What is a company culture of inclusion? How do you promote cultural inclusion in the workplace? What are inclusive workplace practices?
Or perhaps… what are they not. Let’s start with a few stats on the matter.
Did you know that 43% of companies with diverse boards notice higher profits? Or that diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee?
You would think that those stats would mean that diversity is happily welcomed in the workplace; however, a 2018 Gallup poll showed that 45% of American workers experienced discrimination and/or harassment in their workplace in the past year.
That’s nearly one in two.
A shocking ratio which more than makes room for the main issues we see today regarding cultural inclusion in the workplace: identity cover, microinequities (also known as microaggressions), and unconscious bias.
What are the 3 things that HAVE to be fixed for an inclusive company culture?
Identity cover occurs when an individual is made to feel that they have to hide parts of who they are in order to be perceived in a more positive light.
These personal details may include religion, ethnicity, and cultural norms that clash with “company culture.”
Microinequities have spread like wildfire ever since open discrimination became unacceptable in the American workplace.
Instead of overtly made racist jokes, a person of color may, for example, be given the worst seat in the office or made to feel like an outsider when company events are reflective of European American culture.
Unconscious biases are how many well-intentioned people unknowingly allow prejudice to enter the workplace.
A company may value its inclusive culture, but still, hire employees based on an old friend bias rather than the meritocracy that most businesses would thrive on.
Every day, initiatives are being taken to improve cultural inclusivity in the workplace, but to accelerate this progress, all workers have to be educated on today’s major cultural workplace issues and how to address them.
We can start by examining the three common occurrences mentioned above.
Company Culture Issue #1 – Identity cover & its impact on inclusion in the workplace
Identity cover occurs so naturally and subtly, that many workers fail to realize how common it is.
At some point in many job interviews, the job seeker is told to, “Tell me about yourself.” Understandably, they’re happy to share all the details that they believe the interviewer will find appealing.
However, as they rack their brain for their favorable qualities, the candidate is simultaneously calculating which personal details to withhold because of how the interviewer may perceive them.
Once a candidate is hired, this stressful mental exercise can continue.
This can be especially true for those who are in some way different from the majority of their coworkers. Islamophobia and xenophobia are just two of the many phobias that are “quietly swept under the rug” but still prevalent due to the lump that many workers trip over.
Although hatred toward certain cultures is not overtly expressed, it is felt through scheduling, team events, and company norms that force an individual to choose between their personal identities and work identities.
Identity cover real-world examples
For example, a company may have an annual cookout every year in April that clashes with a Muslim colleague’s Ramadan, a Hindu colleague’s avoidance of pork, and a Vietnamese Buddhist colleague’s strict adherence to vegetarianism. All these employees are forced to choose between “being part of the team” and their faith.
The timing of and activities held at company events send the message to culturally different colleagues that “you and those who are like you do not really belong here.”
Workers who believe that they have to hide parts of their identities lead to the development of workplace behavior propelled by fear.
A white mother may hesitate to put up photos of her mixed kids because she doesn’t want to deal with judgment from her colleagues.
A Muslim employee may pray in his vehicle or the bathroom because he’s afraid of islamophobic comments.
Yet still, a Nigerian “American-passing” employee may avoid telling others she’s celebrating Kwanzaa for fear of prejudice towards Africans.
By masking part of who they are, these employees implicitly feel that they do not fully belong where they work.
It may be difficult to discern which facets of the work environment can be altered to foster inclusion, especially for workers whose cultures and identities are alien to the majority of the workplace.
This is why proactively incorporating an integration policy is a critical first move in developing an equitable environment.
Company Culture Issue #2 – Microinequities & their impact on inclusion in the workplace
Microinequities are “the ways in which individuals are either:
- singled out
- or otherwise discounted based on an unchangeable characteristic such as race or gender.”
This term is roughly synonymous with microaggressions. A term that more explicitly conveys the manner in which these workplace behaviors are carried out.
Microinequities are dangerous because they’re so easy to ignore, so easily to (unjustly) justify, and so easy to play off as the victim overreacting.
To contrast with overt discrimination, microinequities are virtually undetectable to the outside eye.
They comprise seemingly dismissable actions like coworkers regularly going for lunch together without inviting a certain colleague. Or work meetings where the opinions of certain individuals are never asked for or applied when making decisions.
A microinequity can be as slight as a glance or tone of voice-. Behaviors that may even go unnoticed by the victim.
They lead employees to feel unwelcome, unsupported, devalued, marginalized and invisible in their own workplace.
When victims of micro-inequities become aware of these micro-messages, it may be challenging to demonstrate to others why such minor actions are problematic.
Additionally, since micro-injustices are sometimes unintentional by the offender, it is common for others to dismiss minor incidents as insignificant.
Sometimes, a victim of micro-inequities who complains to HR is advised not to make a “huge deal” about it.
The receiver can be perceived as being excessively sensitive or uptight. If a case is rejected and the victim continues to pursue the matter, they can be seen as frustrating, oversensitive, or an unsuitable fit for the company.
What to do about it
Addressing these microaggressions starts with those in leadership positions educating themselves on both sides of these issues through the use of data, research, and focus groups that allow them to accurately perceive how certain actions impact individuals.
Harboring a strong opinion on either side of microinequities is not as useful as finding a middle ground. This’ll give managers a somewhat omniscient perspective on all the parties involved.
The first step in promoting this mentality throughout the company is ensuring everyone is aware of the existence of microaggressions. But more importantly, is taught to assess their own behaviors and underlying prejudice.
Company Culture Issue #3 – Unconscious bias & its impact on inclusion in the workplace
Unconscious bias is the hardest of the three workplace issues to resolve.
Many workers have biases ingrained in them since childhood.
The existence of this issue is hardest to address because, as the name implies, unconscious biases are contained outside of one’s conscious awareness. Nearly every adult is brought up with a preconceived idea about a specific ethnic, racial, social, or identity group.
Categorizing these groups by their stereotypes is not only easier but comes more naturally than taking the time to understand each individual for the unique person that they are.
Unconscious biases are so extensive that each tendency can fall on a spectrum of 16 different types.
The main types of unconscious bias
Affinity bias occurs when an individual unconsciously shows preference towards others who have similar interests.
This bias leads to recruitment processes where certain applicants are favored over others simply due to their being a “better fit for the team”.
Confirmation bias occurs when a person harbors an underlying stereotype about a certain group and over-attributes any quality displayed by an individual in that group towards their being part of that group.
This bias occurs during an interview after a resume “appraisal” where a recruiter assumes actions or ideas displayed by an applicant are a result of their ethnicity, race, education, where they’re from, etc.
Then there’s name bias and beauty bias — two biases that typically favor Anglo-origins.
As well as Anchor bias, which occurs when someone is unable to “unsee” an initial characteristic or piece of information. And many others like attribution bias, conformity bias, the halo effect, and the contrast effect.
The easiest way to combat these biases is to be aware of their existence both within yourself and within others and to actively retrain your mind’s underlying tendencies.
Once you bring an unconscious bias into your conscious awareness, you can no longer ignore it.
You have to make a decision about how to approach it.
By spreading awareness about this issue, more and more people will hopefully choose to proactively react. Recruiters can also implement tactics that allow them to recognize (and resolve) their own underlying tendencies.
Conclusion + What to do next for you and your company culture
Building a culture of inclusion within one’s company is so much more important than simply diversifying your personnel.
Warmly welcome and actively include employees of diverse backgrounds. And enough so that they aren’t afraid to share their thoughts and opinions openly in group settings.
When it comes to preventing an “exclusive culture” within your company, particularly in regards to identity cover, people in positions of leadership should start by asking employees what an inclusive culture looks like to them.
Personally inquiring about the difficulties that individuals face will help leadership get a true idea about necessary adjustments. In other words, this is an area where assumptions are not useful.
When it comes to preventing microinequities, authority needs to understand that schedules and cultural norms differ. Although the business world tends to operate on a Western rhythm, there are employees with differing familial obligations, celebrations, and religious observations.
Policies that’ll build an inclusive company culture include:
- offering a variety of meal options and non-alcoholic beverages at corporate events
- providing a quiet space for religious observance
- recognizing all the holidays celebrated by your employees
- and discouraging exclusive behaviors
- recurring meetings made up of employees of diverse backgrounds and rotating meeting leadership
- give each employee a chance to facilitate these recurring meetings
- and given flexibility as to how they choose to host it
- give each employee a chance to facilitate these recurring meetings
That last recommendation will make sure all voices within the organization are heard.
Transforming your company culture will revolve around taking an inclusive approach to decision-making and problem-solving.
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