The ABCs of Creating a Diverse and Inclusive WorkplaceNovember 3, 2017
Lessons for employers on how to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace can be found in a New York Times Bestseller published over 30 years ago.
Robert Fulgham’s credo, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is a profound statement about life in general and the workplace in particular.
Consider his observations:
Live a Balanced Life.
Hold hands and stick together.”
Making your employees feel welcomed, included, respected and supported is beneficial for them, and for your bottom line.
When employees feel valued and respected your benefits include:
- increased productivity
- less absenteeism
- greater employee retention
- and higher employee morale.
It’s kind of like kindergarten. As easy as ABC…and D and E:
- Diversify (through groups)
Creating a workplace culture that accepts everyone begins with management. It starts with hiring a diverse group of qualified employees and continues throughout their employment with your organization.
Keep your environment open, by communicating that your company wants to support and nurture diversity.
Make sure it is in practice and not just in theory by having an open door policy that encourages employees to talk to management about diversity issues like gender, race, mental or physical disabilities, or discrimination.
Remember, one of the greatest human needs is to feel that you belong. Without a sense of don’t belonging they feel vulnerable and perhaps invisible. That leads to stress, which releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, making executive functioning (like information processing and decision making) much more difficult.
It also leads to apathy and a sense of disconnect, neither is good for your employee or your business.
To be accepting, brainstorm, with your employees, to see what sorts of diversity policies are appealing to them.
Do working mothers need flexible work time to attend to their children’s needs?
Would employees enjoy celebrating cultural meals or attending cultural events?
Are there specific ways employees with disabilities would benefit from certain accommodations or modifications to the workplace environment?
Meet together, with your employees, to have them share their needs. If it is difficult at first, and they fear retribution, have them submit their needs anonymously.
As employees begin to trust in management’s respect of their needs communication will become easier.
Once employees feel accepted and finding their needs are being met through brainstorming sessions, they will communicate and connect better with other employees and their management team.
In addition to having a corporate mission statement that communicates that your company values diversity, make sure you back it up in practice.
Ways to do this include putting policies in place that support individual needs. This might mean that you revise existing employee handbooks and corporate communications to support the needs of your workforce, and amend it often if necessary.
When communication is open, employees connect better with their true selves, their coworkers, and their management team.
This is an important point and not one to be undervalued.
When employees feel true to themselves, they are happier, less stressed, more productive and less likely to be absent. (Consider the opposite: employees who hide a disability, their sexual orientation or religion because they fear being shamed or discriminated against.)
Are those employees going to be adding as much value to your bottom line by living a lie at work?
So as employees feel accepted, they’ve brainstormed their needs and are now communicating and connecting, you need to take the next step: diversify through groups.
Developing groups may sound counterproductive, when your goal is to be open and accepting, but diversity groups, also known in some companies as employee resource groups (ERGs) help make your business even more inclusive.
Here’s how they work:
Let’s say a few of your employees are from an ethnic group or culture that is dissimilar from that of the rest of your workforce.
An employee resource group is like a little community within your company’s larger community. It allows employees from similar backgrounds, or with similar needs, to connect with peers in a shared community.
Employees themselves, not management, organize and lead their group.
They might enjoy attending cultural or religious gatherings together or preparing foods from their culture to share with the rest of the company.
This fosters connection, acceptance, and a feeling of belonging.
Members of an ERG support each other and help the management team teach the rest of the employees about their culture, or unique needs, to foster even more acceptance and understanding.
Understanding is most often the by-product of education.
Sometimes education gets a bad rap, especially when it’s in the context of requiring employees or management to attend diversity or sensitivity training sessions.
But we’re not talking about programs that are determined by an off-site consulting group that does a one-size fits all training for any company, anywhere.
The best education for your company comes is tailored to meet the individual needs of your employees. Like an individualized education plan (IEP) that governs the education of children with special needs, your company should design educational programs that address the needs you have in your workplace.
By meeting with your ERGs you can develop education programs to address the needs your organization’s needs. You might find employees within these groups who would enjoy taking a leadership role in sharing their unique backgrounds, skill sets and assets with others in the company.
If no one in the ERG wants that role, use their input to find appropriate speakers, webinars or on-line courses to address their needs.
When people are educated about differences they gain understanding. Understanding is what allows people to respect those who are different from themselves. It creates a workplace environment that is balanced, supportive and nurturing of all.
Robert Fulgham may have said it best. By creating a diverse and inclusive work environment, people are more likely to “hold hands and stick together.”
That’s better for your employees, your company, and society as a whole.
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Janis Gioia is a special education teacher who specializes in writing for organizations supporting children and adults with disabilities and mental health challenges. Let her emotional, inspirational and evocative storytelling bring your message to life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.