During this time of dealing with COVID-19, many organizations and teams may find themselves leaning away from fostering inclusive cultures. Now, more than ever, arguably having a more inclusive culture is important for our professional lives, whether we are working remotely or still in the office but practicing physical distancing with our colleagues. One thing remains true, however, especially during the existence of a global pandemic. It is this: No one can make an individual become or be more inclusive. It is something a person must do on their own. And truly, to be inclusive is to be intentional in our efforts towards one another.
Everyone, on some level or another, has an innate desire to belong to something larger than themselves. No one wants to be judged or made to feel as if they are left behind or alone to fend for themselves. Feeling left behind can be one of the worst and loneliest feelings, especially in a professional setting. What follows are a few simple techniques that can be used to help create, cultivate and maintain an inclusive work culture, whether in-person or virtually.
Choose to Initiate
For many, initiating conversation can be a big issue. This is not only true for self-professed introverts but also for newcomers to a group or office. It is natural to experience hesitation when initiating conversation (especially with a new person to the group or to the office). But, be willing to step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Dare to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you are hesitant, dig deep to find and understand the source of that hesitation. Embrace and then challenge that hesitation. The more that is done, the less that hesitation will present itself as an obstacle. Despite whatever fear or hesitation you might have, in a professional setting, the majority of your colleagues will respond warmly. Choose to be inclusive by initiating conversation--whether it be small talk or something specific to work efforts/projects for the office. Choose to initiate by sharing in dialogue and camaraderie.
Choose to Share
Such an easy word to say, and is actually even easier to execute than most of us realize. Moreover, sharing can actually be one of the most effective methods for fostering more inclusion. Whenever you notice resistance or hesitancy to sharing on the part of peers and colleagues, consider going against that tide to see what you can share with those who might be left out or left behind. Perhaps you could share helpful tips or resources, words of encouragement or advice, or maybe just your time and presence as that person works through something. Don’t share things that you cannot or would not continue sharing beyond the current moment. So, start small. Share what you would be able to share even a year from now. As you share, remember to also empathize.
Choose to Empathize
One thing is true: Most people talk, but many do not empathize. Many talk (and share) without giving consideration to the other person. To be more inclusive one should empathize more. Simply put, empathy is the ability (or choice) to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing another person’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences. Empathetic leaders and team members place themselves in the shoes of their employees and colleagues in efforts to understand things from the others’ perspectives. Instead of being judgmental, empathetic leaders and colleagues allow team members to feel more comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, raising questions and even taking risks and making mistakes as part of a team. In essence, empathy towards one another can lead to more psychologically safe space and this can lead to more inclusive workplace culture. The act of empathizing actually can be seen as a set up for being open-minded.
Choose to Practice Open-Mindedness
Being open-minded does not imply that one is indecisive, wishy-washy, or incapable of thinking for one's self. Open-mindedness is a willingness to try new things or to hear and consider new ideas. Another way to put it is that open-mindedness is the willingness to search actively for evidence against one's own favored beliefs, plans, or goals, and to weigh such evidence fairly when it is available. Approaching open-mindedness can be as simple as taking these few steps:
Choose to Show Gratitude
The power of “thank you” can never be overstated. What’s more, appreciation in written form somehow seems to yield tremendous amounts of power beyond that of just a verbal expression. One of the greatest forms of appreciation I ever received at work came via a handwritten Thank You note from a senior executive in my management chain. I had not given much thought to the requested work I had completed--for me, it was just a natural extension of my already assigned duties. Nevertheless, the senior executive took the time to write out a Thank You note expressing gratitude for my efforts and time I invested to ensure the task was not only completed accurately, but also completed ahead of a critical deadline that was looming. Although only 3 short sentences were written on the inside of that blank card, that simple demonstration of appreciation left me feeling as if I was truly part of the team. I felt as if I belonged, and for the remainder of my time with that organization I was more inclined to always go an extra mile in contributing to whatever tasks or projects came my way. Because that leader chose to express gratitude in such a personal way, not only did I feel included, but I also felt as if I belonged to an incredibly inclusive group.
Realistically, it may not be easy or even feasible to know all of the details of someone’s specific contribution to a task or project. What can be done, however, is to lean on the specific knowledge of intermediary managers or other team members to find out about what employees are doing during the quarter or year. Write the reason for the acknowledgement (i.e., specifically mentioning the employee’s effort(s) and say “thank you.” Sign your name, and then personally deliver the thank you card to the employee. But, this isn’t just relegated to leadership. Peers can also share thank you cards publicly with their colleagues to show appreciation. When people feel appreciated, they feel included.
Choose to Invest in Inclusive Workshops
Many organizations view the cost of diversity and inclusion training and workshops as expenses rather than choosing to see them as investments. Realizing the value of such activities is to demonstrate a commitment and an investment in an inclusive culture and to the people in the organization. Choosing to think about long term benefits, diversity and inclusion workshops and efforts are not costly. Rather, if done properly and with purpose so as to be sustaining, they yield lucrative rewards for the organization.
The rewards of having an inclusive culture should not be considered lightly. Those rewards can include:
Indeed, workplace environments can be challenging spaces to be in. And experiencing a global pandemic certainly exacerbates those challenges. Now, more than ever, having a more inclusive culture is not only important for our professional lives, but also for the health and welfare of our organizations. An inclusive work culture requires intentionality on everyone’s part. We must choose to include.