Many businesses have come under scrutiny in recent years for their lack of diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to women and minorities. Large companies have implemented diversity programs and initiatives in an effort to increase representation, but these efforts often fall short. Meaningful, long-term change needs to start at the individual level, with each person embracing their role in promoting diversity and inclusion.
The good news is that every employee has the power to make a difference when it comes to diversity in their workplace. You don’t have to be a diversity officer or senior manager to move the needle. Small actions taken by individual contributors, managers and executives can start shifting organisational cultures to be more inclusive. Speaking up against bias, advocating for others, and making diversity a personal priority are impactful steps.
Unconscious biases negatively impact diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace. These implicit prejudices influence our behaviours and decisions in ways we often don’t realise. But we’re all responsible for creating a culture of accountability and calling out issues when we see them. It’s important to speak up respectfully when you observe biased language or actions from colleagues.
When a coworker makes subtle comments that marginalise underrepresented groups, politely point out why certain phrases can be hurtful or problematic and offer alternative wording to correct these microaggressions. If you hear stereotypical generalisations about certain groups being made, counter them by providing facts and data that contradict the stereotypes.
Additionally, closely examine job descriptions and criteria as well. If you notice requirements that could filter out candidates from certain demographics but aren’t necessary for the role, advocate for removing these biased filters that limit the talent pool. Similarly, if performance reviews or feedback for certain groups contain limiting or offensive language, politely note these issues and suggest rephrasing the feedback in a more inclusive way.
More overt discrimination should be reported through proper HR channels to address the issue through retraining or potential termination. Everyone has the power to speak up against even subtle bias that disrupts prejudiced thinking. It encourages others to reconsider their own biases as well. While it can be uncomfortable to call out colleagues, it’s necessary to create real change. The more people committed to addressing bias, the more progress we can make toward diversity and inclusion.
Being an ally refers to someone who advocates for and supports groups they are not a part of, like women, minorities or LGBTQ employees. You don’t have to be a member of an underrepresented group to help promote diversity and inclusion at your workplace. There are many small ways individuals can be allies in their daily interactions and responsibilities:
By taking on the responsibility of an ally in even small ways, you can help promote inclusion and a respectful working environment for all. Being an ally should not just be for your colleagues from underrepresented groups, but for all who face bias and unfairness in the workplace.
Often, leaders state that they feel most comfortable coaching people who align with their own experiences. But in doing so, they encourage limitations in the workplace and reinforce stereotypes and blockages for advancement. In order to really champion diversity and inclusivity, employees at all levels in the business need to acknowledge their limitations and be proactive in overcoming those limitations.
Authentic listening and learning is one way to combat this issue. Proficient leaders understand the importance of listening to all voices in order to know when and where they need to show empathy.
It can be hard to be vulnerable in the workplace and highlight where you don’t have the answers, but it’s only through listening to the lived experiences of others that employees can make connections and open up the discussion.
For diversity and inclusion efforts to truly take hold in the workplace, they must be embraced as a priority by organisational leaders. Managers and executives have significant power to shape their team and company cultures. Leaders need to state clearly that diversity and inclusion are key priorities for their team or department. This means setting aside time to discuss the rationales and benefits of prioritising diversity with the team, and sharing concrete goals you aim to achieve and plans to reach them.
Listen to ideas and feedback from employees of all backgrounds; solicit input proactively from team members who might hold back or feel marginalised; seek diverse perspectives. Leaders need to make sure they’re putting people from underrepresented groups in visible leadership roles and making sure events and communications reflect and celebrate diversity.
Leadership commitment sends a powerful signal about culture and values. By embracing diversity and inclusion sincerely as a priority, managers can drive change in everyday operations. It also encourages individuals throughout the company to play their own part in enacting a diverse, equitable workplace.
The path to a more diverse and inclusive workplace starts with each one of us. Though large-scale organisational change often happens slowly, individual actions can have an immense cumulative effect. By embracing our personal responsibility to promote equity, we take the first steps on the path forward. The power of one may seem like a modest step in the grand scheme of things, but real change builds from many sources working in unison over time.