Creating an Inclusive Workplace
Make your office culture one that works for everyone
As workers insist their jobs be caring spaces, the concepts diversity, equity and inclusion have been pushed to the fore. Audrey Roofeh, a Tory Burch Fellow and founder of workplace culture consulting firm Mariana Strategies, joined our small business webinar series to teach founders how they can center people in their companies. The former lawyer was inspired to start her business when she struggled to work while caring for her sick mother; she was one of only a few women at her firm and feared her needs as a caregiver wouldn’t be honored by higher ups. “There was a part of me I couldn’t bring to work,” she explained. Roofeh became dedicated to helping companies develop cultures and policies that support employees with a range of needs.
Not only is building an inclusive workplace the right thing to do, it is also key to your bottom line. “When you are going out, and looking to recruit and retain excellence, people are looking to work in places where they can thrive.”
What do diversity, equity and inclusion actually mean?
Though the words diversity, equity and inclusion are often grouped together and abbreviated as DEI, they have distinct meanings and functions in your organization.
- Diversity: Representation of the communities your business seeks to serve (e.g., gender, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age)
- Equity: Fairness, impartiality, and adjusting to address unfairness (e.g., ensuring that similarly skilled people doing the same job are paid the same)
- Inclusion: A feeling of being respected, valued for your uniqueness, plus a sense of belonging
DEI is related to hiring people of different backrounds but that’s just a start. Once those people are part of your organization, do they have what they need to thrive? Are there clear standards for promotion or is it left to the potentially biased whims of managers? Does your company clearly value an employee’s different learning style, for example, or does it make assimilation a priority? Basically, are you or your company really listening to a range of employees ideas? “Even if they weren’t ultimately adopted in the workplace, they want to know that they were grappled with,” Roofeh said, of new viewpoints. When people feel they haven’t been considered, they’re a lot less likely to put forth real effort.
It starts at the top.
Your efforts within an organization to create greater diversity, inclusion and equity will not be successful, unless it comes from the top,” explained Roofeh. “Some leaders are not able to make a personal connection to the work, instead assuming that DEI issues are for human resources, employee resource groups, or only their minority employees,” she acknowledged. Those leaders may be afraid to make mistakes and want to leave the work to separate parts of the organization; others may not understand how a healthy workplace culture has long-term benefits for everyone.
A leader’s stance on inclusion touches everything from hiring to vendor selection, physical space and beyond. That’s why, Roofeh explained, DEI work is like strategic planning for the whole business.
To lay a strong foundation for DEI initiatives, entrepreneurs need to have candid conversations with themselves and their co-founders about their values. What are the lines they won’t cross? Those values then guide the company’s norms.
What does it mean to do the work?
“We have to start by including everyone’s voice from the outset,” Roofeh confirmed. Consider assigning employees and customers anonymous surveys hosted by a third-party service to learn how they feel about their relationship to your company (Roofeh recommends this survey). Use those responses as a stepping stone for deciding what benefits to provide and which internal policies to implement. Remember, those policies need to cover the tough stuff, too. “The greatest way that you can show inclusion is to ensure that if you have policies that say people will be held accountable for misbehavior, and that we actually hold them accountable.”
As with any other initiative, DEI changes need to be broken down into measurable, time-bound goals. Those goals, and what the company is doing to achieve those goals, need to be shared far and wide. “If you’re going to bother to ask employees their opinion, they will be looking to find out what you’re doing about it,” said Roofeh. “So, it’s important to be transparent from the start letting them know you’ve heard their concerns, the goals you’ve chosen, and why.”
Use multiple methods to share, and keep doing it–you don’t want anyone to miss your message. Plus, your targets may change over time, since the business landscape is constantly shifting. “There isn’t a finish line where strategic planning is done for the business,” Roofeh said. Addressing diversity, equity and inclusion is “work that’s ongoing, changing and rewarding every time.” And because the work is ongoing, it’s important to remember that all goals won’t be achieved at once.
Empathy is essential.
Roofeh emphasized that creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture takes more than brief training during onboarding or giving people lists of words they can’t say (though using the right language is important!). “We always rely on building empathy, self-regulation, self-awareness, and social skills in doing this work.” Leaders and managers have to ask themselves questions about their own beliefs, and they have to use their influence to stand up for the people who report to them. “I would caution, we can’t just tell people, ‘be your authentic self at work’,” said Roofeh. “What we need to do is to show people, they can be safe at work, that no one will be punished for being their authentic selves at work, that we demonstrate empathy, that we show our care for our colleagues.” That may mean keeping an employee’s confidence or giving them the support they need to actually take their vacation with all their projects in a good place.
Part of caring for team members is knowing how to make repairs when someone makes a mistake. “How do you say you’re sorry, and learn and do better?”
Want to see change fast? Start with your meetings.
Meetings are a good place to start implementing policies that ladder into DEI principles. For example, women and other members of marginalized communities are frequently interrupted or have other people take credit for their ideas. Leaders and managers should clearly state that kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.
Roofeh shared additional recommendations for meetings that support all employees:
- Create an agenda for each meeting, with assigned leaders or “emcees”
- Longer meetings should start with 10 to 15 minutes for participants to prepare by reading necessary materials or jotting down their ideas. Studies show women are typically less likely to speak up unless they’re clear on their ideas. This time gives them a chance to become clear.
- Make meetings shorter. Shorter meetings will give people time to recover from or digest their previous meeting.
- Virtual meetings should have clear audio and closed captioning enabled.
Meeting hygiene can be an important tool in helping you build a healthy culture for your company.
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