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10 Practical Ways You Can Encourage Inclusivity and Diversity in the Workplace

Editor’s Note: Who does the responsibility for encouraging inclusivity and diversity in the workplace fall upon?

That’s a question many of us are asking in light of continued calls for representation, influence, and understanding of minority groups at all levels of organizations.

Laura Kriska, cross-cultural consultant and author of The Business of We, suggests there are invisible cultural norms that keep most of us from interacting effectively with others whether we are managing an international project, leading a group of subordinates of different ethnicities, targeting customers from different regions or countries, or courting potential B2B partners who speak a different language.

“Without spending time with other people, building trust, and learning about their cultural norms, it is easy to misinterpret what you see,” Kriska writes in her book.

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The problem with inclusivity and diversity in the workplace? An Us vs. Them culture

For more than twenty years, I worked with organizations in various industries on four continents. No matter where or with whom I worked, I inevitably encountered Us versus Them divisions.

In my work with thousands of professionals, I saw that Us versus Them divides were defined not only by geography but by internal structures: sales versus marketing; front office versus back office; management versus non-management. Us versus Them divides were defined by any and all factors of identity, including age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, and more. I saw how these gaps impacted employees, customers, B2B partners, and supplier relationships. Boomers versus Millennials. Black versus white. Christian versus Muslim.

Every professional in every organization deals with multiple Us versus Them dynamics. The trick is figuring out which of these divides are harmless and which have the potential to negatively impact business and the people in business. If the gap is big and the job is important, then taking action is wise.

Listen to Laura's TED Talk

Contributing to the inclusivity and diversity of your workplace: 10 ways to start

The longer we frame diversity issues from an Us versus Them Mindset, the longer these issues will persist. Instead of further highlighting the problem, you must take action to build solidarity and connection with people when you’re at work.

Here are 10 ways to start shifting to a We Mindset, one where you are cast as the main character in creating a shared experience that has the capacity to alter the trajectory of an Us versus Them situation.

  1. Be genuine in your commitment to narrow a specific Us versus Them gap in order to create a safer, more welcoming, and productive environment for all.
  2. Acknowledge that dominant cultural norms exist and are privileged over other norms.
  3. Be open to new norms of inclusion based on common factors that promote a broad definition of WE.
  4. Set aside negative stereotypes and practices that perpetuate gaps including use of language, attitude, and behavior.
  5. Recognize that face-to-face encounters are an essential method for gathering accurate data (visible and invisible) about another person or cultural group.
  6. Be open to engaging in face-to-face interactions of increasing depth across differences of gender, race, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, ability, and other factors even if these encounters are uncomfortable or difficult.
  7. Seek opportunities to engage in face-to-face interactions across Us versus Them gaps.
  8. Reflect humbly and honestly on your own life experience in order to better understand your assumptions and biases that inform Us versus Them gaps.
  9. Be accountable to others and follow through with any WE-building commitments you voluntarily make.
  10. Support and encourage others in their WE-building efforts.

Our ability to thrive in the twenty-first century will depend on our ability to collaborate broadly. The diverse nature of business in nearly every sector of our economy requires cooperation across differences of many kinds, whether we are fighting a pandemic, working toward racial justice, or building a diverse organizational team.

Continuing your efforts to improve your workplace

My life’s work has been to close the gaps between Us and Them using this three-step approach in organizations with various divides across multiple borders. My goal is to inspire others to narrow whatever gaps exist in their lives. My book, The Business of We, is written to help you develop a WE-mindset so that together we can create a more productive, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all.

Laura Kriska

Laura Kriska is a leading cross-cultural consultant specializing in communication and teamwork with culturally diverse organizations. For 25 years, she has worked with thousands of professionals in industries including manufacturing, finance, energy, biotech, electronics, entertainment and auto racing.

Want to read more? Get the book!

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