (or at least appear to benefit) from their close relationship with you. Whether it’s grabbing lunch or outings on the weekends, if it is confined to only certain individuals, you may build the perception of playing favorites. Try to provide as equal time and access to you as possible — whether it’s 1:1 or group activities. 

Open Up

Frequent, constructive feedback is essential for all of us to do our best work and continue to grow our careers. We certainly owe it to our direct reports if we’re a manager, but we also owe it to our peers, stakeholders, and own managers as well.

Just like giving feedback, asking for feedback is best when it’s timely. You should give feedback to your manager as well. Outline your long-term ambitions so they understand and can support that path for you. That will position you for opportunities that you may not even know are coming.

The power of all of these actions lies in the rhythm of our everyday interactions at work. Whether you’re a senior executive or in your very first job, you can help make your team a place where everyone feels respected and can be themselves. If we all challenge ourselves to make just one small change this year, our collective impact will be immense. Go for it!

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Topics: Life @ Work

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