Addressing discrimination in the workplace: 3 simple steps for building an inclusive environment

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Photographer: Christina @ wocintechchat.com | Source: Unsplash

Most employers will tell you that they seek to have an inclusive environment for their employees, customers and visitors to the workplace. However, despite what are often good intentions, most workplaces still fall short. 

It might be that those facing discrimination feel like they have no one to turn to for help or support, or that the very values the company is founded on are non-inclusive by design. Without a clear policy on dealing with discrimination, or a lack of active participation from all levels of management, an inclusive environment quickly becomes a ‘nice to have, rather than an integral part of the structure of the company.

The tragedy of this isn’t just personal. Studies have found that even when a company is hitting its diversity targets by hiring a wide range of people from a mixture of backgrounds, experiences, lifestyles and abilities if those people do not feel included and equal, they are not likely to want to contribute their diverse ideas and experiences to the team.

This is further proven by extensive research which has found that businesses that fully embrace diversity and inclusivity are proven to reap a host of economical and productivity benefits as a side product of a happy and inclusive team. When it’s done right, it’s a win-win situation.

Some of the benefits a company can expect to see as a result of building an inclusive environment and addressing discrimination at its root cause, include:

Put simply:

“Companies that build a truly inclusive culture are those that will outperform their peers”.

In this article, we’ve put together some concrete steps that employers can take to help them build an environment that is inclusive for everybody, irrespective of race, age, gender, religion, physical ability, or sexual preference.

Get management on board

people seated on table in room
Photographer: Leon | Source: Unsplash

Creating an inclusive environment and addressing any claims of discrimination will be a challenge if those at the top of the company hierarchy do not hold diversity and inclusion as a priority. Company leaders need to be educated about its value both for employees on a personal level and as a business strategy if a positive and anti-discriminatory environment is going to thrive.

Education could happen through diversity and inclusivity training, unconscious bias training, the adoption of analytics tools and the implementation of diversity metrics. These practices ensure that those who hold positions of power are not promoting or rewarding people in an imbalanced or unfair way.

Some other ways to get C-level management directly involved:

Build check-ins into the schedule

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Photographer: Christina @ wocintechchat.com | Source: Unsplash

In the Belonging Barometer study, more than 1,000 working adult Americans were asked to define belonging; what makes them feel excluded or like they belong in the workplace. Interestingly, when the group were asked what makes them feel the greatest sense of belonging at work, the top answer across all respondents was having regular check-ins.

​​Daily, weekly or monthly check-ins between managers and team members are a vital opportunity to connect, identify potential issues early, and adapt to changes in personal or professional circumstances quickly.

From a business perspective, check-ins have been found to significantly increase employee engagement, while for the employee a check-in gives them a designated time to get personalized feedback or address private concerns. Giving team members the space and time to discuss experiences, feelings, and mood demonstrates not just care and concern from the side of management, it also recognises the realities of each employee's emotional state, which in turn can lead to more thoughtful and positive action.

When implementing regular check-ins with employees, it’s important to:

If issues that are raised are left hanging, employees will quickly come to see their check-ins as a box-ticking exercise, rather than a genuine attempt at making positive changes towards creating an inclusive environment. Building a relationship that fosters a sense of trust and mutual support will lead candidates to feeling like they not only belong, but are being listened to and understood.

Make the workplace a safe space

women and man talking outside the building
Photographer: Alexis Brown | Source: Unsplash

A safe space is a place that enables employees to share their thoughts, ideas or concerns without fear of repercussions, and live their unique identities without facing judgement, discrimination or harm. It’s a space where difficult, awkward and important conversations can take place, with the aims of all involved parties to be both understanding of the others in the space and to take accountability for their own actions.

Ensuring that the workplace is a safe space for every single employee to come to won’t happen overnight; it’ll take work, as well as some hard and fast rules. Here are a few ways that HR leaders can work with management to ensure the psychological safety of employees:

  1. Ensure the company values include a commitment to learning about, understanding, and supporting employees
  2. Adopt a dignity framework 
  3. Be an ally, an advocate and an amplifier 
  4. Have clear rules, that are regularly reviewed and always enforced
  5. Encourage the creation of subgroups / affinity groups 
  6. Acknowledge the impact of sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, antisemitism, and ableism on the lives of each employee
  7. Recognise and value the experiences, abilities, and knowledge each person brings to the company

Conclusion

We hope you’ve found these simple steps a useful starting point to creating a more welcoming, inclusive and anti-discriminatory environment at your workplace. It’s important to remember that building an inclusive workplace can only happen with a systemic and top-down approach, supported by company values that are implemented consciously by every member of the team with kindness, understanding and decisive action.

For further reading, check out these resources.

Why Diversity and Inclusion Has Become a Business Priority

Five findings on the importance of belonging

Why Creating Real Safe Spaces In The Workplace Is Important

7 Ways Corporate Leaders Can Address D&I Right Now

Addressing discrimination in the workplace – 5 ways to build employee trust and confidence

Make Human Check-Ins A Priority 

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