Fostering Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, 1 Meeting at a Time
Late last year I took a bit of a hiatus from writing. Work was busy, life was stressful, and the relentless bombardment of global, national, and local news was wearing me down. I was running at full speed at work and not running nearly enough in real life.
Luckily, I was in a fortunate enough position where I could take an actual break. I didn’t have this ability (or at least didn’t exercise it) very often earlier in my career, but this year I had a chance to step back and reflect on what I want to do differently. I realized there are things that I can change to make both me and my team happier and more successful at work.
Working for a company that is trying to make hiring more efficient and equitable means that I’m always talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but it’s critical that those words extend beyond the interview. Diversity may be about inviting different faces to the party, but inclusion is about making sure they’re going to have a good time and be set up for success.
We can’t just hire underrepresented minority candidates or women and throw them to the wolves. Company and team cultures need to be ready to truly include them. This requires intentionality at both the company and individual levels. Previously, I’ve covered some of the structural changes that organizations can make to ensure an inclusive hiring process, so here are two individual goals I have for improving the inclusivity of my own teams in 2021.
I’m Never Going to Tell a Woman to ‘Suck It Up’ Again
Early in my career, I started a new job with a pretty tight-knit group of male engineers. One of them took a project that I had been working on and presented it as his own, talking over me every time I tried to interject. When I went to one of the women leaders at the company and shared my frustration with her, she brushed it off. I was looking for support and mentorship, and what I got was “suck it up.”
That stuck with me. For a long time in my career, I made a point not to seem weak, or not to act like I was being attacked, and, unfortunately, I probably passed that along to other women on my teams over the years.
But every time I hear, “it’s not because you’re a woman, that’s just the way [insert male engineer’s name] is,” I remember that moment.
Instead of brushing off microaggressions, I’m going to address them head-on. When one of my women or underrepresented minority colleagues gets talked over or has their words repeated by someone else, I’m going to acknowledge it.
“I agree, and it sounded great when Jennifer suggested it a couple of minutes ago too,” will become something my teams can expect to hear.
I Will Prioritize Inclusive Meetings
In the Zoom-centric world of 2020, the first person to speak up (and the last one to stop talking) gets the most airtime.
While a lot of us are looking forward to a return to in-person meetings, I doubt the new remote work chops we’ve all developed over the past year are going to fade away, so the weekly Brady Bunch meetings are likely here to stay. Because of that, I’m going to be very intentional about how my meetings are structured to elevate the voices that get drowned out.
I plan to structure all of my meeting agendas with very deliberate pauses to give introverts and quieter team members their opportunity to weigh in. I’ll do a better job of keeping an eye on the chat and will inject the comments into the live discussion. There are great ideas in there that sometimes just need a little bit of air to breathe.
Inclusion Breeds Diversity
My hope is that these resolutions will channel my team’s energy in the right direction. I’m sure some of the folks who are used to being heard will bristle at it, but I’m also confident that it will help their careers and performance by improving their ability to listen.
Creating an inclusive workplace culture will give your employees from diverse backgrounds the confidence to recruit more great people from across their network. When organizations are truly inclusive, there’s a DEI snowball effect that has positive impacts on employee performance, employer brand, and, ultimately, business results.