How can we make sure everyone feels included in the work community, how can we make people with different backgrounds feel comfortable and create a sense of belonging? Can we unlearn assumptions we grew up with? Where does diversity in the workplace come from?
Every year we celebrate the pride month. Many businesses are showing their support of the LGBTQ-community posting the rainbow flag on social media.
Many argue that this is not enough and often does not lead to any long-term change. How can companies, teams and individuals act in ways that prove their support long-term and not just during pride month?
One very important step towards more inclusion is how we communicate. More specifically, what kind of language we use. Language is very much influenced by the culture we grow up in and changes continuously. Most of us communicate without thinking much about what kind of impression we are having on other people. In most situations that is unproblematic, but sometimes we unconsciously exclude some individuals with the type of language we use in our daily interactions at the workplace.
She/her or he/his?
Heteronormative language can be destructive and cause individuals to feel treated unequally and even victimized. What is heteronormative language? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word heteronormative as “the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality.” This means that heteronormative language assumes for every person to be heterosexual and excludes the idea of anyone identifying differently. For example, it would be wrong to assume that every person with physical characteristics indicating a female body identifies as she/her. Neither can we assume that the pronouns he/his apply to every person with what we perceive as male characteristics.
If this sounds confusing to you and makes you worry that you might get it wrong, you are not alone. Most people will understand that it takes time to unlearn the gender-based information most of us grew up with and learn to widen the scope of how gender identity can differ from individual to individual. The first step should be to make an honest attempt towards more inclusion. As in all matters concerning inclusion it is important to involve the people who are most concerned with the issue. If they are sitting at the table, it is much easier for the whole team to spot issues before they arise.
How to achieve diversity in the workplace?
We at Auntie strive for inclusion and diversity and therefore it is well suited to ask our team members about the subject of diversity.
Jonathan Nino, the Customer Care Hero at Auntie’s responded to my questions about how an inclusive workplace can be achieved with his own experiences of feeling excluded in his career due to him being in a relationship with another man. When I asked him how he defines an inclusive workplace he answered that “Diversity in a workplace is always a decision that has to be made by the company and there is always a lot of work behind it. It doesn’t happen just by hiring one kind of person who you feel comfortable with.”.
Georgina Espinoza, originally from Mexico who has lived in Finland for many years and now holds the position of Marketing Coordinator at Auntie’s seems to agree. Her answer to my question about how she defines an inclusive workplace is short: “Equal rights and opportunities”. She believes that the ability to communicate in a common language allows for everyone to be able to join in the conversation and achieve greater work results. She believes that teams and societies can benefit from greater diversity, but that in order for diversity to be embraced one has to be open to new ideas and be respectful of different opinions. This is something we all can work on no matter in which position we are in a company.
Management as the driver of inclusion
How can leaders start promoting inclusion in their organisation? They need to show an example by consciously developing and strengthening an inclusive workplace culture – and to be the role models others can follow. When inclusion is recognised as a key driver of business decisions and used as an indicator of success, it demonstrates the leader’s commitment to workplace inclusiveness.
Jonathan believes that decisions about inclusion and diversity have to be made on a managerial level. “They decide who they hire, what kind of example they give and how they react when exclusion is seen or reported. Everyone has the same rules at work, but the reality is that at the top of the company, they are the ones who decide how they let other people treat each other in the workplace.” On managerial-level actions to create an inclusive workplace he brings up the idea of workplace rotations. This way, “Everyone gets the opportunity to be in the position of respect and be respected”. Jonathan also mentions that as a company, decisions should be made about what causes the company wants to support and be vocal about. Finally, he makes a point about the importance of reacting correctly to a person from a minority speaking up about issues they have encountered: “One wrong look can discourage a person to never bring an important topic to the table again. Never dismiss your employee’s feelings however you may feel about those feelings and always listen. It is very easy to turn a bad situation into hope by just listening, understanding and reacting.”
Georgina shares a variety of ways in which inclusion can be supported by the managerial level. Except for language barriers, bias can be detrimental in the hiring process. Making decisions based on bias should be avoided at all costs. By excluding talent based on gender, cultural or ethnical backgrounds companies and communities lose the opportunity to learn from the innovative ideas that a diverse team can produce. A study by Chae, Seo and Lee (2015) supports her thoughts. Finally, she encourages leaders to try and make all team members feel welcome and acknowledge the unique ways in which they support the growth and development of the company. This acknowledgement will result “…in a positive, inclusive company culture”.
The ways in which companies and societies can strive towards more inclusion of diversity are manyfold. The first step towards this is always to ask questions and to be open to the answers that you will get, even if they lead to initial discomfort. It will be worth it in the end.
Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Language. (1991). The American Psychologist, 46(9), 973–974
Chae, S. W., Seo, Y. W., & Lee, K. C. (2015). Task difficulty and team diversity on team creativity: Multi-agent simulation approach. Computers in Human Behavior, 42, 83–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.032
BSc. and MSc. Psychologist and relaxation therapist. I believe in a flexible, client-focused approach to my work and actively help people to find immediately practical solutions for their issues with tools that work for them. I have a special passion for helping my clients in achieving a balanced approach to work and down time, which ensures constant and sustainable productivity. Together we try out different techniques that we adjust and "troubleshoot" over the course of the sessions. Independent of where my clients start, they will leave the sessions with a variety of psychological tools to help them cope better at work and in their private life.