So, you’ve noticed a problem at work? Maybe you’re an entry-level employee discovering your company doesn’t have enough perspectives in the conference room. Maybe you’ve been an employee at your company for years, but the current political climate has you paying closer attention to inclusion in your office. Or maybe you’re realizing you’re positioned as the token at your company. How do you approach leadership about the lack of inclusion in the workplace? How do you do so without tokenizing groups of people? It’s a delicate discussion, but these insights can help guide the conversation.
1. Get a Handle on Their Perspective
Odds are, if you’ve picked up on it, someone else has too. Maybe leadership has noticed, and they’re actively working toward it, or one of your colleagues has already discussed it with them.
To start, ask for an informal, short download from them on what they’re already doing to be more inclusive in the office. Ask questions about what a diverse office environment looks and feels like to them, and ask questions about the choices they’ve made thus far. Make sure you’re using this time to better understand their vision for inclusion at their company, not to accuse them of being exclusionary. Simply asking them what they’re doing could be enough to light a fire under their butts to take the next step. At the very least, it will inform your next steps as you champion an inclusion initiative in your workplace.
2. Come With Resources and Examples
If they haven’t thought about inclusion in the workplace, yet, help them get started by bringing a list of resources and examples of companies doing it well. You could showcase a company whose work toward inclusion you admire, or point them toward Brand Lab or The Forum on Workplace Inclusion as possible resources for them to use. There are many resources you could point to, to help them keep making strides toward a more inclusive working environment.
Though there are plenty of resources at your disposal, it’s important to ensure you’re not just finding a consultant or recruiter who will help you meet a “quota.” Nancy Lyons, CEO of Clockwork, addressed this at a Social Media Breakfast event. She explained that quotas for a diverse work environment focus on numbers, when what you’re trying to include and empower in your environment is people, not numbers. In order to truly have an inclusive workplace, leaders should lean on resources and tips that allow them to transform their business’s overall mission on a day-to-day basis, not only when they’re hiring for a new position.
3. Give Actionable Suggestions
Now that you’ve given leadership plenty of resources to look into and companies to research, ensure it’s simple for them to take the next step. Leadership teams already have a lot of work on their plates, so make it easy and constructive by taking your feedback one step further and give specific suggestions to create change. It could be as simple as saying “I found the contact information for someone at the Brand Lab. I can reach out to them for more information and see how they can help us.” It could also mean asking them to sponsor a specific event or organization that shares your company’s values. Giving specific, actionable ideas to help establish the company you work for as one that’s inclusive and accepting will make it easier for your leadership team to move things in the right direction.
4. Speak Their Language
Though “because it’s the right thing to do” should be enough reason for someone to take action, leadership might need more reason to push an inclusion initiative to the top of their to-do list.
To do this, you must speak to the benefits of an inclusive workplace. The fact of the matter is, the numbers don’t lie. According to a McKinsey study, companies with diverse executive boards see a return on equity that’s 53 percent higher than those that are less diverse. Further, more diverse businesses generated, on average, 14 percent higher earnings before interest and tax.
Include points that go beyond numbers as well: more people with different life experiences, means more perspectives in brainstorming sessions, resulting in more creative work.
Leveling with your leadership team and speaking to how creating an inclusive environment would aid in the success of the company will nudge them in the right direction.
5. Change the Conversation
Many companies misuse the words “diversity” and “inclusion.” Sometimes they even use them interchangeably. A company that is diverse is one that employs people from a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences. An inclusive company is one that encourages and applauds self-expression in the workplace.
It’s important to note that a company can be diverse and not inclusive. For instance, if a company enforces a dress code that excludes certain garments, hairstyles, or jewelry, they could be, intentionally or not, forcing people to assimilate to a previously held standard, or leaving people out of their considerations. Though their environment might be “diverse,” they aren’t empowering employees to push back, speak up, or express themselves freely.
It’s also important to note the implications of the word “diverse.” A single person cannot be “diverse.” A person with a marginalized identity might not identify as diverse. According to Anna Holmes, a Times magazine columnist, when “diverse” is applied to human beings, it positions white, heterosexual, cisgender men as the normal or default, and everyone else as abnormal. That’s not very inclusive, right?
Encourage your leadership team and the rest of your company to use the terms correctly. (Your copywriters will love the linguistic conversation around these words!) Encouraging correct use of the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” can help position the company as one that’s inclusive-minded and focused on bettering their company in a small but effective way.
6. Start the Conversation
There’s no easy way to start talking about it, but coming armed with resources and knowledge will give you the tools you need to make a good case for a more inclusive workplace. In America’s current divided political climate, there’s no better time to discuss how your company can be more inclusive and accepting. Meeting your leadership team where they’re at and stepping up to help out will make the transition seamless, leaving them thankful you spoke up.
/written by Nora Allen