Employees play an essential role in advancing inclusion. Let’s dive into three ways they can make their behaviors more inclusive and contribute to an inclusive culture:
- Mindset & role.
- Make communication inclusive.
- Make meetings inclusive.
Action 1: Mindset & role.
An inclusive mindset means you want fairness for your colleagues. But you also want them to be seen, heard, valued, and celebrated for who they truly are.
Burdening minority groups or underrepresented employees with carrying the DEI change is a pitfall. Inclusion is everyone’s business: minority and majority.
The necessary change should always be a shared responsibility!
Once you have mastered the inclusive mindset, consciously change your behaviors to make them more inclusive.
Find inspiration in the list below or define which behaviors you would personally like to show more to increase inclusion at work.
- Ask for feedback, especially from people who are different from you.
- Share a compelling and personal story about why being inclusive is important to you and the business.
- Deliberately seek out differences by inviting different people to the table and interacting with a broader network.
- Check your impact to see if people are copying your role modeling. For example, does a more diverse group of people share ideas with you?
- Check your biases, stereotypes, and prejudices regularly.
- Use your privilege to speak up for others who can’t.
Define more desired inclusive behaviors with your team.
Discuss which ones are most relevant and beneficial to your work and collaboration with others. Link the behaviors to common biases, stereotypes, reoccurring frustrations, miscommunications, or even conflicts about differences between colleagues.
Use the Quick Start Guide to start the conversation. You can find it here.
When changing behavior, start small.
In the first week, start by changing one behavior. Then, if you manage this well, choose another one.
Tell your colleagues about the behavior you are focusing on and ask them to give feedback. If you encounter difficulties, involve a leader or mentor. Having friendly colleagues’ support will help you persevere.
Besides changing your behaviors to be more inclusive, you can take on an active role in advancing DEI in your organization.
Inclusion Now has defined five DEI roles:
- Sponsor: Recommend a colleague for projects and talk about their expertise, give access to your network, and point out development opportunities for them.
- Amplifier: Focus on ensuring that everybody hears a wide range of voices. Give credit to people who bring ideas but are overlooked. Bring different voices to the panels or meetings you are part of.
- Advocate: Shut down, report, and push back on offensive jokes and inappropriate comments, even if they hurt no one. Explain why it matters to you.
- Student: Learn about the challenges and prejudices faced by colleagues from underrepresented groups. Ask questions instead of assuming.
- Coach: Create a safe, trusting, and supportive environment where colleagues can share their stories, frustrations, and experiences. Encourage openness.
Each role needs representation to create a good buzz around DEI and, more importantly, make cultural change.
It is possible for employees and leaders to take on multiple roles at once or to switch between roles depending on the DEI topic or situation at hand.
These roles are a great tool to engage employees in your DEI journey. They allow people to reflect on their current commitment and set a goal for the role they want to play in the future.
Explain the roles and ask employees the following questions:
- Which role(s) do you already take on?
- Is one role more prominent than others, or are you equally engaged in each role?
- Do the roles come naturally to you, or do they require conscious effort?
- Which roles would you like to take on in the future?
- Which roles do you believe to be missing in the organization?
If you require employees to act inclusively, do not expect their behaviors to change overnight. The changes take ongoing conscious effort and will often slip people’s minds in the daily rush at work.
It is not easy to constantly check your behaviors. Regular reminders and feedback from colleagues and leaders are needed.
- How can you easily hold each other accountable for acting inclusively and constructively challenging others?
- How can your organization support employees in doing so? For example, can you remind people with messages or posters and engage leaders to provide regular feedback?
Action 2: Make communication inclusive.
Non-inclusive language is our default mode. It is what we unconsciously use most. It forms barriers to sound understanding, respect, and accessibility of communication.
Inclusive communication enables good collaboration in diverse workplaces. It stimulates engagement, productivity, innovation, and wellbeing, makes employees feel valued and at home, and boosts your organization’s reputation.
Inclusive communication is effective communication. It is respectful, accurate, accessible, and relevant to all. It is a people-centered approach that encompasses language, processes, and words, free from stereotypes and bias (Queensland Government, 2022).
When should you use inclusive communication? Always!
- Collaboration & output: in teamwork, presentations, meetings, decision-making, and design.
- Internal documents & communication: in all top-down communication toward employees, including emails, speeches, guidelines, and informative documents.
- External products & communication: in reports, documents, and communication for or with clients, in marketing, your organization’s online presence, etc.
Inclusive communication is not only the responsibility of your communications team. Teach all employees and leaders about inclusive communication’s importance and fundamental principles. That will help everyone boost inclusion at work.
Reading tip: Want to make your external communication more inclusive? Take Hanan Challouki’s book Inclusieve Communicatie (2021) as your guide.
Inclusive language is a language that:
- Is free of words, phrases, or tones that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped, or discriminatory views of particular people or groups.
- Does not deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from being seen as part of a group (Rozaki et al., 2020).
5 Rules of inclusive language:
- Consider the context: Both your relationship with your conversational partner and the socio-economic, cultural, and historical context make that some words, comments, and jokes come across as insensitive, rude, or discriminatory.
- Only mention identity traits when relevant and necessary.
- Avoid stereotypes: Do not define others based on their perceived demographic characteristics and societal labels like gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
- Put people first: Avoid defining a person in terms of their disability or one single identity trait. E.g., “a person living with a disability” instead of “a disabled person.”
- In case of doubt, ask: People are usually happy to inform you about how they like to be referred to respectfully.
When discussing inclusive language, gender-inclusive language that is free of gender bias and stereotypes is often the first thing that comes to mind.
We have created a comprehensive guide that explains how languages are gendered, the impact, and which best practices you can copy to improve your vocabulary.
You can find the guide full of quick wins here.
Reading tip: Ferguson, J. & Bellamy, R. (2022) The Inclusive Language Handbook: A Guide to Better Communication & Transformational Leadership.
Forming words and sentences is only one part of communication. The other part, one that we tend to forget, is listening.
You must listen actively and ask open questions to make your interactions more inclusive.
3 Rules of inclusive interactions:
- Be 100% present: Give someone your undivided attention when communicating.
- Use open questions: This will help avoid wrong assumptions or generalizations about others based on their name, perceived identity, looks, accent, communication style, etc.
- Be empathic: Be gentle, sensitive, and caring when delivering feedback or complex messages.
Reading tip: Discover more information about inclusive interactions in the Queensland Government Inclusive Communication Guide.
As an organization, you can motivate employees to use inclusive language, pay attention to inclusion in their interactions, and be a role model in this field.
An additional level of inclusion in communication is accessibility and inclusion through visuals and design.
It is relevant for all employees, specifically those with cognitive disabilities or physical disabilities like visual or hearing impairments.
5 Rules of inclusive & accessible design:
- Representation & stereotype-free images: Include diversity in who you show, include a correct representation of your workforce, and avoid tokenism. Use relevant photos. Do not reinforce stereotypes or generalizations of groups.
- Add Alt-text or image captioning: Include a written description of visuals that text-to-speech tools can read. When there is text in the photo, mention the copy in your Alt-text.
- Do not rely on color: Pay attention to colors. We recommend high contrast with the background and foreground colors. Be mindful when color is necessary to interpret the message. It may cause complications for colorblind users. Always add a non-color identifier like an icon, different shapes, or text descriptions.
- Carefully select the font: Some fonts are easier to read than others. It can be important for people with a visual impairment and those with a cognitive disability like dyslexia. Choose a visible and simple font and ensure everyone can adjust the font size.
- Keep lay-out simple: Follow a linear, logical layout and ensure easy navigation in documents and websites. Include plenty of spaces between paragraphs to increase readability.
Tool: Find many more tips in Inclusion Now’s guide, Inclusive Visual Language: Understanding how visuals can embrace or exclude potential audiences. Access it here.
Action 3: Make meetings inclusive.
Meetings are the center of collaboration.
Making them inclusive allows a diversity of thought and enables all team members to bring their ideas to the table. As a result, meetings become a place for sharing, discussing, and inclusive decision-making decisions.
Inclusive meetings make team members feel welcomed, comfortable and encouraged to participate. These factors will enhance the collaboration’s outcome.
Each organization has its own meeting culture with customs and practices. As a result, the rules can be unwritten, which poses a challenge for newcomers:
- They must find a colleague willing to inform them about the rules.
- Or they must figure out the rules themselves through experience.
The latter means accidentally breaking a rule and sensing this by reading the reaction of colleagues and leaders.
Meetings are often result-driven. You have limited time to reach a specific goal or outcome. Teams focused on the result without paying attention to the meeting process can unconsciously exhibit exclusive behaviors.
There are different biases to be observed:
- Stereotypes: judging a colleague and their skills based on stereotypes and prejudice only
- Groupthink: censoring your own valuable opinion to conform to that of the group to keep the peace and reach an easy consensus
- Extraversion bias: overvaluing those who make the most noise and take up the most space in meetings
- Gender and ethnicity bias: letting stereotypical gender roles or ideas about the ethnicity of colleagues influence the way you interact with them
Reflect: Have you ever felt excluded in a meeting?
- What was the situation that made you feel this way?
- Which bias(es) caused the situation to happen?
- What could others have done to support you or to prevent the situation from happening?
Use your experience when going through the following tips or discuss how to translate them with a colleague to your meeting culture.
Before the meeting:
- Timing & scheduling: Choose a convenient time for all participants to attend. Consider how this can differ for each team member (e.g., parents, caregivers, significant religious or cultural holidays/festivities/events, etc.). Schedule 45-minute meetings instead of 60-minute sessions. It will increase efficiency and allow for a small break in between meetings.
- Location: Schedule meetings in professional locations like the office. For off-site meetings, ensure the site is accessible, comfortable, and safe for all attendees.
- Attendees: Make sure to invite people with different backgrounds, experiences, and points of view. Also, consider asking less experienced colleagues who could benefit or learn something from attending the meeting.
During the meeting:
- Set rules of engagement: Ask participants to agree to these rules and to commit to respecting them. It will help you create a safe and open exchange of opinions and thoughts.
- Appoint a devil’s advocate at the beginning of the meeting or invite attendees to use the “premortem” technique at some point. This way, they are asked to criticize the main ideas on the table and take opposing views.
- Install conversational turn-taking and ask people to speak up. Make sure to allocate the floor time evenly and invite everyone to participate actively.
When continuous interruptions occur, identify, challenge, and break them up.
Become a DEI expert.
Services | Inclusion Now
Roles to advance DEI.
Inclusive Communication Guide.
We all belong, embracing workplace inclusion and diversity.
Services | Inclusion Now
How to Have More Inclusive Meetings: Checklist.
Inclusive Communication Manual.
Erasmus Student Network AISBL.
Inclusive Visual Language | Inclusion Now
Understanding how visuals can embrace or exclude potential audiences.