Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Exclusion in the workplace is more widespread than people imagine. Research shows that 71% of workers have experienced exclusionary behaviors, which can result in loneliness, depression, and a greater likelihood of quitting.

But identifying exclusion in the workplace is tricky. It’s not as obvious as harassment or other offensive behaviors. Sometimes it is so subtle that people can’t recognize when it is happening.

We may exclude people for many reasons, be they unconscious, conscious, or semiconscious. In doing this, we inadvertently create boundaries for authentic interaction with those who are excluded. The walls go up and suddenly we are excluding someone. Becoming aware of exclusionary behaviors requires us to consciously rewire ourselves so that our feelings of insecurity and lack of safety don't become our default.

Overcoming exclusionary behaviors requires constant conscious effort. When we understand that a person might be different from us and welcome it, we are the better for it. As a result, we decide to invite the person into the conversation and it becomes a positive experience for everyone. But for this to happen, we must become comfortable with feeling unsettled and taking a risk.

Getting Started

Creating an inclusive workplace starts with leaders being approachable and having excellent relationships with their people. The more you know your people, the more you’ll know what's going to make them feel comfortable or uncomfortable.

Study the dynamics of your team and engineer an environment that is comfortable for everyone. Each person should feel included. When you know your people well and consciously examine situations, you can ensure that there's a place for everyone.

As a leader of an inclusive workplace, you must be hyper-alert about what is happening around you. Look for signals that someone may be shutting down, such as their becoming very quiet, avoiding eye contact, looking uneasy, or excusing themselves. Bring the person back by creating a safe space and inviting them to be part of the larger team. Instead of assuming they don’t want to be involved, it is better to remember they may be feeling uncomfortable. It is an exercise in mindfulness to remember all this.

It Comes Down to You

Creating an inclusive environment starts with having strong, trusting relationships with your people. This invites them to bring their whole, authentic self to the table.

Once you have established strong relationships, observe the people at your table. If everyone looks, acts, and believes the same way, that's a warning sign to take a step back and reflect on how you can invite a more diverse group into the conversation.

Doing this creates much more than an inclusive environment. It brings something wonderful to your company. Your final product will reflect many different perspectives and, as a result, will be more robust, powerful, and balanced. It will be representative of the larger world, not just the uniform point of view of people who are similar to each other.

Inclusion benefits everyone—the person who once may have been excluded, the leader, the team, and the company.

About the Author

Kristin Brookins Costello

Kristin Brookins Costello is the Chief Human Resources Officer at The Ken Blanchard Companies®. She is responsible for the strategic planning, development, and implementation of Blanchard’s people strategies and its overall human capital experience. As the leader of the Human Resources, Internal Communications, and Learning & Development functions, Kristin works to drive people initiatives related to organizational performance that shape a strong culture of results, continuous improvement, and growth.

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