Four Strategies to Include when Promoting an Inclusive Environment

Millennials.  Since their entry into the workforce, it’s fair to say us older folk (Gen X and beyond) have struggled a little acclimating to just about everything about them.  In all honesty, I’ll admit, I struggled at first.  Their work styles were opposite of anything I was accustomed to, their specific needs regarding their work environment I found to be high maintenance, and their idea of appropriate office attire, well, I found inappropriate!   

Then I took a step back in time to when I, as a Gen X’er, entered the workforce back in the mid 90’s.  My generation was not welcomed into open arms either. Those who came before me struggled with my independent work style; I liked to figure things out on my own rather than be taught.  I craved calm, quiet, and privacy in my work environment, and I thought (and still do) formal business attire as an everyday work standard was ridiculous. 

My opinion about Millennials shifted as I soon discovered our experiences were similar despite our contrasts.  The difference being, had “Gen X Me” entered the workforce after Millennials, they would have been far more accepting of my differences and would have done their best to accommodate and celebrate the special sauce I bring to the table.  The truth is, Millennials are great teachers when it comes to inclusivity and diversity in the workplace as their generation thrives on it.  Forget the perks such as ping pong tables and bean bag chairs; this generation (which happens to be largest generation in the U.S. labor force according to PEW Research Center), wants a culture that is positive, collaborative, and heterogeneous.

Because Millennials are dominating the US workforce, along with the growing emphasis on equality for all, now more than ever we need to actively implement strategies and designs to make our work environments a place with diverse people and viewpoints, where we can work effectively and collaboratively. It’s not an option. Business owners, operators, leaders, managers, etc., have a legal obligation to ensure the workplace is a safe environment for everyone to be able to work effectively and confidently. 

Mentoring and leadership expert, Dr. Liz Selzer, adds, “A conscious effort needs to be made to respect, appreciate, and include what different people have to offer. Diversity is good for business but not if that diversity is not included-people need to feel they belong. Diversity for diversity sake is superficial and won’t benefit the organization as it has potential to do.”

Here are four strategies to help promote diversity and inclusivity where you work.

Understand What Diversity Means

Aside from the obvious such as gender, race, and age, diversity also includes sexual orientation, religious beliefs, disabilities, military service, and even diversity of thought/thinking style.  As a leader, being well versed in the diversity that exists in your workplace is the first and most powerful step you can take toward building an inclusive environment. 

Change Your Thought Process as You Mine for New Talent 

Don’t get trapped into focusing on what you envision your ideal candidate to be or how they will fit into the current office culture.  Instead, view candidates through the lens of how they could enhance and enrich the culture.  Considering candidates who don’t necessarily fit the mold of the status quo could also prove to be fiscally beneficial, “Companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams—not only with respect to absolute representation but also of variety or mix of ethnicities—are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on profitability.” This is based on a 2017 study conducted by McKinsey and Company, a workforce consulting firm.

Mentoring to Promote Inclusivity in the Workplace

Through mentoring, you not only can advocate better for an individual and their strengths, struggles, needs, etc., you can also lead them to a place where they are appreciative of the diversity that surrounds them, and can be open to opposing or distinct points of view. 

Be transparent with your own experiences.  Did you have a situation where you were judged or treated unfairly?  How did it affect you?  What did you learn?  This level of vulnerability makes you more approachable to someone who is having their own struggles, and it encourages a safer environment for employees to raise a flag if need be.

Most Importantly, Lead by Example

Make diversity and inclusivity part of your corporate narrative and cement it into company’s philosophy.  Your team should understand how the variety of individuals make the team remarkable and unlike any other.  Ensure every voice is heard, and every opinion and suggestion considered.  Always look for opportunities for everyone to have skin in the game.  Be cognizant of the fact that one type of work environment doesn’t suit all.  Do a deep dive into the diversity that exists in your workplace and make certain everyone’s unique needs are being met.

Such mindfulness on your part as a leader gives your employees a clearer view of what the landscape of an inclusive environment should look like and, in turn, will be active participants in its advancement.  The combined efforts can result in a more productive, creative, and inventive environment cultivated by the diverse points of view and experiences that everyone brings to the table. It also promotes higher job satisfaction, which of course leads to greater morale, less turnover, and a more well-rounded organization.