More people and organizations are raising the rainbow flag this June in celebration of Pride Month. Yet, there is still work to be done to truly embrace diversity and inclusivity.
Whether it is in our own home, work, community, school or any other place, diversity and inclusivity are now key topics of conversation, steering decision-making and changes in policies or practices. But what really are these about and why is it important to understand their significance? Even better, what have we done so far to make these concepts more of a reality than mere talk?
Diversity vs inclusivity
The terms “diversity” and “inclusivity” are often used interchangeably, often mistaken for sharing similar meanings. That simply isn’t the case. Although they often go together, there is a significant difference between the two.
“Diversity” refers to the differences among individuals in physical and social characteristics such as ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, education, marital status, disability and others. “Inclusivity” is the process or ways by which individuals, groups, companies and organizations integrate everyone and allow them to co-exist with one another in a mutually beneficial way.
Diversification can contribute to inclusivity, but it’s important to note that being diverse does not always equate to being inclusive. Further, diversity recognizes the differences in people but inclusivity is more about accepting and embracing those differences and giving everyone the same treatment and opportunities regardless of the differences.
A diverse environment is characterized by the presence of individuals of different stature, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, among others. An inclusive environment is not only open to such variations but is also cognizant, accepting and respectful of such differences. It is place where every individual feels a sense of belongingness and security. It is a safe place with a nurturing and caring culture, where growth is open for all, and where everyone has a voice and can expect to be heard.
Many are recognizing the value of inclusivity in strengthening relationships and are finding ways to create a positive environment that is conducive to engagement. However, creating an inclusive world is everyone’s responsibility. Organizations and companies must include it in their top priorities. Individuals must also embrace an inclusive mindset, whether at home, work and anywhere for it to be truly realized.
What can organizations and companies do to make everyone feel seen and safe?
Make inclusive practices a norm — Create and implement policies that support diversity and inclusivity. Make office spaces, including private areas, safe for everyone — even customers. Practice diversity in hiring and training. Have clear guidelines on how to address infringements on inclusivity policies.
Practice what you preach — Company and organization leaders, in particular, must communicate inclusivity and show respect for all in both actions and words. Challenge stereotypes in dealing with people and tasks. Create a sense of belonging for all to encourage better collaboration and productivity.
Provide a platform for everyone to be heard — Encourage open communication across the company or organization. Avoid top-down communication. Give everyone a chance to express their opinions and concerns without prejudice or fear. And don’t simply listen, take action on concerns raised.
Create opportunities for learning and growth — Reward and admonish based on job performance not on preferences or other subjective parameters. Make sure training and similar opportunities are open and accessible to everyone.
Create space for nonwork chat — Encourage relationship-building. Online group chats are definitely useful for work-related convos. But GCs for nonwork stuff, especially with many companies still on remote work setup, can help colleagues understand each other better. These will definitely help new hires settle in.
What about employees? What can we do to strengthen inclusivity at work?
Become culturally competent — Make the effort to understand your fellow employees, their background and culture. Encourage respect and acceptance of differences in sexual orientation, race, culture, religion, background and status. Show interest in other people’s beliefs and practices. Even learn more about these beliefs and practices if you can. You’d be surprised how such action can broaden your perspective.
Support company diversity and inclusivity efforts — Besides complying with company policies on diversity and inclusivity, actively participate in related activities or initiatives. This not only shows your active engagement but also encourages others to do the same.
Welcome ideas different from your own — Listen and support your colleagues’ ideas. Being open to new perspectives broadens your mind. Work-wise, it helps generate ideas for projects and builds team spirit.
Just be respectful — Remember the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Being cordial and respectful of others is a guaranteed way to make someone feel at ease and included.
Challenge your assumptions — Avoid making assumptions or prejudgements based on the way others present themselves. It is better to ask them respectfully or wait for them to talk about their sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religious affiliation than immediately jumping into conclusions. If you can’t be direct with them about this, just don’t make any conjectures. You wouldn’t want that done to you.
Don’t fall for stereotypes — Unconscious biases, lack of information, media influence and teachings handed down for generations can impact how we view people different from us in an unfair and negative light. Don’t let your judgement cloud your mind and influence your actions. Again, you wouldn’t want that done to you.
Talk less and listen more — As the saying goes, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Don’t interrupt and talk over others when they’re speaking. Giving them your undivided attention and actively listening shows respect and sensitivity.
Stay curious and be proactive – Like any learnings, being inclusive is a continuous process, not something achieved overnight. Being open to discourse and various topics encourages people to be more vocal and engaged. It stimulates healthy conversations and allows exchange of knowledge from people of various experiences, which ultimately enhances everyone’s lives.
Pride Month lasts for only a few days, but the essence of diversity and inclusivity should be practiced everywhere and every time daily. Let’s celebrate our differences and promote a world where everyone gets to feel important and valued. Happy Pride!