Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

4 Difficult but Essential Ways to Create a More Diverse Culture

Feb 18, 2022 - Cat DiStasio

Creating more diverse organizations is the right thing to do—and anyone (everyone) can influence workplace culture and promote DEI progress, even if it’s not part of your job description. Every organization needs people at every level, across every team and department, to embrace this mission.

On a recent webinar about diversity hiring, TA practitioners touted the importance of fostering an authentic movement committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging from within the organization. Many employers are struggling to attract a more diverse talent pool, especially if the organization’s demographics don’t yet quite reflect its values. TA leaders want to improve diversity in hiring, and that starts with fostering more diversity and inclusion within.

Promoting diversity in the workplace is important for everyone to work towards and, increasingly, job seekers demand more diverse workplaces. Glassdoor research confirms that most (76%) job seekers feel that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. So, if you work in talent acquisition, this is your responsibility, whether it’s officially listed in your job description or not.

You don’t need a detailed strategy or agenda to influence a more inclusive culture. What you really need is the courage to engage in difficult topics, weather some conflicts, and be willing to embrace the role of a change maker. Here are four things you can do to help your organization evolve into a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment.

#1. Call Out Exclusive Language Wherever You See or Hear It

Despite our best intentions, human beings continue to be imperfect. We make mistakes, especially while learning new behaviors, and there are bound to be oversights along the way. One important tactic for influencing a more inclusive culture is to help spot, and suggest alternatives for, instances of exclusive language when you see or hear it at work, whether internally (employee communications, signage, policy manuals, training) or externally (website, careers site, job listings, social media).

Oftentimes, people default to exclusive language because it’s familiar and without realizing its potential impact. A little education can go a long way. Share resources that help managers and leaders learn about inclusive language—what it is, how to use it, and how to encourage others to update their language as well.

Another important way to influence more inclusive language in the workplace is in conversations, whether one-on-one or in a group setting (like team meetings and video conferences). Even when you inadvertently revert to exclusive language, don’t be afraid to kindly direct language in a more inclusive direction by incorporating more inclusive terms. For instance, you might catch yourself addressing your team as “you guys” and pause, apologize, and try again in a more inclusive way, like “you all” or “everyone.” You can also set a more inclusive tone when introducing yourself on a call by volunteering your name and pronouns, and inviting others to do the same when it’s their turn to speak. This is a subtle yet powerful way to combat microaggressions and create a more inclusive norm.

#2. Signal Boost Voices of Underrepresented Groups

Over the years, many studies have confirmed that women and people of color—especially Black women—are often interrupted while speaking during meetings. Chances are, you’ve witnessed this first hand on more than one occasion, and this presents a salient opportunity to effect change. When this happens, bring the attention back to the original speaker by saying things like, “(Name), you were interrupted before. What were you saying?”

This technique doesn’t only work in meetings. If you hear coworkers make a great suggestion in a sideline conversation, let them know you’ll back them up if they want to take their idea to management or present their idea to the group.

#3. Be a Compassionate Leader

Empathy had a good run as a key buzzword in DEI conversations, but now it’s been overtaken by compassion as the most favorable quality in leadership. You don’t have to manage a team of direct reports to demonstrate compassionate leadership. It can be as simple as a project you’re managing or a meeting you’re hosting. You can express compassion by taking an interest in your coworkers’ lives (without being intrusive, obviously), showing gratitude for the work others do, and positively valuing differences (in perspective, background, and opinion).

The bottom line is that being compassionate is really about being more human: asking people what they need, prioritizing listening, and doing more coaching than problem-solving.

#4. Suggest Ways to Include More Employees in Decisions That Matter

Diversity and inclusion don’t come from the top down. An organization can improve diversity (reflected in demographic numbers) and still lack inclusion. Truly inclusive organizations work to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, and that everyone feels seen and heard.

This means making space for productive disagreements, especially between employees at different levels. Encourage and amplify feedback and suggestions from lower ranking employees, and ask leaders to consider who might be left out or negatively impacted when important decisions are on the table.

This type of collaboration creates a more inclusive environment and it fosters employee engagement, too. Highly engaged employees are far more likely to say they feel heard at work than highly disengaged employees (92% vs. 30%).

Making the Future of Work More Inclusive

If we want to live in a more inclusive world, and work for more diverse organizations, we all have to do our part. DEI leaders hold the official accountability for making (or lacking) progress, but everyone who cares about diversity can make a difference.

Influencing inclusivity in your workplace culture doesn’t rely on grand gestures and multi-stage strategies—those can be meaningful, but that’s not the whole story. Demonstrating inclusive language, lifting up underrepresented voices, leading with compassion, and valuing respectful differences of opinion all help contribute to a more diverse and inclusive working environment that benefits us all.

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