Want to Create a More Inclusive Workplace? Try These 7 Tips

Posted August 27, 2018 by Jess Harvie in Managing Your Team
When companies implement diversity and inclusion programs, the "inclusion" part can be forgotten. Read on for some easy ways to foster inclusion in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion (D+I) come as a package — you can’t have one without the other. But sometimes, organizations implementing diversity and inclusion programs put an unequal emphasis on the “diversity” part and forget about the “inclusion” part.

It’s easy to think that the inclusion piece will simply just happen, because we’ve built workforces with inherently good people. That’s rarely the case. Inclusion, for a lot of underrepresented groups, is something you have to work to create. Generally it’s the processes, policies and accepted standards of behavior of your workplace that indirectly and disproportionately affect certain groups of employees.

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With some help from our friends at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in NYC (The Center), we’ve compiled a few tips you can implement to make your workplace more inclusive.

1. Involve Employees in the Discussions

Your diversity and inclusion program is all about creating a better place to work for your current and future employees. They are your stakeholders! When thinking about inclusion, it’s a great idea to start with them.

At Justworks, we are lucky to have highly engaged employees who want to help shape the future of diversity and inclusion at the company. When we kicked off our program, we held a massive brainstorm with our D+I Working Group — open to the whole company, and currently with about 130 members (that’s almost a third of our employees). We asked the group to think of initiatives that would make them feel more included when they come to work each day.

We asked the group to think of initiatives that would make them feel more included when they come to work each day.

Some of the initiatives our working group came up with included an employee newsletter (written by employees, for employees), safe spaces to have “real” conversations, and creating employee resource groups (ERGs). All these initiatives have been implemented, and are being led by employees.

As Trevon Mayers, Director of Policy & Community Outreach at The Center, points out, these kinds of discussions should be ongoing if they’re going to lead to change.

“Recognize that there is no one-time strategy, but a continuous process that will involve seeking feedback from staff and then incorporating those ideas to develop relevant training and other activities that equip employees with the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to maintain an affirming work environment,” he said.

Related Article: Why Cultivating Diversity in the Workplace Matters at Justworks

2. Ask New Employees What Pronouns They Use

Pronouns are an integral part of a person’s identity and are often used to communicate a person’s gender, which is why it is so important to get it right. Common pronouns for people who identify as a woman would be she/her/hers, for example.

At Justworks, we send the whole company an email about each new hire in their first week. The email includes a list of questions and answers to help us get to know a little bit about each new employee. We started including a person’s pronouns as a mandatory question so that everyone feels included and welcome from the beginning.

Asking for a person’s pronouns helps to create a more welcoming, safe and supportive environment.

“Asking for a person’s pronouns when you meet them for the first time and using those pronouns consistently not only shows that you respect their identity, but it also helps to create a more welcoming, safe and supportive environment where people can feel comfortable to be themselves,” said Trevon.

“If you are unsure if someone identifies as a either male or female, you can use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘zie’ to refer to them,” he added.

This is a small, easy change to make in the new hire onboarding process, but it goes a long way toward fostering inclusion in the workplace.

3. Rotate Who Runs Meetings

If you have regular, recurring meetings — like a department all hands or a team weekly — consider switching out the chair each time to give everyone an opportunity to manage the agenda and run the meeting.

Switching things up not only makes meetings more interesting and engaging, but giving different people the opportunity to lead also ensures that those who might not regularly speak up in meetings get the chance to have their voices heard.

Related Article: Designing Diversity and Inclusion at Justworks

4. Change Up the Time of Company Events

This sounds like a no-brainer, but having company events after work may exclude certain groups of people, especially employees with family responsibilities. Try to schedule events at different times, like at lunchtime or before work. This helps ensure everyone can attend something, and the same people aren’t missing out every time.

5. Allow the Discussion of Non-Work Issues

Any opportunity for employees to learn more about each other as people is a great way to create and foster empathy in the workplace. At Justworks, we’ve tried really hard to create space for our team to share and hear each other’s stories. Our employee newsletter is one example of this. The newsletter often features profiles of some of our employees.

Any opportunity for employees to learn more about each other as people is a great way to create and foster empathy in the workplace.

Another format that our team has found engaging is the employee panel. The first employee panel we had featured four members of the Black Leadership Alliance, Justworks’ black employee group. The theme was imposter syndrome and the struggles of code switching as a black employee in a majority white workplace.

We’ve since held similar panels for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, the Latino/Hispanic experience, and even a panel of employees that have lived outside the U.S. These discussions are a great venue for teammates to learn about each other’s backgrounds.

6. Avoid Making Assumptions

You know what they say about when you assume… just don’t! This goes for anything to do with anyone’s identity.

“Regardless of how someone might appear to you, you shouldn’t assume what their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression might be,” said Cristina Jones, Senior Director, People & Internal Engagement at The Center. “By not making assumptions, you can show that you are both understanding and supportive of individual identities and experiences.”

This is also true for race and ethnicity.

Related Article: Want Diversity in the Workplace? Rethink Your Recruitment Process

7. Make Inclusion Everyone’s Responsibility

Inclusion initiatives can’t solely be the responsibility of the HR team, People and Talent team, or your organization’s D+I group. It has to be embodied by everyone in order to really take hold.

One way to do this is to have a list of inclusive behaviors tied to your organization’s values so your employees know what being inclusive actually looks like. To create an inclusive culture, everyone from the top to middle management to entry-level employees need to be bought in.

Inclusion is a Moving Target

When thinking about inclusion, small changes can have a big impact on how people feel. The tips we’ve covered in this post are easy-to-implement ideas to make your workplace more inclusive in the short-term.

When it comes to a longer term solution, Cristina from The Center stresses that the focus should be on “actively work[ing] towards establishing a fully affirming work culture for staff.”

She added that “building an inclusive workplace takes buy-in and leadership from the top levels, as well as financial resources for training and development.”

Inclusion is not a project with a start and end date. It will always be a moving target, particularly as the demographic of your workforce changes and any number of other factors impact your employees. Regardless of who makes up your organization, there is always value in taking a look at whether the people working there feel like it’s a place that they can be successful.