Why it’s Important to Have an Inclusive Workplace and How to Get There

It’s unfortunate that it’s taken till 2020 for many companies to recognize the value of diversity and inclusion. As more companies hire people specific to the roles of DEI, we also must make sure we are training our managers and addressing our own biases, instead of solely relying on one person to create change.

 

We talked with women leaders about how their experiences with bias in the workplace and how you can start helping your team understand how to create a healthy work environment where everyone can belong.

 

How can managers start creating an inclusive work culture?

Patricia Hayes: There are several things that managers can do. First and foremost, they must do the internal work necessary to recognize their own biases and negative behaviors.

If you truly want to create an inclusive workplace culture, managers have to move beyond just “abiding by the rules” and begin to assess where the rules are a part of the problem to achieving inclusivity. This act will move some people from managers to leaders as they become more willing to address difficult challenges with not so popular outcomes.

 

Leanna Sauerlender: Companies should invest in education to train their employees to recognize, combat, and reshape their unconscious biases.

Additionally, companies can set public goals regarding their efforts to increase representation amongst minorities and underrepresented groups. This will send a strong message to job seekers that your organization is not only actively aware of the issue of underrepresentation, but also that it truly cares about improving your employees’ experiences.

 

What ways can companies and managers ensure that all employees feel valued?

Leanna: One way to continue to help employees who come from underrepresented backgrounds feel valued is to keep a constant focus on celebrating and respecting their differences. For example, religious employees may appreciate the space and time to practice their spiritual beliefs. Companies can provide a prayer and meditation room and be sure to recognize observed holidays of those who practice various religions.  Likewise, nursing mothers may appreciate the space and time to pump after childbirth.

 

What bias have you encountered in the workplace and how did you address it?

Jade Lovera: I have witnessed and experienced bias many times, one in particular always stands out to me. I was in a supervisory role and I was in a meeting with my superior about filling a newly available manager position. We were discussing the possibility of promoting a woman that had not only proven her capabilities and dedication but also expressed repeated interest in advancing in her career. She was a longterm employee and was simply amazing. She was one of the best employees we had in the entire company, hands down. I’m talking the most dependable, accurate, professional, natural leader, training others, motivated and an independent problem solver. She was also temporarily filling the open position in the interim.

She was overlooked and passed on promotions previous to my position with the company and I was told it was because she wasn’t ready then. After reviewing the extensive list of why she is ready to take this next step and be promoted, my supervisor says, “She’s not old enough. She’s only been in this industry for 4 years. She can’t jump up into a manager role yet, she needs at least another 3-5 years before she could be considered and ready.” I was completely baffled and my immediate response was “Why not?! I did. I climbed up even faster than that. Sure, some people need more experience and time, but there are some people that catch on and grow faster than others and she is one of those.”
Ultimately, she did not receive the position. It was unfortunately filled with an older more ‘experienced’ person, who didn’t last 3 months in the role. However, I will always remember this situation and lesson in how some people in power can be oppressors.

 

Patricia : Oh my! There are any number of biases that I have experienced in my career—age, race, gender—it’s unfortunately been comprehensive in nature. As a “baby” attorney, I was looked down upon by senior attorneys simply because I was the youngest in the office, ignoring the fact that at the time I actually had the greatest and most current knowledge in our subject area.

As a black woman who climbed the ranks of leadership in my profession quickly, I definitely faced more than my fair share of surprised looks when I walked into the room as the senior leader. And as I progressed to the C-suite, being a black woman with small children absolutely was not to my advantage.

My response in each of these cases can be summed up as follows: I addressed the problem head on, calling out the inappropriate behavior as it occurred or more discreetly as appropriate. Sometimes a simple statement at the time was sufficient, other times it was less pleasant and required going to a supervisor or the chief executive.

Rarely was it “in your face” but it would always be treated as such by the perpetrator because they normally did not expect me to stand up for myself. Well, I had been through too much to get to the levels that I did. So, standing up for myself was the only option in my book.

 

What are some things you have done (or will do in the future) to help create an inclusive work environment?

Leanna: Creating mandatory training processes to help employees discover and combat their unconscious biases and setting public hiring goals to increase the percentage of diverse hires made in your organization can help create an environment where all of your colleagues feel represented and valued.

Additionally, by celebrating the unique differences of your employees and putting policies in place to accommodate their various backgrounds, religions, and cultures they will feel accepted and welcomed to express their authentic selves in the workplace, furthering your company’s efforts to create an inclusive culture.

 

Patricia: In my career, I have always sought to state the obvious. Many people would prefer to ignore it because it may not be “appropriate”. What’s not appropriate is trying to discredit who I am as a person at that particular stage in life. When I was a young lawyer, I used my youth to get my organization involved in professional activities that they had otherwise ignored.

As a young senior staffer and often the only person of color in the room, I asked the questions or pointed out the issues that were always present but no one would address. As an executive, I made sure to speak up as a woman of power and authority, because I deserved to be there in the room as much as the next person.

What I have done is what I will continue to do: be present and speak up when no one else is willing. The most empowering thing that a woman can do is to be a role model for women in the room with her.

 

 

 

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