By Neeti Jain, Psychology Consultant
Creating, sustaining and nurturing an inclusive culture is at the core of every successful organisation. Decades of research and corporate experience have led us to conclude that Inclusion is the key to growth in organisations. It allows employees to feel valued, included, engaged, and accepted in the workplace which improves their well-being and productivity.
The changing trends in a global business in terms of technology, multiple generations of workers, globalised and borderless workforce as well as rapidly changing customer base are all forming the new normal. Therefore, it becomes even more vital for organisations to cultivate cultures that generate higher productivity, retention, engagement, morale and innovation. But how can this be done?
Irrespective of the job role, every employee plays an integral role in nurturing inclusion in the workplace. While we see loads of advice for organisations and senior leadership on how they can be more inclusive in their behaviours, policies, and processes, it’s important for teams and individuals to lean in and do their part too.
On an Individual-level, there are many small actions we can undertake every day to positively impact cultivating an inclusive culture. You can start by becoming aware of your biases and privilege as well as call out micro-aggressions in the office.
- Recognising your biases: Adopt measures to work against your biases. You can educate yourself about other people who are different than you and make efforts to get to know them and their ideas. For example, you can actively seek out events and opportunities to collaborate with other employees who are different from you. You can also make a diary of all the biases that you may have regarding certain groups of people. Then you can find people in your organisation belonging to those groups and interact with them. Take the effort to know the person better and fight against your deeply ingrained biases.
- Recognising your privilege: Be aware of the privileges that come to you as a part of your position, role, gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. Think of how this privilege gives you an edge or advantage over others. You can help people with lesser privileges than yourself to ensure equity in the organisation.
- Practicing Inclusive language: Language can build relationships and connections but it’s equally liable for creating barriers and impacting someone’s sense of belonging Learn and use the preferred pronouns for employees in your company, and use “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” or “wife” to refer to someone’s spouse (especially if you don’t know their gender). Partner also works for non-married couples too. Be careful to avoid using harmful language. If you do, apologise correctly and do the work to ensure you won’t repeat the mistake.
On a team level, actively taking time to show your co-workers/employees that you care, listen and value them is a good first start. Everyone wants to feel that they belong at work, but many times employees may feel physically or/and emotionally isolated. To deal with this, colleagues must create a real sense of community, and one way to do that is to make sure everyone is checking in with each other.
- Seizing the small opportunities to connect: Establish connections with your co-workers. Be present, curious, and seize small daily opportunities to connect authentically. For instance, “Hi, how are you doing?”,” How’s your day going?”, “You look extremely occupied, would you want some help?”.
- Checking bias at the door: Check-ins are a time to listen to another person’s perspectives, not to debate or persuade. If someone shares something that you don’t understand or agree with, you might consider acknowledging their point of view or asking them to tell you more. For instance, “Tell me more about it,” or “I never thought about it from that perspective, but I do realise we can experience the same situation in different ways, so I appreciate you explaining that for me.”
- Believing in positive intent: Start any conversation with your co-workers believing that those talking or listening mean well, especially when it comes to difficult issues. Ask clarifying questions and have meaningful conversations.
- Avoiding Judgement: Nobody likes feeling judged. When offering support, try to keep your opinions on what they should have done or where they went wrong. Avoid asking questions they might interpret as blaming or judgmental. Even if you don’t offer any direct judgment or criticism, the tone can convey a lot of emotion, so your voice might share emotions you didn’t intend to say outright. Take care to keep notes of disapproval out of your voice by focusing on feelings like empathy and compassion when you speak.
- Checking back in: Once you have helped someone/provided support, check back in with them. For instance, ‘Hey, I just wanted to see how you are doing?’ They may not want to talk about their distress all the time — that’s totally normal – but do check in at least once.
Nurturing an inclusive culture requires investment, not just from the senior-most people but also the newest person in the door, and it requires a real behavioural change. Bringing about a culture change might be challenging but is rewarding in the long-term.
What are you doing everyday to create an inclusive culture around you?
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