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What You Can Do to Foster a More Inclusive Workplace

By Christina Luconi, Chief People Officer, Rapid7

From our government to some of the most widely recognized companies in the world, the topic of diversity and inclusion are dominating our headlines. CEOs are making public statements about their efforts, including new approaches to long scrutinized practices in compensation, promotion and awareness. In other words, while we’ve been witness to a variety of organizations addressing some pretty intense public flogging, others are moving quickly in hopes of tackling the topic in a meaningful way before they face an issue.

Whether the company’s motivation is truly building a more inclusive workforce or just trying to avoid a lawsuit, there’s no ignoring this is a critical issue in today’s business landscape. And while this leaves consumers with a better understanding of where some of their favorite brands stand on this topic, it often leaves employees of all companies wondering, “What can I do to support these efforts?”

Let’s start with agreeing on the underlying language:

  • Diversity typically focuses on that which makes us different.
  • Inclusion is a deliberate act of welcoming that diversity while creating an environment where everyone can truly thrive. Stated simply by expert Verna Myers (a friend of the Conference for Women and new VP of inclusion strategy at Netflix), “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Efforts to strengthen diversity, even with heavy focus, is often a long journey to achieve results. Attracting and hiring a more diverse team takes time, as well as changing mindsets and practices within an established company. Creating an inclusive environment also takes time to see an impact, but it’s something every employee can be contributing to directly, every day. While leadership teams need to lead the charge for change, it’s up to the collective team of employees to contribute to actually making that change real. Largely acknowledged as a controversial topic, there is no denying that the more diversity your team has, the greater the opportunity to find game-changing innovations and results. Isn’t that what every business is after? Here are five proven ways you can help lead your workplace to be more inclusive.

#1. Partner with someone unexpected.

It’s often fairly easy to turn to trusted members of your team and ask for input. Maybe if you are feeling bold, you’ll reach out to a broader set of people on other teams that you work with often. However, it’s not as likely that you’d actively seek out the insight of someone you rarely work with. Why would you? For example, why would a finance person ever reach out to someone in product development for their input? Well, the benefit is that diversity of thought might actually net some interesting results. Find someone you’ve met before but never had any major interaction with. Ask them for a few moments of their time, and share your idea. Then listen. Even if they don’t provide deep insights, you’re likely to hear some feedback you hadn’t considered before. And of course, that can lead to a more creative solution.

#2. Change your physical perspective.

When you sit in the same location day after day, you aren’t likely to tap into your most creative energies. Rather than settle into the comfort of “my desk,” find new places to work periodically—ideally, a highly well-traveled area. You are likely to see an entirely new set of people, which could spark conversations and idea sharing. 

#3. Alternate leadership.

Even the most effective meetings tend to get stale when you’ve consistently got the same leader, format, etc. You’ll often hear the same voices over and over again, with a population of people who appear disengaged and/or quiet. By changing up who leads the meeting, you invite fresh perspective and ideas to be shared. Obviously, give the person enough latitude to run the meeting their way, while still aiming to achieve the meeting objective. By doing so, you’ll likely see more diverse points of view begin to surface and create a more collaborative space in which to share.   

#4. Make someone new feel welcome.

Remember how awkward it felt to be the new kid in school or to navigate your first day in a new job? Now put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Whether it’s on your team or just a face of someone you have never met before in the office, be bold and introduce yourself. Politely ask them about themselves to break down barriers. If you really want to go crazy, invite them to connect with you if they have questions or you can be of any help. Not only does this pave the way for your organization to be a friendly place, but it helps to foster strong cross-collaborative partnerships. You never know what help you might need, so better to build collegial relationships up front. 

#5. Make a new friend.

We all work hard in the office, but nearly everyone will agree work sure is enhanced when we have some people we really connect with. Rather than grabbing coffee with your same crew, branch out. At Rapid7 we created a program called “InsightCoffee” that promotes employees’ grabbing a coffee with each other—IRL or virtually—for the sole purpose of breaking down boundaries and getting to know people you don’t connect with on a daily basis. It’s been hugely successful not because we are a bunch of caffeine junkies, but rather because it is a non-threatening, very low-pressure way to get to know a diverse set of people in the company. We share what we learned on a Slack channel, and it fosters people getting to know each other as human beings, not just their job title.

These are all fairly simple ideas but can be incredibly powerful in creating a more inclusive workplace. Just step out of your comfort zone and connect with someone new. You won’t just be contributing to inclusiveness; you just might increase your own impact while you’re at it.

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