How to be inclusive in the workplace
How to be inclusive in the workplaceIn an inclusive workplace, employees feel valued, respected and supported.
That means every employee, regardless of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender, faith or ability.
When it comes to creating a culture of workplace inclusivity, the challenge is not securing employer support. After all, very few people would consider inclusivity to be anything other than a positive. Rather, the challenge is encouraging both employers and employees to recognise that unconscious bias could be detrimental to inclusivity.
Let’s explore the importance of workplace inclusivity and how to navigate unconscious bias.
Why does workplace inclusivity matter?Workplace inclusivity matters because it has community and business benefits.
Promoting diversityInclusive workplaces embrace employees’ differences. By creating an inclusive workplace culture, companies can attract talented professionals from diverse backgrounds, which can lead to better decision-making, creativity, and innovation - more on this later.
Inclusive workplaces can create more opportunities for people from typically marginalised or underrepresented backgrounds.
Employee wellbeingThe more inclusive the workspace, the better it is for employees’ mental health. When teams feel that they are in a supportive work environment where they are free to be themselves without fear of damage to their careers, they are less likely to experience stress and burnout. Who wouldn’t want happier employees?
Employee engagementStudies show that when employees work at inclusive companies, they are more likely to be engaged in their work. Higher employee engagement levels lead to increased job satisfaction and better employee retention.
PerformanceInclusive workplaces have been shown to be more productive and higher-performing than their non-inclusive counterparts. When a business has a diverse range of perspectives to draw upon, they are more innovative, better at problem-solving, more productive and ultimately, more successful. This is one of the biggest business cases for improving inclusivity.
Meets legal requirementsProviding equal opportunities to every employee regardless of their background is a legal requirement for many companies. Inclusive workplaces can help organisations to meet legal and ethical standards, and reduce the risk of reputational damage.
Fostering a culture of inclusivity: Understanding unconscious bias
Unconscious biasThere are very few people who would consider treating everyone equally a bad thing. Most of us aim to treat people with respect, fairness and kindness.
Despite this, everyone holds biases.
Being biased is almost unavoidable. Our brains process so much information at a rapid rate, that we need to be able to make generalisations in order to navigate the world. However, sometimes, these generalisations lead us to develop prejudiced views - or biases.
There are two types of bias: conscious and unconscious (sometimes known as explicit and implicit).
A conscious bias is one that we know we hold. When we are aware that we have negative perceptions of a group of people with certain characteristics, this is called conscious bias. A conscious bias is one that we can usually address and change.
An unconscious bias is one that we don’t know we hold. We might hold negative perceptions about a group of people with certain characteristics, but we don’t recognise that within ourselves. We can still address and change an unconscious bias, but we first need to identify that we hold it.
How to spot an unconscious biasNaturally, an unconscious bias is hard to spot. But there are ways that we can reflect on the biases we hold, even if we’re not aware of them.
i. Having humilityIt doesn’t feel nice to consider that you might have a bias. Assessing your biases can be a very uncomfortable experience, and it can bring up feelings of anger and defensiveness. As you try to assess for unconscious bias, know that it’s entirely normal to hold prejudices. If you didn’t have a prejudice, you’d be one of the only people in the world not - that’s pretty unlikely!
ii. Distinguishing between ‘having’ and ‘being’Often, people want to avoid labels of being biased or prejudiced, and this can prevent them from exploring their biases.
But having a prejudice doesn’t make you a ‘prejudiced’ person.
What sounds more tolerable: ‘I am prejudiced’ or ‘I have a prejudice’? It’s probably the latter.
Reminding yourself that it’s possible to have a bias without that being a terrible reflection of your character can take some of the weight out of exploring your unconscious biases.
iii. Take an implicit bias testIf you’d like to have a (fairly) objective assessment of your unconscious biases, then you can take an implicit bias test. (Implicit bias is just another way to say unconscious bias).
While these tests aren’t 100% accurate, they are a relatively effective way of helping you spot some blind spots that you might have when it comes to certain groups of people.
iv. Be mindfulPay attention to your thoughts and feelings when you interact with others. Try to identify any automatic judgments or assumptions you might make - this could be based on someone’s appearance, behaviour or any other set of characteristics.
v. Challenge your assumptionsWhen you notice an assumption you make, ask yourself whether you are making that assumption based on a stereotype or a bias. One way to do this is to ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your assumption.
Consider this scenario as an example:
Scenario: A young woman is raising her voice at a meeting
Assumption: You perceive the woman as being inexperienced and rude.
Response: You seek out other voices in the room to listen to and try not to engage with the woman.
Questions to ask: Is the woman really inexperienced? What evidence do I have to support this? What makes me think of her as inexperienced?
Is the woman really being rude? Would I view the same behaviour as rude if another person exhibited it? What might be causing her to raise her voice?
This is only one example - there are countless other scenarios that could illustrate the same point.
How to address unconscious bias in the workplaceLeaders can help to reduce unconscious bias by implementing the following initiatives:
Educate your team about unconscious biasYou don’t need to lecture your team to let them know about unconscious bias. Not everyone knows what unconscious bias is, or how it impacts other people.
Drawing their attention to this phenomenon through training or conversation can help. However, it is generally preferable to have a qualified professional leading the training or conversation, as discussions on this topic can often become heated, and do more harm than good to workplace inclusivity.