Every Person’s Voice Counts: Practicing Inclusivity at the Workplace

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Photo courtesy of chemistryworld.com

Every person counts: no matter what their gender, race, class, sexuality, or disability is.  

A wise leader must not only believe this but also act on in creative ways. It’s not just about thinking out of the box about your employees’ needs in today’s workplace. Inclusivity and diversity are moral and legal responsibilities, and managers should be working hard at giving diverse voices a space to speak their minds. 

There’s been a shift in the workplace in how we see and measure equal participation; we’ve moved from first diversifying our staff to including them in our brainstorming. 

While diversity is a means of measuring who works at a company or organization, it’s now evolving into tapping into the value of that ethnic or gender diversity so that everyone feels included, and voices are amplified.

Studies show that authentic diversity and inclusion are also good for business. A 2018 study by the Diversity Council showed that inclusive teams were ten times more productive than their non-inclusive counterparts. Employees were not only more likely to innovate; they felt a higher sense of accomplishment and were less likely to experience harassment on the job. 

The first step towards inclusivity is recruiting people who might otherwise be excluded. Once you have hired that special person with extraordinary capabilities that you saw and maybe the majority didn’t, it’s finding ways of keeping them happy at their workplace. 

If you’re a manager looking to be inclusive or you have a boss that perhaps needs to be, here are ways to begin to implement these unconventional management practices. Because let’s be honest, not all managers are innately born with these inclusive-prone traits. 

Forget about credential-based hiring. Dip into a different talent pool

Take those old talent-seeking models and toss them out the window. You know, those run of the mill techniques of hiring new employees who come from a competing company, fishing for them from elite schools, or relying on a head hunter’s assistance to find the right person. Forget those old practices. 

Inclusive leaders are out of the box thinkers who extend their search for new talent into groups that other companies have overlooked. They are also aware that their staff should balance gender, race, class, sexual orientation, and disability factors.  Free and conscious thinking managers know that homogenous workplaces are the least dynamic environments for creating cutting edge results. 

“Inclusive leaders create their own formulas, seeking out underlying qualities such as exceptional intelligence, creativity, and flexibility, and recognizing that the best candidates — the truly exceptional ones — might well be unorthodox hires. It’s not about lowering your standards; it’s about realizing that many standards, like prestigious but unpaid internships, are markers of privilege, not innate talent,” said Sydney Finkelstein in the Harvard Business Review.

For companies that lack diversity, form a Diversity & Inclusion Council

While from the outside, one might believe that the book publishing world is a liberal industry representative of all its globally diverse authors. It has been accused of being one of the whitest industries for decades. Blame it on the fact that it attracts elites from Ivy League universities and usually offers low-end salaries that only the wealthy can afford to live on.

The leading global book publisher Penguin Random House is aware of the stigma and is working at erasing it. In a statement on their website, they write: “We are committed to making our employee population more representative of our society. Our next step in this process will be to share with you the statistics related to our current workforce demographics. Using this and other data, we will set and communicate clear goals for increasing our diversity at all levels, from entry-level to executive level.” 

In 2018 they formed a Diversity & Inclusion Council, which includes employees from all company areas.  They recommended ways to enrich world culture by amplifying underrepresented voices and providing open spaces that empower their employees to publish books that truly reflect the world’s diversity. Divisional committees within the council also organize special task forces that focus on creating positive, engaging, and inclusive working environments.

Create an inclusive workplace environment

Not everyone works in the same way; we all have our needs to be fully productive. Allowing for an inclusive environment that caters to different working styles for the well-being of our mental health should also be part of the plan. For instance, consider that some employees might be sensitive to noise, bright light, and air pollutants, while others may thrive on working in a sensory-intense space.

An inclusive workplace values individual differences in the workforce and makes them feel welcome and accepted. Dr. Pragya Agarwal, a Diversity & Inclusion Contributor at Forbes, and the author of SWAY: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, says that she remembers working at a newly designed space that used an open office plan, which was reportedly best for creativity and collaboration. 

It turns out that the environment produced the complete opposite effect. 

“My anxiety increased manifold every morning, I found the constant noise extremely distracting, and I could not focus or think clearly. There were no smaller spaces to escape to in order to get some mental and physical space from others. Other employees reported that they felt that they were constantly under scrutiny. There were others who had chosen not to disclose that they were on the spectrum or had social anxiety because of the fear of being stigmatized, and this kind of workplace did not suit them,” Dr. Agarwal writes. 

Aside from using ergonomic keyboards, she also suggests assessing everyone’s workstations and seating. 

Check your ego at the door and let everyone opine

Once everyone can make a conscious effort to part ways with the egotism that runs rampant in corporate environments, inclusivity can grow.  You or your manager need to stop feeling like you have to be “the expert” on everything. 

Begin asking questions, even if you feel you look foolish. In fact, when people ask questions to their team, it shows you value their opinion and input before you make a final decision. 

Many managers think their teams are supposed to serve them, but this does not make them a true leader. Ask your team how you can help them instead, and watch how staff engagement improves. 

When we ask others’ questions on our teams, we ignite emotional components in their brains that help connect us to form commitment and accountability. If you practice curiosity and courageousness, you’ll increase your odds of not only becoming an inclusive leader, but of building a high-performance team you can be proud of, and that stands for something besides making money.