Five ways to start creating a more inclusive workplace

Nicole Stewart, CPHR, SHRM-SCP

Nicole Stewart, CPHR, SHRM-SCP

Vice President, Human Resources, Payworks

Nicole has almost 20 years of management and HR experience, and has spent much of her career cultivating Payworks' unique, high-engagement, low-turnover culture as the leader of our talented team of HR professionals.
Vice-Président Ressources Humaines, Payworks

Nicole compte presque 20 années d’expérience en gestion et dans le domaine des RH et a passé la majeure partie de sa carrière, à titre de responsable de la talentueuse équipe des spécialistes en RH, à promouvoir la culture, l’engagement marqué et le faible taux de roulement qui sont uniques à Payworks.

Regardless of industry, size or location, all organizations benefit from a diverse workforce. Not only is it ethically right to mirror the communities served in the workforces that serve them; diversity can also make organizations more successful. The intersectional nature of our experiences as members of many demographics at once gives each of us valuable, unique perspectives and knowledge of the world around us.

However, just because an organization is diverse doesn’t necessarily mean that those perspectives are being welcomed... and that’s where inclusion comes in. The Harvard Business Review quotes inclusion strategist Vernā Myers as saying, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” An inclusive environment is one where people of all ages, abilities, races, genders, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses are not only present but feel safe, respected and empowered.

So how can organizational leaders strive to become more inclusive? Here are five places to start:

1. Invest in inclusivity and make those investments known

When establishing community support plans for the upcoming year, consider the needs of not-for-profit organizations serving a wide variety of populations. Provide opportunities to staff for both professional and personal development by hiring a range of diverse speakers and educators to share their knowledge and guidance. Be public about the values the organization stands for and what it’s doing to promote them.

And don’t forget to share these stories on social media – they’ll go a long way in encouraging the broadest range of potential candidates to feel welcome in applying for open positions, and current staff will feel proud to be part of the team!

2. Amplify voices that have traditionally been silenced

Sit back and observe some upcoming team meetings, whether in-person or virtual. Is each individual provided an opportunity to speak, or are a few strong voices interrupting and drowning out the rest?

If there’s inequity, use words (“You were interrupted – what were you saying?”) and model goal behavior (active listening; “Yes, and…”) to start shifting workplace culture. Call on those who are traditionally quiet to share their opinion, whether in the group setting or one-on-one. You may be surprised by what you learn!

3. Establish an environment of trust

None of the provided sharing opportunities will be meaningful unless those who are speaking believe that their words are welcomed and taken seriously. Leaders need to earn that trust by doing their own research into the biases, microaggressions and discriminatory behaviour that can impact their team members and putting Human Resources policies into place to help prevent them.

Don’t be defensive if a staff member brings forward an opportunity for change; rather, thank them for their honesty and perspective and outline how you’ll address the problem. Remember, it’s not up to impacted staff to figure out the solution; they shouldn’t have to deal with these issues at work in the first place.

4. Be mindful of and address unique barriers to career growth

Ideally, once a staffer is entrenched in a supportive team, their opportunity for career growth should be limitless, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There are a myriad of factors that can impact an individual’s ability to move into a leadership role. For example, requirements for frequent travel can be all but impossible to meet for those with certain accessibility constraints or caregiving responsibilities.

If your goal is a diverse leadership team – which it should be – reexamine what it takes to get there and consider how some of these barriers can be addressed.

5. Hold yourself accountable

No matter how much effort an organization puts into inclusion initiatives, mistakes will be made – and that’s OK! Mistakes are human, and a great opportunity to do better next time. With that said, they must be faced head-on.
Take a look at employee turnover – is a certain demographic overrepresented among those who’ve chosen to leave the organization? Are the same themes repeatedly emerging in exit interviews? If so, it’s time to research what can be done to better serve this group as an employer.

Establishing an inclusive environment is neither quick nor easy, but it’s the right thing to do for each of our teams, clients and communities. We encourage all employers to join Payworks on this journey towards building a better, more inclusive and more equitable Canada.

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