Helping to increase inclusivity at your workplace doesn’t necessarily require an extensive DEI campaign. It also doesn’t require you to be in a position of power. Each and every one of us can decide to be an inclusive colleague and take small actions every day to improve our workplace culture.
By making small changes in your own behavior, you can generate disproportionate positive effects on your colleagues’ workplace experience. Similar to small deposits earning interest in a long-term savings account, your actions will have large impacts over the longer term. The key is to identify behavior changes that you can perform repeatedly and turn into habits so they become automatic.
Inclusion within an organization means accepting and valuing each and every colleague’s talents and qualities — without imposing conformity. When this happens, not only are employees happier at work, but the organization benefits from their unique insights and heightened productivity.
Here are seven small actions you can take to be a more inclusive colleague and help foster a comfortable and safe work environment for everyone.
1. Highlight others’ contributions.
Visibility at work allows individuals to showcase their abilities, be known to decision makers, and build relationships. Research validates that the contributions of disadvantaged groups, like Asian minorities in Western countries, are systematically overlooked.
Identify a highly competent colleague who may lack visibility and highlight their achievements by publicly acknowledging their contributions and encouraging them to speak and present in meetings.
2. Use your pronouns.
Including your pronouns when you introduce yourself at meetings is a small action that signals that you’re an ally to colleagues who may struggle to voice that they’re often referred to with pronouns they don’t identify with. It also normalizes the practice for your other colleagues.
3. Use gender-inclusive language.
Research has shown that using gender-inclusive language at work is associated with better well-being for employees who identify as LGBTQ, so ensure that the language you use is gender-neutral. For example, using “people” instead of “guys” can make everyone feel included.
4. Assess your vocabulary.
Many common slang words have other connotations or origins and should be avoided. For example, the word “lame” is often used to describe something as boring or monotonous, but it was originally used to refer to individuals with impaired mobility. Similarly, the common use of the terms “tribalism” or “tribal mindset” to describe out-group behavior is based on a racial stereotype of Indigenous people during colonial times. Actively assess your vocabulary for slang terms that alienate others.
5. Celebrate with your colleagues.
A diverse workplace is made up of people from various backgrounds who celebrate different festivities, be they religious (like Eid for Muslims) or historic (like Pride or Black History month). Enabling others to celebrate these occasions and participate in organized events is a wonderful way to acknowledge individualism. Even better, celebrating these occasions along with your colleagues can go a long way toward making them feel accepted and boosting their morale, in addition to building psychological safety.
6. Get creative about team bonding.
While putting together team-bonding activities, factor in the availability and interest of all your team members. If every social event is drinks at a pub in the evening, that might hinder participation from some caregivers, parents, remote employees, and people who don’t drink alcohol. Instead, consider activities like virtual coffee chats, volunteer work, and online games like Pictionary or trivia. Ensuring that everyone gets to participate in as many team activities as possible will help the team truly bond and have fun together.
7. Be curious.
Schedule coffees and lunches with colleagues who have different backgrounds than you. Without being intrusive, take an interest in their lived experience inside and outside the office. Use what you learn to devise additional small actions to undertake as an inclusive colleague.
Workplace inclusion is not a static, one-off act of service. It’s an ever-evolving experience that requires the contribution of every employee — regardless of their level of seniority in the organization — to make each other feel included. To foster inclusion around you, form and regularly practice inclusive behaviors until they become habitual and automatic. Starting with these small actions can enable you to transform the level of inclusivity in your team.