Working at self-reflection tasks and being open to learning new approaches are the very first steps to making your work environment more inclusive. But no one can single-handedly change a workplace to make it more inclusive. Changing culture is a group effort and everyone has to be up to the challenge, says G. Rumay Alexander, EdD, RN, FAAN, clinical professor and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Once your team has taken the necessary first steps to assess how they can make changes in their own thinking and their own approaches to work, what are the next steps?
1. Set the Standard
“Begin with a commitment to be decent with one another,” says Alexander. “Do not demean one another. Disagree without assaults on another’s self-esteem.” The rules of engagement are especially important here. “’Say, ‘We will agree to disagree.’”
2. Begin the Conversation
Understand that inclusion and respect mean something different for everyone. And differing opinions don’t always make for a comfortable discussion. One of the biggest workplace myths, says Alexander, is that workers make up a big, happy family. “If we are one big, happy family, then people have to swallow their feelings and deny their differences. That denial makes for a very unstable foundation for inclusion to occur.”
3. Value Opinions
Inclusion means just that – including everyone in the picture and respecting what they bring to the table. Your colleague may not think the way you do, but that diversity of opinion and method creates a realistic picture. As colleagues, you will not always agree, but you should cultivate an environment where everyone feels safe enough to express an opinion.
4. Accept the Strong and the Weak
We all excel at something, and we all have our weak points. An inclusive work environment means that wishing and hoping for a cure all to disagreements is replaced by an honest effort to accept others’ gifts and capacities, says Alexander. Inclusion endures weaknesses and strengths. Each person brings something different to the table and all of those things are valuable. Alexander recommends asking, “What can we use and how can we make it work for us?”
5. Realize Some Things Take Time
Quick answers make everyone happy if they work, but finding a solution rarely works out that way. Make sure your team knows it’s OK for them to admit they don’t have the answers. Part of the process includes saying you don’t know what to do and then investigating so you find a way to do what’s needed.
Changing your culture to make it more inclusive requires lots of work – both as an individual and as a team member. But taking the time to put in the extra effort means any changes you make are likely to be long lasting and beneficial.