Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) come as a package — you can’t have one without the others. But sometimes, organizations implementing DEI programs put an unequal emphasis on “diversity” and forget about the “inclusion” part. The goal for companies should not be limited to being diverse in nature, but to also have systems and processes in place that ensure diverse employees want to stay and grow their careers there.
Are you and your team ready to become stronger allies?
It’s easy to think that the inclusion piece will simply just happen, as we’ve built workforces with inherently good people. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. For a lot of underrepresented groups, inclusion is something you have to work to create in the workplace. Generally it’s the processes, policies, and accepted standards of behavior of your workplace that indirectly and disproportionately affect certain groups of employees.
With some help from our friends at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in NYC (The Center), we’ve compiled a few strategies you can implement to start making your workplace more inclusive.
1. Provide Chances to Identify Personal Pronouns
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 each new employee a little bit better. We started including a question about people’s pronouns.
“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 Mayers, Director of Policy & Community Outreach at The Center.
“If you are unsure if someone identifies as either male or female, you can use gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘zie’ to refer to them,” he added.
An inclusive language guide can also be a very helpful tool for creating a more open and accepting company culture. Guiding employees to learn more about inclusive language not only helps them to address their colleagues respectfully — that respect can lead to more open communication, and better understanding and collaboration between employees.
Normalizing the use of pronouns for all employees, along with using more inclusive language overall, can go a long way toward fostering inclusion in the workplace.
Related Article: Want Diversity in the Workplace? Rethink Your Recruitment Process
2. 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.
3. Involve Employees in the Discussions
Your DEI program is all about creating a better place to work for your current and future employees. When thinking about inclusion, it’s a great idea to start with them — after all, they are your stakeholders.
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 DEI program, we held a massive brainstorm with our DEI Working Group — it was open to the whole company, and it amassed about 130 members (that’s almost a third of our employees at the time). 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 since been implemented, and are being led by employees.
As Trevon 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.
If you’re eager for those discussions to happen, understand that employees must feel safe voicing their opinions and sharing their feedback. Creating that safe, supportive space for your employees is crucial to their participation in developing a more inclusive workplace.
4. Avoid Making Assumptions
When it comes to making assumptions, the old adage reminds us to avoid it. This goes for anything to do with anyone’s identity, as well.
“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.
5. 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 DEI 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 actively involved.
Inclusion is a Moving Target
When thinking about inclusion, small changes can have a big impact on how people feel. The strategies 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 where they can be accepted, valued, and successful.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.