Connection is one of the essential parts of a successful business, and creating an inclusive culture can make it happen. Leaders must find a way to effectively connect with their employees while also ensuring that employees are encouraged and able to communicate with one another. If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has done for people, it has been to highlight the need for building relationships and having authentic connections. Finding a cohesive thread between people’s values and needs and opening eyes, and seeing every person as a unique human being instead of just a title is an essential part of life that the pandemic has shone a light on.
People in authority often find it easy to lay down judgment onto others. However, leaders, managers, and other authorities must shift their focus from judgment to assessment, enabling them to become more objective. During this process, leaders can bridge the gap between their expectations and the reality of each person’s unique situation. Using active listening and intentional speech, questioning preconceived ideas about societal norms, and creating psychological safety, makes bridging the gap possible.
Many people live two separate lives as two different versions of themselves; the first is their at-home self. The second is the workplace version that they shift into due to the lack of inclusion and acceptance. Being these two versions is utterly exhausting for people (it was for me early on in my career). If you were ever wondering, why should I care about this? Let me share a few of the benefits of having an inclusive workplace culture:
- Companies with equal men and women earn 41% higher revenue
- Racially and ethnically diverse teams perform 35% better
- Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more innovative
- Inclusive companies are 120% more likely to hit financial goals
- Diverse companies are better positioned to capture new markets
- Diverse teams are 87% better at decision-making
- Inclusive company cultures saw an increase in employee engagement
In the end, an inclusive culture is a win-win for everyone, employees and leaders alike. Another benefit to inclusion is that it creates an empowered, happy workplace culture. Those who experience this culture are more willing to give more, go the extra mile in their work, and be of service.
It’s essential to keep in mind that creating an inclusive culture is not a final destination; it is an ongoing process that, like a flower, requires attention and continuous care. Every team member wants and deserves to feel like they belong and that their voices are heard. They crave to know that their input is valued and considered. As a leader, it is your responsibility to meet your team right where they are, accept them, and embrace the individual culture each member brings into the workplace.
The most telling sign that there is an inclusive culture in a company is the daily interactions of senior leadership. How are you talking? What are you saying? Are you actively listening to your people? What is your level of commitment when it comes to inclusivity? Are you willing to have difficult conversations when you’re not moving towards inclusivity?
Don’t shy away from the conversations that will propel you into the inclusive, compassionate leader your business and your team need. Check out this article I wrote last year and is still relevant today.
Now that you understand the importance of creating an inclusive workplace, I want to know: Are you ready to move forward? If so, here are five tips for making it happen:
1. Create Psychological Safety
If you’re going to have an inclusive culture at work, it’s imperative that your teams feel safe to share their thoughts and opinions without fear of retribution, belittling, or judgment. The best way to do this is by creating an atmosphere of psychological safety.
To do so, go out of your way to praise each team member regularly for their accomplishments and contributions. This small action will help them feel valued and ensures they are confident in their abilities in the workplace. Make sure that you are not singling anyone out with your praise or attention. Instead, be intentional about personally reaching out to everyone as you are able. Each person needs to feel valued and not feel like you have “teacher’s pets.” I love to get a list of my managers’ accomplishments and send our kudos to my team, letting them know how much I appreciate their efforts.
Additionally, ensure that you never shoot down the thoughts or contributions of people. Don’t minimize their accomplishments while magnifying someone else’s. Be consistent with your praise and attention to create an environment of psychological safety.
2. Provide D&I Training
Providing D&I training for managers at all levels is a perfect start, especially involving the senior team and the C-Suite. D&I training is essential to ensure your company’s leaders are aware and on board with building an inclusive culture. No matter their level, all managers can be involved in these classes, which should help them identify biases in the workplace they are unaware of.
Training also gives leaders a platform to openly discuss any issues and find appropriate guidance when necessary. The topics discussed will likely be complex for most leaders; however, the authentic, safe environment of the class makes it possible for leaders and team members to work through things together and support one another on the journey. We also need to bake diversity into the hiring practices we follow today and set up diverse interviewers who follow a fair process.
3. Give Employees a Voice
In an inclusive workplace, communication isn’t one-sided. Employees aren’t expected to sit and listen and hold their tongues. They’re not likely to keep thoughts and ideas to themselves. To ensure a culture of inclusivity, you will need to give your team a platform to speak and share. If they have issues, needs, or thoughts, they need to speak freely without fear. When people can use their voices, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they perform better. I constantly encourage all techs, supervisors, and managers to message me on MS Teams with ideas, questions, or concerns.
I focus on asking open-ended questions and having roundtable discussions whenever possible. Don’t put ideas down. Consider their opinions and let them see you making changes based on the things they say. They will see that their voice matters.
4. Celebrate your Employee’s Differences
Please don’t ignore the differences in your employees; celebrate them! Showcase people’s culture and make room for their unique needs. This might look like creating a new workplace holiday based on a day an employee celebrates. It could mean sharing a calendar amongst the team to be aware of special days and occasions. Maybe you will want to make a space in the office for specific rituals or traditions. Whatever the case may be, going out of your way to not just accept your words but with your actions makes all the difference!
5. Listen (Really Listen!)
Of course, you already know that you need to give your employees a voice. The other side to that is you also need to listen. If your team is speaking honestly, and it’s going in one ear and out the other, you’re not giving them a voice at all. It would be best if you made an intentional effort to show your employees that you hear them and care what they have to say.
A great way to show them you’re listening is by practicing active listening. When your employee speaks, repeat back to them what you hear. That way, they will know you are hearing them, and it allows them to revise what they’re saying if they are not getting their words out accurately. Another key is to avoid distractions (like looking at emails or your cell phone while they speak) and give them all your attention.
In addition, setting up random surveys and feedback platforms will give you an additional opportunity to hear directly from your teams. I set up virtual open office hours, and anyone can come in to ask me a question, say hi, or share how they feel. It has been magical for me, and it helped me feel connected to my team during this challenging time.
A Final Word
Achieving workplace diversity is a lot of work. It takes time and intention, it’s an ongoing process, and you will need to consistently make changes and deal with deep biases that you didn’t even know were there. The good news is, your employees will notice the difference and feel it. Even when you haven’t quite reached where you want to be, they’ll see your progress, they’ll understand your heart, and they’ll be grateful.
We are all imperfect beings, and progress is better than perfect, so take baby steps, be honest, be vulnerable, and adjust whenever needed. In the end, I want us all to create an environment where people can feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work daily. I also want us all to have a bigger perspective that includes the following facts: By the year 2044, groups formally seen as “minorities” will reach majority status, and by 2065, the US population will not have any single ethnic or racial majority. The day will come when we can no longer afford to say, “I am too busy to prioritize diversity.”