Diversity is at the heart of any great company. It’s the crux of many HR recruiting strategies, too, and it makes up one important part of creating a successful business. Diversity means bringing people from different backgrounds to the table and leveraging their life experiences to create a better product or service. It means creating an environment of inclusion, not just throwing a whole bunch of people with different backgrounds into a room. Inclusion works hand in hand with diversity and is a crucial part of the equation in order to be successful in today’s corporate environment.
Encouraging inclusion can be a tricky tightrope to walk, however. Now that you have hired people from different walks of life, how do you go about getting them involved in the workplace and making them feel welcome, secure, and creative? What steps should you take as a leader to encourage inclusion in your office? Here are five ways to help your diverse employees become a more integral part of your office life.
Educate yourself and your leaders
While many of us may think we understand what inclusivity looks like in a diverse workforce, we all have subtle biases that present themselves in ways we may not be aware of. It’s important to realize where we make judgments based on race, gender, and other factors without knowing it.
A recent story over at Harvard Business Review notes that subtle bias can be more damaging than outright discrimination because it can harm people’s performance at work and ultimately take a toll on their mental health. In addition to this, there is no legal recourse against subtle bias, which could leave employees feeling helpless and victimized.
To become more aware of your own biases, you must examine the stereotypes you walk around with every day. While you may outwardly believe that women and men have the same abilities in the workplace, you may fall into the trap of thinking that women are naturally more empathetic than men (a leadership trait that can be hugely beneficial, as I have written before). That kind of bias can make you susceptible to making decisions that could exclude male candidates for a job role or discount them in some other way—and being aware of that bias is of the utmost importance.
You can also use neurological tests and exercises to uncover hidden biases and work to correct them. Once you and your leadership team are aware of the biases you walk around with every day, you can begin to model behavior to help others see the stereotypes that they carry. That, in turn, can help improve opportunities to create a more inclusive office environment and move you into the next phase of encouraging inclusivity: leading by example.
Lead by example
Creating an inclusive office environment often requires examples to be set and made. Not everyone knows what inclusivity looks like. As a leader, you need to make it important to model behaviors that you expect to see in your employees. That means modeling great listening and honest communication.
A 2016 study by the leadership training provider Dale Carnegie showed that 88 percent of those surveyed value being heard by their bosses. If you model behavior that shows you are listening to those around you, other employees will feel empowered to do the same for their coworkers.
Listening is a subtle skill that can always be improved, too. To improve your listening skills, its crucial to quiet your own inner dialogue, set clear and concise time constraints so that everyone in the conversation feels respected, and take some time away to reflect and brainstorm your own ideas. That way, when its time to listen, you’re open and receptive to what those around you have to say.
One thing I always highlight when it comes to developing listening skills and leading by example is that it is vital to respect people’s time. If you set limits on discussion topics or time, you show your employees that you respect your own time as well as theirs.
In addition to listening, it’s of the utmost importance to be honest. Honesty in the workplace can be tricky to navigate, but done right, it can truly inspire your staff to do good work. Honesty serves as a pathway for respect and good communication skills, but it also takes a lot of bravery. It means that you must make yourself vulnerable even when it may be uncomfortable doing so.
Employees have a keen sense for the untrue. If you lie, coddle, or tell half-truths, your employees will more than likely know right away. A lie, even a white lie, cannot only do irreparable damage to your reputation as a leader, but it can also do major damage to your company and brand as a whole. As a leader, make it an important priority to admit when you are wrong—and even ask for help when you need it. We are, after all, all human, and being human means that we are fallible. Admitting where we make missteps or mistakes makes us relatable and approachable. Modeling honesty is one of the key ways you can ensure that you are leading by good example.
Once you have started to implement behaviors that you want your employees and coworkers to mirror, you can move on to the next step: helping create a culture of respect and openness.
Create a culture of respect and openness
As I have written for Business.com, employees, regardless of their background, want transparency and respect from a leader. A 2018 study by The Predictive Index, a workplace consultancy, revealed that what employees want most from a leader they admire is respect. By offering respect to your employees, you lead by example and encourage them to show their coworkers respect as well. That respect means that ideas are honored and listened to, and it creates a sense of openness in an office.
Openness is a result of respect. It allows all parties to feel heard and supported in their ideas or solutions and can foster a creative workspace that enables employees to be innovative. When the diversity of ideas is allowed to flourish, an office can become a more inclusive setting for problem solving, creativity, and innovation.
Change up the power dynamics
If you have one leader who always runs meetings or events, it might pay tremendous dividends to rotate meeting leaders. You can also do this by changing up where you hold events and meetings since, as Forbes points out, your corporate office environment can have a profound impact on how creative your employees are.
Changing who leads a meeting can bring new ideas to the table, change the power dynamic in a group, and offer opportunities for people to have different interactions with each other. Doing this also sends the signal that everyone’s voice matters and that all opinions are welcome, contributing to the sense of openness and respect we discussed previously.
Changing the space you hold an event or meeting in can also have a profound effect on inclusion in the office. In today’s offices, most executives no longer have individual private spaces—instead, they work out in the open with other employees. That kind of change-up can offer a more collaborative environment (though the jury is still out on the overall benefits of an open office layout).
Get outside the office
Creating opportunities for employees to learn about each other outside of the workplace is incredibly valuable in creating a more inclusive environment. Allowing everyone to see each other as human beings with outside lives, passions, and problems can create a stronger sense of community. That, in turn, fosters trust and a sense of belonging, which leads to inclusivity.
If we want our employees to bring their entire selves into the office, we have to offer opportunities for those whole selves to be present in non-office settings. Finding the connections between coworkers can mean that communication in the office will improve and ease. Ideas can flow freely between people and stereotypes, and biases can be put aside. Discussing topics other than work (and encouraging that to happen) can be very beneficial in creating a more inclusive work environment.
While diversity is all the rage in corporate culture today, it takes the addition of inclusivity to really create a successful company. By following these five tips, you can be sure to encourage inclusion in your office and set your team and your company up for success in the future.