Inclusion Activities for an Inclusive Work Environment
- Omer Usanmaz
- July 19 2023
Today’s organizations recognize the need for building a stable workforce to become leaders in their industry. Understanding people’s needs and making everyone understand that they have an essential role in overall success should be a critical company objective. The work environment should be molded in a way that it brings out the best in each individual.
The workforce represents the whole aspect of an organization’s management system and the best offer for society. The service and products an organization offers help businesses grow, but how its employees feel about their place in the organization decides its future. Business owners who create inclusive workplaces create the right environment for a diverse team to thrive and deliver their best to achieve common goals.
While many companies are already doing their best to enforce a more diverse workforce, it can get challenging to implement diversity practices, diversity training, and inclusion initiatives in reality. Bringing all employees under one umbrella and coordinating them to work together takes strategic planning and patience. It takes a collective effort to keep employees from different backgrounds inclusive, encourage them to perform better, and share their ideas. What will ultimately drive success is the effort behind the planning to build a long-term team.
DEI activities (diversity, equity, and inclusion) contribute to the modern era of working, just like other reforms were introduced for work-life balance. The pandemic was a reason for the shift in workplace practices when hybrid work patterns were introduced for flexibility of working for employees. Workers can no longer be treated as machines just for getting the job done or for a company to generate revenue. Newer reforms and restructuring should also include what works best for the benefit of employees and not just the company’s growth. In other cases, they may quit and move away to find other workplaces that offer them the best environment to grow and prosper.
DEI-focused efforts are a part of creating better systems and processes along with an inclusive workplace culture. There’s no quick-fix approach or one-day reform that can build diverse, inclusive teams for your organization. Even the most progressive companies work their way up to devise strategies that might be proven or useful in the future. One should realize that diverse building workplaces through DEI-focused efforts is a never-ending process. There will always be changes to implement to keep the processes updated and more to invest in encouraging learning through training and mentorship programs.
So the most critical step for organizations to take toward building an inclusive culture is to take the first step to understand the end goals that need to be achieved in terms of workplace diversity. Then, prepare a long-term plan that will include the roles of all workers from top to bottom of the hierarchy, which will need continuous nurturing and dedication.
Why are inclusion activities important?
19% of employees do not feel that everyone in their organization respects people’s identities (officevibe.com).
Diversity activities can:
- promote inclusion, equity, and diversity in the workplace.
- nurture bonds between employees for collaborative working
- promote peer-to-peer learning
- increase team member engagement
- create a sense of belonging
- encourage teams to work well
- create responsible leaders
- improve communication at all levels
Inclusion Activities Between Teams
An inclusive team and work environment impact the way employees think and work. Inclusive behavior works wonders in numerous ways, encouraging a collaborative work culture and peer-to-peer interactions. When employees feel respected, they perform well, and the overall work environment will be positive and nourishing.
Diversity activities are a tool for understanding people’s identities. Having a diversity committee that checks the following is vital to take a step to repair existing norms that are not inclusive or include new ones if necessary:
- Check if the communications among team members are appropriate,
- Check if all team members are involved in critical work-related discussions and decisions,
- Check if team members have the required help and support from managers and peers,
- Check for the level of satisfaction they have about their work, and
- Check if they feel included and can openly raise their opinions and views with their managers and team.
Do your employees feel their work environment is inclusive for them? Think from their perspective and make the changes accordingly if you find that something is not working right. For instance, a person from a minority community may feel shy to come to the forefront and take the initiative. Encourage them personally and in meetings to make them feel safe to express and communicate. It is excellent to display your support for how you embrace people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and ideas,
Every team member should have an equal position to express their views and grow within their entire team. Communication and connections with their managers or teams should not seem like a more strenuous job.
How Do You Build an Inclusive Team?
One team’s success can bring a great deal of motivation to the entire organization. The first step to building one is to understand the goals and assign them to a leader who can take care of the team well. Instilling values and stressing the importance of diversity can happen when managers or leaders know their team well and have a good relationship with their team members. Offering a safe space for work starts with micromanagement. Hold frequent meetings with your leaders to discuss how employees are doing well and if they have a platform to express their difficulties. It is suggested that employees share anonymous feedback to help managers understand their challenges better so that they may otherwise feel hesitant to communicate. In this way, leaders can leverage team strengths and help them overcome them and perform to their fullest potential. An employee engagement survey or inclusion polls can give you clear insights into employee satisfaction levels. Questions should include:
- Is your team inclusive?
- Are you able to share your views openly?
- Do you feel that you are a part of your team?
- Are you able to ask questions without hesitating?
- Are you getting the necessary support from your team members and leaders?
Who is responsible for bringing in a diverse workforce?
Every individual in the workforce has a role in building a diverse workforce. Whether it's anyone from the top management or the lower part of the organizational hierarchy, respect and caring should work with a give and take policy. Ultimately, people should feel safe and valued when working in your organization. Is it a manager’s job? Is it a team member’s job? Or is it the top-level executive jobs? No, a diverse workforce is not anyone else’s responsibility. It is everyone’s responsibility, and no one can point fingers to create an inclusive environment. A team member can ask questions or challenge the norms with facts and logic if a particular workplace practice does not include a specific minority group. While leaders also have the same power, they have the extra responsibility to solve issues whenever identity-based conflicts crop up. The top management should have the values and guidelines firmly established and ensure that each team member is informed and responsible for the common diversity goal.
An organization's common mistake is being overly dependent on HR departments to teach the inclusive environment values and missions. Wherever there is delegation, there is less priority. It is even more powerful when business leaders come down to the team levels to convey how important diversity is for the organization and its people.
An organization’s staff may look up to leadership not just for guidance but as an example of those who carry its values and ethics. The company’s operations and processes should have consistent inclusiveness in all its units, departments, or hubs.
An inclusive work environment is a collective effort of everyone in the organization, and to have standard methods and practices, devising fair values, policies, and procedures are essential. A company meeting should always focus on efforts and values that need to be made at the management and team levels. Everyone should be encouraged to focus on the common team goal as much as they give focus to their individual goals. Team leadership and any employee engagement idea should instill what’s necessary to work together with team members from different backgrounds respecting each other. Leaders have a direct impact on their role for the increase in employee happiness through following equality norms and proper management.
Four Diversity and Inclusion Activities for Teams
Every organization likes to call itself open-minded and forward in understanding the importance of diversity and inclusivity and may brag about being the one to follow the same. A closer look at all levels would show how everything requires micromanagement and how they still have to work on filling the gaps.
Inclusive workplaces are still a work-in-progress for most organizations, and they must begin from the initial stage of a team member's lifecycle. It should be evident in every step of their professional journey from the moment a job seeker sets foot in your company and gets hired until they quit your company. Many management experts suggest the need for organizations to keep brainstorming ideas on how the best diverse workplace can become a full-fledged dream.
Here are some of the top ways of understanding your existing system and inclusion activities that organizations can consider and incorporate to build a more robust workforce:
1. Learn about your people
Creating a professional space is about making it a great deal for your employees. A significant part of it is understanding their backgrounds and what made them what they are today. It might require you to unlearn what you have known so far to understand other people. You will be dealing with people from different backgrounds, and learning about them can be a group activity to foster others to understand each other. Sessions, where they can talk about themselves and express their future goals, allow open communication that they might not otherwise do so. One-on-one meetings and open discussions give them a choice to be open about their views and ideas. It builds relationships and bonds by building self-esteem and trust.
How much you stress the importance of keeping personal and professional lives apart, employees’ personal lives can significantly influence how they think and show up to work. Their views and beliefs from childhood, the way they were brought up, or the societal conditioning form a significant part of their mindset. Recognizing that and encouraging people to be themselves contributes a lot to make them feel comfortable sharing and builds inclusion.
Inclusion exercises to learn more about your people:
- Ask your team to think and write about a funny or memorable moment in their lives. Make them share these real-life stories with the rest of the team as a written article or in a discussion. Remote teams can easily use digital documents to write and share on the cloud or through emails.
- Fix a time when every team member can be available for happy hour by the end of the working weekend. Office happy hours can be perfect for networking. Your team can have fun and release their work stress through such meet-ups. Virtual happy hours can be planned with the team doing a fun activity together. Exciting conversations or topics can go on for hours and help to know each other on a personal level.
- Internal communication is essential to working as a single unit in the workplace. Activities that involve discussions on relevant topics and encouraging different views can be conversation icebreakers to improve tolerance and acceptance among team members. It would help with thinking of different ways to approach the same problem. For instance, diversity might mean different things to different people. Expressing views and asking questions would help understand how others see it.
- Be it a one-on-one meeting or a small group discussion, setting the right tone for introductions and opening can be the start of healthy conversations.
- Bring everyone’s accomplishments and challenges to the forefront and keep areas of improvement in one-on-one meetings only. It will keep employees motivated and avoid being discouraged or ashamed by discussing their minuses in team meetings.
2. Breaking down stereotypes
Communication among peers becomes strained if workers have preconceived notions or misconceptions and follow stereotypes that give only a particular class of people a type of privilege or dominance over others. It can create oppression within the workplaces where people hold their identity close and don’t respect or value another person or their beliefs. They may not even approve of their lifestyle, which can be challenging to accommodate in a modern workplace.
Inclusion exercise that can be followed to make a more significant impact on breaking stereotypes:
- Each team member can take a piece of paper and draw four columns.
- The first column can be “topics” or questions you can dictate.
- The second column can be “how I would act if a situation is given” scenarios.
- The third column can be “is it inclusive for everyone? (yes/no)”.
- The final column can be remarked.
- Topics ranging from gender, age, race, or religion, can be selected, and questions with common stereotypes can be included to identify whether the stereotype is positive or negative.
- Make sure to check their answers and give feedback.
- Prepare mission statements and make them read out loud.
3. Learn about diverse backgrounds
Accepting people from different backgrounds goes a long way by taking a mental note of their priorities. While communication activities can be a great way to accommodate them, community-building activities can help address issues if they face conflicts. Instruct your team through this Inclusion exercise with the following steps.
- Form 5-6 people team with a mix of backgrounds. Make your team share the types of diverse backgrounds that they already know (race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.).
- Make everyone write a brief on the unique challenges that people from other backgrounds may face.
- Encourage them to discuss with the team or in small groups.
Such activities will allow team members to nurture a positive attitude and improve the way they see minorities. Team activities also build synergy among the team members by not leaving out minorities and reducing ill-treatment or harassment towards them.
4. Overcome bias
Humans mostly have bias, even when most people think they are not biased. One way to realize if you are biased is to think from a third-person’s angle of view. It will help leaders make decisions on what would be best suited for others and not only themselves alone. Leaders are supposed to make decisions based on facts or logic and not emotions, beliefs, or preconceived notions.
Inclusion exercises to overcome bias:
- The privilege walk activity is explained below:
- Explain to the team members the privileges certain people have in society and professional life.
- Ask the team members to form a line.
- Explain to them a set of statements that you will be reading out.
- Ask them to follow the instructions by taking a step forward or backward when a particular statement is true for them. Try to include around 30 statements. The statements can be like:
- If you were born and raised in a rural background, take a step back.
- If you have faced harassment of any sort at the workplace, take a step back.
- If you have company transport, take a step forward.
While diversity team building activities develop team spirit, the above activity ignites retrospection on where they are placed and see where others are placed. After the activity is over, let them sit in groups and genuinely share how they feel. Let them discuss the disadvantages and the under privileges and how they can play their roles to mitigate them.
Implementing an Inclusive Environment for Remote Teams
With the pandemic, organizations started adopting flexible work patterns and introduced remote work. Remote work or hybrid work patterns have their boon and bane in terms of employees' sense of inclusion and belonging. It has been a matter of concern for an organization’s management to zero in and ensure that employees find the right balance between work and feel included in the workplace. As it takes more time to communicate things through virtual calls and video meetings, most communications become work-related. While adopting the work patterns takes organizations to the next level, social interaction and conversations about diversity may take a backseat. Remote diversity team building can be a great initiative to reinforce the idea of diversity and build an inclusive working system, even for remote teams.
For instance, people who work remotely may not have paid much attention to diversity issues and how they can impact others. The aspects of employee experiences in the case of remote working will be low for them to go through scenarios that might cause diversity issues. The workplace environment that gives them real-time interaction with others is also restricted to video calls or even chatting. Such instances are hard to monitor the workers’ attitude towards minority groups.
How leaders can implement inclusion activities in remote teams:
- A lot of understanding goes into managing the employees who are not working from home but are doing their best to get the work done during difficult times. It is essential to create the space for team members to open up about how they’re doing.
- Stress on the importance of work and life balance as the impact is not the same as work from the office. Work from the office will have the right amount of support for people to discuss their mental issues when they prefer. Ensure that all the sources and support are easier to reach out to when everything is virtual and well-connected for them not to feel left behind.
- Virtual DEI events can foster the connection personally and encourage them to stay connected online. Have one-on-one calls with your team members frequently, and check in on them. Assure them that there will be enough support whenever they need it.
As you start to take initiatives for your team, you will start seeing the changes and how they can instill hope in your team members that they are included and are not alone even while they work remotely. Inclusive leaders should set aside time and develop the patience to listen to their employees, be there for them, and break down challenges when conflicts arise.
Tips for Leaders to Build Inclusive Workplaces
Leaders are a representation of people as they are the flag bearers who steer the future of any organization. Though the days around diversity are changing, organizations still have to put in a lot of work to do in the direction of inclusivity to improve the benefits for employees. Consistent inclusion efforts can increase the core company pillar of values and ethics that are imbibed in every organization looking to grow by building inclusivity and promoting diversity in workspaces. A good business leader will:
1. Respect people and their identities
As leaders of organizations drive performance to improve job efficiency, people may not be treated well. Sometimes they use power and are bossy to push work and productivity. It can lead to significant issues with employees having low confidence and morale or even leaving the company. It is essential to understand that people stay where they feel respected and valued. Communicate genuinely and politely with them during training or meetings and while the work is being assigned to them. Understand how they feel and show interest in their identities or background.
Tip: Include religious and cultural holidays in the company calendar and try to celebrate the main cultural events that make your employees from different backgrounds feel significant.
2. Lead through conflicts
Your workplace is no different from society and its people. The way your organization and the work system work can throw light on various sensitive diversity issues like gender, race, religion, age, or any other diversity-based issues. Leaders and even the HRs must check with each individual, have reports, and conduct surveys to check if they feel it's a safe space to work and get the proper support.
Tip: When conflicts targeting specific minority groups occur, reach out to your people and communicate about the measures taken and, if necessary, take appropriate actions against anyone who is not willing to participate in creating an inclusive environment. Give some time off for victims if they need it, and remind them they will have the appropriate support from the management side.
3. Use influence to create a better environment.
People can get frustrated when their identities are questioned. It is the leaders’ responsibility to ensure that the norms are followed and that everyone participates in an inclusive environment for everyone’s benefit.
- Monitor and take action against offensive language or behavior immediately. It includes leaders keeping a check on themselves too.
- Provide extra support to marginalized groups whenever necessary.
- Give credit to people who give their full to deliver quality work.
- Assign work with careful thought, and don’t be biased—give a chance for everyone to progress.
- Ask questions and challenge any norms or stereotypes that prove harmful to privileged groups.
Inclusive Workplace: An Asset for Organizations
Building an inclusive workplace cannot be achieved with only one or two people participating. It should be included in the mission and vision statement of the organization. Company leaders and team members should be well-informed of the goals and benefits of diversity for overall progress. Remember that an inclusive workplace results from consistent effort that can bring long-term benefits to your organization.
One of the most important assets for any organization is an inclusive workplace. An inclusive workplace is essential because it allows organizations to draw from a broader pool of talent, to better reflect the diversity of their customer base, and to tap into the creativity and innovation that diversity brings. Moreover, inclusive workplaces promote a sense of belonging and engagement among employees, which can lead to improved performance and productivity. Finally, by valuing diversity and inclusion and even implementing employee resource groups organizations can send a strong signal to their employees, customers, and other stakeholders that they are committed to social responsibility. In today's increasingly global and diverse business environment, organizations that embrace inclusivity will be best positioned for success.
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