We all know what it feels like to be excluded, yet we still unintentionally leave people out and/or make inaccurate assumptions all the time. Making people feel welcome is not only important for organizations, it’s also a helpful life skill. Studies have shown that inclusive people are happier and more creative. With #metoo and other movements in motion, inclusion is an important topic in these times. So how can you truly be more inclusive? A quick hint: it takes more than just participating in that day long work training. You can start with these five suggestions:
1) Go outside of your comfort zone to experience another culture. I regularly participate in events in which I am the only one. I also go out of my way to read books and watch movies that portray an entirely different culture. I then discuss what I learned with someone over coffee. People ask me how I find these events. My answer is always that it doesn’t have to be complicated. If there aren’t any viable events nearby, watch a movie or read a book. When you take yourself out of your comfort zone, you start to experience an authentic compassion for others different from you, which, in turn, makes you more inclusive over time.
2) Buy from a woman, minority-owned or a business owned by an underrepresented population. Instead of going straight to Amazon, identify a list of businesses that are owned by women or minorities. Next, shop in those places, and also, share these businesses with your friends. I go out of my way to buy coffee at a women-owned coffee shop down the road whenever possible. While the owner is steaming my latte, I collect tidbits of her story. Not only do I get an entirely different perspective but, through supporting these businesses, I am also contributing to sustaining diverse businesses.
3) Evaluate what you do for fun in your organization. Is your workplace culture built around drinking and partying? It’s amazing this day in age how many companies still think that drinking should be the center of social events. They have it all wrong. Not only are you excluding a large proportion of the population that chooses not to drink but you are also excluding employees that may define fun a little differently. Try to understand your employees’ perspective and make adjustments accordingly.
4) Never use the phrase “diversity of thought to vindicate” an inclusion issue. This is a big NO. “Diversity of thought” is the new Amazon Alexa. Yes, it’s important. But, let’s set this straight.
“Diversity of thought” and “visible diversity” are not mutually exclusive and, if you have the former without the latter, your company is not truly diverse. You also cannot truly call yourself an inclusionist if navigating “diversity of thought” is your biggest challenge. By definition, inclusion is including diverse people and cultures, not including someone that prefers pizza over burgers. The latter is called life.
5) Focus on what you have in common with others. This one probably sounds the most cliche but I have found that when people are not regularly exposed to diversity, they tend to focus on differences over similarities. The diverse person might live in a different neighborhood, listen to music that you don’t understand may have a crazy hairdo. However, just because someone is different from you, it doesn’t mean you don’t have anything in common. For example, I like watching football and hiking in national parks so I usually don’t have to go very far to find someone different from me that shares these affinities. Try focusing on revealing your interests in a conversation so you can connect with someone different from you.
These five tips will only help you get started. If you truly want to be inclusive, it’s more than a work goal; it’s a life goal, but you have to start somewhere!