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Transforming how we practice workplace inclusion

For the first time ever, almost all of the books on the New York Times bestseller list are focused on race in America. In contrast to previous incidents of widely publicized police murders of Black people, increasing numbers of White folks are taking this moment to educate themselves on the far-reaching impacts of racism within our society. Not only is this exciting from a social progress and civil rights perspective, but this is also a crucial opportunity to overhaul the way we approach inclusion in our workplaces.

Traditional diversity and inclusion efforts have primarily focused on two types of interventions: 1. One-off trainings e.g. unconscious bias, being an inclusive manager; and 2. Diversity-focused hiring initiatives. To date, neither of these have yielded much progress. Information presented in trainings is rarely integrated into the company’s daily processes, and more often than not these sessions simply allow organizations to check a box that they made some level of effort. On the hiring front, employees who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) continue to leave organizations at two times the rate of their non-BIPOC leaving company demographics largely unchanged.

Much of this excess turnover is due to non-inclusive cultures that fail to support underrepresented employees. As discussed in our previous post, the overwhelming majority of BIPOC employees are subjected to daily micro and macroaggressions that prevent them from feeling included and in many cases even welcome in their organizations. From discriminatory remarks in casual conversation to being repeatedly passed over for promotions, the daily strain takes a real toll.

Once-a-year trainings and diversity-focused hiring cannot solve the problem when the problem is internal company cultures. With more people finally opening their eyes to the ways that racism and exclusion are perpetuated through systemic means as well as through their own words and deeds, we might finally be able to move the needle on the way BIPOC employees experience work in America. In order to do so however, we have to change the way that we conceptualize and operationalize inclusion.

Per diversity advocate Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” While some have argued that this is too passive a comparison, as employees should not have to wait to be asked to join in by their employer, the point is that bringing diverse employees to the table is just the first step. We must stop tokenizing people just to improve diversity numbers, because the benefits of changing those numbers come from those employees being able to exercise their full array of gifts to advance the organization on a daily basis. Inclusion is an ongoing practice that requires education, empathy, and evangelism from every employee. The whole organization must be committed to recognizing and uplifting each other, and for many companies, it’s going to take quite a bit of work to get there.

The first step however, is to position employees to actually come from a place of knowledge and understanding in their day-to-day interactions. Rather than focusing on mandatory trainings that can backfire, time-bound efforts (e.g. Black History Month), and other token commitments, help employees get to know one another. Foster camaraderie rather than competition. If you’re a manager, learn to really check in with your employees and encourage your team to do so for each other as well. Offer opportunities to learn about employees’ experiences as a way of changing minds, rather than continuing to fall back on the same old sessions that have gotten us nowhere.

For example, without the historical context of White/Black race relations that many are just beginning to open their eyes to now, it will be difficult to cultivate the depth of empathy that’s needed to build truly inclusive workplaces for Black employees. Accordingly, consider working with one or more of your ERGs to organize an event with a Black historian, and also be sure to offer Black employees the opportunity to honestly share their own lived experiences without fear of judgment or reprisal or, crucially, the expectation that they must share. Invite others to discuss times when they saw or experienced bias, as well as when they perpetrated it themselves. Holding space for people to share and learn from each other on an ongoing basis will do far more for your organization than trying to simply hire more women engineers (which is also an important effort, but one that can only go so far if those employees don’t stay).

Let’s stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. Now is the time for companies to decide whether they want to continue to pay lip service to diversity and inclusion, or if they’re ready to finally put in the effort necessary to reap the far-reaching benefits. If your company is in the second category and is looking for a tool to help support you on your journey, from event ideas and activity roadmaps, to analytics that actually monitor inclusion, visit workrowd.com. We’d love to learn more about where you are currently, and where you’d like to go.