Talking about diversity at work is a given these days, but the modern workplace isn’t just about filling an office with people of different races, backgrounds, or identities. Inclusion is the real key, and it's something that everyone can and should contribute to, even if you're not a hiring manager or recruiter.
Of course, it’s never your intention to make anyone on your team feel excluded. But biases still have a way of creeping in and undermining the inclusive culture you really want to cultivate.
Here’s the thing: Becoming more inclusive will be a constant work in progress. There will always be room for improvement. But the good news is that there are some small shifts and changes you can make (starting now!) to be more welcoming, supportive, and encouraging of everyone in your office. Here’s how to make it happen.
1. Connect With Someone New
Being more inclusive doesn’t need to involve some sort of grand gesture or major undertaking. It can be as simple as connecting with someone you haven’t previously interacted with all that much.
Sit next to someone you normally wouldn’t in that company-wide meeting. Approach somebody different for a lunch recommendation or input on your project. Reach out and schedule a time to grab coffee with someone you haven’t had a chance to get to know yet.
This is hardly groundbreaking. But we all know how quickly and easily cliques form in the office, and breaking outside of those is a great (not to mention fun) way to demonstrate that you’re eager to form valuable relationships with everybody you work with.
2. Call Out Exclusive Behaviour
As much as we wish being mindful of all different perspectives was second nature for all of us, that isn’t always the case. And when exclusive behaviours come up—whether they’re totally accidental or blatantly rude—those who bear the brunt of those actions aren’t always willing to clear their throats and speak up for themselves.
It’s in those moments when you can really be an ally and prove your commitment to inclusivity.
Be the one to point out that your office’s annual Christmas cookie contest might be excluding those who don’t celebrate the holiday. Or assume the responsibility of letting everyone know that failing to push in their chairs in meeting rooms and around the desks makes it that much tougher for your co-worker in a wheelchair to get around.
Advocate for other people in your office when you see something come up. I promise, that won’t go unnoticed.
3. Watch Your Language
I’m from the Midwest, which means the phrase “you guys” has always had a near-constant presence in my vocabulary. However, some people consider that term to be an example of exclusive language—since “guys” typically refers to a group of men.
Even if you don’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable, your choice of words can inadvertently make others feel excluded. Your language really makes an impact when it comes to being more inclusive in the workplace.
So make the effort to watch your language at work—whether it’s cutting out “you guys” like me or making sure that you’re using someone’s correct personal pronouns when communicating to or about them.
4. Amplify Other People's Ideas
The office environment can be competitive, which means it’s easy to feel like it’s every person for themselves. But true inclusivity is about being more supportive, encouraging, and team-centered. That means amplifying other people’s ideas and contributions, rather than only broadcasting your own.
Did a co-worker make a great suggestion in a team meeting that you felt was ignored or wasn’t appropriately considered? Bring it back around by saying something like, “I found Megan’s idea really interesting and think we should revisit that…”
Does this mean you need to be a permanent cheerleader and can never call attention to your own achievements? Absolutely not—you need to advocate for yourself as well. Just make sure to dedicate some time and energy to building up the people around you every now and then too.
5. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Diversity and inclusion can be sensitive topics, and that inspires many people to avoid them altogether. They don’t want to ask the wrong questions or say something that could be perceived as insensitive.
That level of caution and awareness is admirable, but it also means you could be missing out on some awesome information and relationships. So don’t hesitate to ask some questions—rather than constantly biting your tongue.
For example, if you don't understand why your desk mate isn't snacking like he normally would during Ramadan, ask him a few thoughtful questions about the annual observance and what those traditions mean to him, but recognize that it's not his job to educate you.
Consider doing some reading on your on to learn before you ask so you can ask a more informed question. Rather than asking "why aren't you snacking?", you could ask, "Are you doing anything special for iftar (the break fast meal)?", which is a question that might make someone feel included for real.
Taking this step shows that you’re not only accepting of backgrounds and perspectives that are different than yours, but that you’re actually interested in engaging and learning more about them.
Workplace inclusion is an undeniably large (and oftentimes complex) topic. But it doesn’t need to be quite so intimidating. In fact, when it comes to true inclusivity, it’s actually some of the seemingly small efforts, habits, and changes that can make the biggest difference. Use the above five tips, and you’ll contribute to a culture that's welcoming and supportive of absolutely everyone on your team.