Five Steps To Creating A Healthy, Inclusive And Inspiring Work Culture

May 7, 2020

In the last year, in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, talk of culture has noticeably shifted to talk of inclusion. In my view, the only healthy culture is one that’s inclusive and enables all members to contribute and feel valued. I want to share some practical thoughts and ideas to help your company become more inclusive and, as a result, more welcoming, creative and productive.

How do you develop a culture that includes and inspires all people, including women and underrepresented groups? Part of the key lies in understanding your own privilege, which can be tough for many of us to explore. But it’s a necessary step to creating a work environment that invites everyone’s contributions. Here are some ways to get started:

1. Recognize your unconscious biases and address them.

We all have biases. Admitting that you have bias is essential in order to grow. One way to understand yours it to take The Implicit Association Test (IAT), a free online tool developed at Harvard that lets you assess your bias in categories like gender, race, religion, disability, age, weight and weapons. A goal of Project Implicit is to study thoughts and feelings outside of our conscious awareness and control. Its findings help educate us about hidden biases and provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data about bias. It also provides recommendations to help eliminate unwanted biases once you identify them.

2. Act on your empathy to build others up.

If you don’t know where to start, ask a couple of people from underrepresented groups what they need from you. Dedicate yourself to learning and creating change. Every action counts, and no step is too small. Ask for their feedback about how you can be an advocate. Listen to and believe their stories, and take their opinions seriously. Give women and people of color the floor; reinforce their opinions, and publicly praise and amplify their ideas.

3. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

We’ve likely all said or done something at work that had an unintended impact. Remember that it’s natural to feel defensive when you mess up. At the time, you may not understand why what you said landed poorly, and even after some reflection, you still may struggle to understand. Keep an open mind, and realize that feelings of guilt, anger or shame are not productive. Let your defensiveness be a signal — focus on asking questions and taking action, rather than remaining silent. Ask, “What did I learn? How can I help? And what will I do differently in the future?”

4. Learn from other leaders.

It’s no secret that tech companies grapple with diversity, equity and inclusion — the workforce and management at most tech companies are still male-dominated. The good news is that there are leaders showing us the way to build more equitable, representative work cultures. A good example is Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce. In 2015, the head of human resources told him there was a problem with unequal pay across the company, and initially, he didn’t believe it. After an audit showed that there were indeed significant pay gaps based on gender across the company, Benioff corrected the disparities, to the tune of millions of dollars, and now equal pay is policy at Salesforce, and 20% of the senior leadership are women.

5. Start today.

The good news is that regardless of your role, there’s no need to wait to take action. Whether you choose to start with the IAT, speak up for yourself or other underrepresented team members, or recommend diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and unconscious bias training for your organization, the first step is yours to take.