Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion is not just up to the leadership at your corporation, the most important people who must uphold and support the needs of creating an inclusive culture are the employees. While support for diversity initiatives must come from the top, grassroots efforts create a stronger effect and change than employees with little investment or buy in who are only participating in trainings and courses because higher leaders require it. Unfortunately, employees commonly believe that they don’t own the results and efforts involved with diversity and inclusion, when in fact, they own the creation of the culture that allows inclusion to thrive. Employees must work in tandem with their leaderships corporate ideals and beliefs on diversity and inclusion and how to create both in their workspace, while they may not have control over what corporate trainings, onboarding practices, or more formal programsemployees like you are responsible for personal actions of themselves and their teammates including calling out and correcting unconscious biases, ridding insensitive language, and mentoring and sponsoring diverse colleagues.
In order to create a more diverse and inclusive environment we must start at home with ourselves. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain demographics that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness and therefore are a very complex and challenging trait to not only identify and accept, but to also change. I knew that, in some aspect, I had unconscious biases that were effecting some conversations and ways of thinking with others, however, it wasn’t until I took several IAT tests that I had a clear understanding of the slight biases I have (for example, I have a slight automatic preference for young people compared to older people, and a slight automatic preference for African Americans over European Americans) and now, knowing these, I can modify my behaviors accordingly in order to potentially discriminate or treat others differently based upon the demographics they fall under. After identifying your own unconscious biases, it is extremely important to expose yourself to colleagues of those demographics that you may be biased against in order to modify your unconscious. Negative biases are reinforced when you are not exposed to environments and situations that counteract those feelings, so you must intentionally invest time and effort into exposing yourself to situations that counteract your biases in order to truly change- such as building a more personal relationship with colleagues that come from other countries to remove any biases you may have about their work ethic or abilities because of where they come from.
Modify everyday office behavior
Within every office there are everyday actions and activities that, while potentially not intentional in their biases (can you tell this whole unconscious bias is a common thread?) can create a culture of non-inclusion and present barriers and walls for some. Two very common, and very gendered, stereotypes in office culture center around the regulation of the temperature in the office and who is commonly charged with clean up duty or planning of office parties and social gatherings. While many folks roll their eyes at the argument of ‘office temperatures are sexist’ the plain and simple fact is, that it is true. Most office temperature are based upon a decades-old formula from the 1960s(when most of the workforce were predominantly male) that take into account the metabolic rate of men, not women. Not only does adjusting the temperature to include the metabolic rate and needs of the female workforce reduce discomfort, irritation, and gender biases, but it can also be shown to combat global warming and reduce operating costs. Simply put, keep the temperatures warmer in the office and save the planet and save your female employees from having to complain.
For offices with break rooms or areas that need to be cleaned by employees and not maintenance staff, much of the time colleagues find their female teammates at the sink cleaning dishes and wiping down countertops while their male counterparts are making another cup of coffee or are at their desks getting tasks checked off. Alongside clean up duty, another typical office task that falls on female colleagues shoulders is that of planning and coordinating office parties and celebrations. Both of these situations not only add more physical labor to the women in the office but also adds in emotional labor as well, a burden that women feel all too well while at home. For the fellas in the office, this comes with added responsibility for you to correct- clean up after yourself, grab the sponge and straighten up the breakroom when it needs done, and volunteer to plan your bosses anniversary party and pick up the cake for the next celebration instead of waiting for your female colleagues to mention that the occasion is upcoming and ask for help.
On the added note of office celebrations, it is extremely important for companies to not disregard common celebrations of other cultures and demographics, especially when the environment has a large number of folks in the office of different beliefs and cultures. Many offices in the United States follow celebrations that align with federal holidays and holidays that are predominantly white and Christian, which exclude the melting pot of cultures and identities found in our country and companies today. However, when attempting to be more inclusive of other demographics by celebrating their culture and holidays it is extremely important to understand and recognize what may be stereotypical beliefs and traditions that may be offensive to those in that culture, and what is authentic of their celebrations. Part of creating a culture of inclusion and collaboration is getting different folks in the room and letting their voices be heard, so, get those folks in the room and ask how they celebrate their holiday (such as Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, and Kwanza) and work to ensure that while attempting to be inclusive you are not being offensive and hurtful.
Gendered Meeting Conduct
The tasks of setting up meetings, distributing materials, calling into conference call bridges, and, of course, taking notes often falls into the hands of women in the office, or roles that are typically dominated by women. Tasks such as the above were once solely job duties of secretaries and assistants in the 1920s to well, now, a field primarily dominated by women. As the tides shifted and women began shifting into different types of roles and positions at companies, those same secretarial duties followed throughout time, and are still typically duties that are put on the shoulders of the women in the office, even when their job duties aren’t to print off meeting materials and take notes. Furthermore, the gendered biases in meeting conduct is more prominent when roles dominated by women, or women in the room in general, are asked to take on these duties for a meeting that they do not even need to be involved in, or have no stake in. The cleanest, simplest way to dissolve gendered meeting conduct is to create a working agreement on who in the team (a person or a specific role), or in the division, is in charge of setting up meetings, printing off meeting materials, dialing into the conference call and taking notes. After agreeing to this working agreement, transparency and accountability are a must in order for it to work. If the decision was made that Joe in accounting needed the meeting set up, but he asks Nancy to set it up and take his notes, Nancy, or any other colleague in the office, must be given the authority and permission to ask “Why is Nancy in charge of doing these tasks for you?” and a reminder of the proper meeting conduct etiquette has to be held up and referenced when rules are broken.
Gendered and racial language and communication
The way we communicate creates an immediate connection or disconnection with the rest of the group in the room, and one way to create disconnection is by using language that is racial, gendered, or generally insensitive. Some of the most popular phrases in the workplace are ‘hey guys’ ‘let’s cut out the middleman’ or ‘don’t be a Negative Nancy’. While typically offense and exclusion are not meant by this kind of language, the negative connotations around many female-gendered language (drama queen, mean girl, Negative Nancy) creates a stereotype around women and adds into the unconscious biases that may be felt. Additionally, commonly using male-gendered language when referring to the working team or business functionality may cause female or gender-grey folks in the room to disassociate and begin to feel excluded. One of my favorite ways to identify and cut out this kind of language is to incorporate a ‘Guys Jar’ in the office and meeting rooms, essentially, what you can do is anytime the phrase ‘hey guys’ or other gendered language, with positive or negative connotations, is used the ‘offender’ puts money into the jar and, once a specific financial threshold is met, the office donates the money to charity. Some offices may not approve of, or allow a method such as the Guy’s Jar, and instead would support the idea of simply calling out and correcting this type of language.
Additionally, in meetings and the workplace, gendered communication doesn’t stop at specific phrases used, but continues on into personal conduct when others are speaking. Typically women are more commonly interrupted, corrected, or cut off in meetings than men, which creates a feeling of disrespect and frustration for the women in the room, leading to a lack of participation in the remainder of the agenda and future meetings. When, not if, this occurs, it is up to all colleagues in the room, especially the men (if you wanna call yourself an ally, act like one, fellas) to call it out, request the person doing the interrupting to stop, and allow the other employee to finish her/their question or statement.
Written communication presents similar issues in communication, and can be worked on by running presentation materials and emails through an amazing program called Alex, which not only catches racial, gendered, and insensitive language, but also offers suggestions to correct the language.
Spreading the message of importance and improvement
It takes many voices to make change, and all employees who are invested in creating a more diverse and inclusive culture must raise their voices and educate others in the space on the importance of diversity and inclusion- from how it effects them to how it creates better outcomes and business results for the organization as a whole- and be willing to accept feedback from others on their areas of improvement when it comes to creating this culture, as well as give honest and respectful feedback and know when it is time to stop accepting claimed ignorance as the reason for negative behavior and actions.