5 ways to be more inclusive at work.

The global pandemic and recent social and political unrest in the US have sparked important conversations around racial bias and social injustice, calling upon organizations and individuals to take meaningful action.

Many of us are aware of the importance and benefits of increasing diversity and inclusion at work. However, despite our best intentions, we may still hold unconscious biases against others that impact our behavior and decision making without us even realizing it. These social stereotypes — based on race, gender identity, age, ability, appearance, or other traits — can be a hidden factor in hiring, promoting, project and team assignments, performance reviews, and more.

By improving our understanding of these types of biases, we can overcome them, become more self-aware, and make fairer, better-informed decisions. Here are five ways you can be more inclusive at work.

  1. Make the unconscious, conscious. The most important thing you can do is figure out your own biases and be aware of them. Unconscious bias is much more prevalent than conscious prejudice and is often incompatible with our conscious values — making it even more important to pay attention to. Tools like the Implicit Association Test can help you detect and understand your own hidden biases. Remember, biases are not necessarily bad — they are simply part of human nature. It’s what we do with them that can present unintentional consequences.
  2. Learn about other cultures. To understand cross-cultural differences, learning about them is part of the process. Visiting cultural websites of other ethnic, racial, or social groups is an easy way to increase your exposure. Cultural humility is something we can all practice to help create a more inclusive work environment. This concept involves remaining curious and humble about cultural differences. Keep in mind, no one is an expert — we’re all on a continuous learning journey when it comes to respecting and embracing other people's experiences and realities. Becoming culturally competent is a lifelong practice.
  3. If you see something, say something. In the workplace, unconscious bias can take many forms — from managers hiring in their image, to social activities that favor those who are able to stay late and may not have children or elders to care for. It can be scary to say something when you are a witness to bias, but it’s the only way to raise awareness, which is the first step to creating a more inclusive work environment. Speaking up to help educate others and create a safe space is a huge step on the path of becoming an ally.
  4. Mix up your teams. We love to agree with people who agree with us — it's why we tend to hang around others with similar views and tastes. But when everyone in a group thinks the same, you may be limiting opportunities for learning and growth. A key part of diversity is respecting and learning from different voices, experiences, values, and cultures. Having a diverse cross-section of talent on your team brings enhanced perspective, which will spur creativity. If your team is homogeneous, invite someone who is a different gender, cultural background, or age to weigh in on a project.
  5. Own your mistakes. Even at a well-intentioned company, there will inevitably be slip-ups — the wrong pronoun, an outdated term, an incorrect assumption about how someone identifies themselves. “Our world is changing so fast and language is changing so fast, it’s counterproductive to expect perfection,” says Jennifer Brown, author of How to Be an Inclusive Leader. “Missteps along the way are to be expected — people are showing courage by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” If you make a mistake, own it, apologize, and use it as a learning opportunity.

“Unconscious Bias,” University of California San Francisco’s Office of Diversity and Outreach (diversity.ucsf.edu)
“Managing for Inclusion,” Marsh McLennan (mmc.com)
“Ten Ways to Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace,” Ceridian (ceridian.com)
“The Big Business of Unconscious Bias,” The New York Times (nytimes.com)
“How Unconscious Bias Can Affect Your Career,” Yahoo! News (news.yahoo.com)
“Gender Discrimination: Unconscious Biases,” Berkshire Associates (berkshireassociates.com)
“Diversity and Inclusion: How to Address Unconscious and Implicit Bias,” Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2coalition.com)