by Amri B. Johnson, CEO of Inclusion Wins and author of “Reconstructing Inclusion: Making DEI Accessible, Actionable, and Sustainable“
Most of us would never dream of ostracizing our coworkers — and especially not those who have historically been excluded in the workplace because of their perceived “otherness.” And yet, many people routinely feel left out of the workplace culture. Often, it is because truly good people, who wholeheartedly support the tenets of diversity, equity, and inclusion, don’t go far enough to show they care.
Real inclusion is rooted in what’s in our hearts, but it must live in our daily actions. Good intentions aren’t enough. While leaders can set the tone for everyone to follow, caring peer-to-peer interactions make the biggest positive impact.
Here are a few ways to ensure your colleagues feel seen, heard, and valued.
1. Actively seek out new people at work.
If you don’t, you might collaborate only with those who are just like you. (This can happen.) So go out of your way to forge connections with people you don’t know.
2. Give others a chance to share ideas too.
Refrain from interrupting, speaking over others, or holding the floor for too long during meetings. Instead, work on your active listening skills. It’s an excellent method for hearing others and being heard. When listening, give the speaker your full attention (e.g., put away your phone). If you are unsure of their meaning, wait until the speaker has finished and summarize what you heard in your own words. Give the other person a chance to clarify if necessary. Be curious. Ask insightful and thoughtful questions.
3. Do the “little things” that make people feel a sense of belonging.
Thoughtful gestures can show someone that they are seen and welcomed in the group. For example, if you’re getting yourself a coffee or tea, ask a coworker you don’t yet know well if you can grab them one too (or, if you are remote, place an order at their local coffee shop via your app and then get on a video/audio chat while you drink it). Instead of sharing a funny story with just your closest coworker, invite the person within earshot into the conversation. When religious or cultural holidays roll around, don’t hesitate to say, “Ramadan Mubarak,” “Happy Easter,” or, “Happy Hanukkah,” to those who observe.
4. Ask people to share where they are “local.”
While it is worthwhile to share personal preferred pronouns, it might be more impactful to hear about the places and spaces where people practice rituals, have formed meaningful relationships, and have also experienced restrictions in some cases. A TED Talk by author Taiye Selasi details more about this powerful mechanism to more meaningfully connect to people with different and, in some cases, surprisingly similar experiences to yours.
5. Be authentic and encourage authenticity.
Most, if not all, people do some level of “covering” or hiding their true identities to conform at work. It makes everyone fearful of being judged or discriminated against for being themselves. To break this cycle, bring your authentic self by cultivating a willingness to be influenced by people different from you.
These are only the first steps — don’t be afraid to go further to build strong, lasting relationships with those different from you.
It’s really pretty simple: Inclusion comes down to choosing to take good care of one another. Treat everyone as if they belong, and you will make an important impact on your colleagues’ work lives.
Amri B. Johnson is the author of “Reconstructing Inclusion: Making DEI Accessible, Actionable, and Sustainable“. He is a social capitalist, epidemiologist, entrepreneur, and inclusion strategist. As CEO/founder of Inclusion Wins, Amri and a virtual collective of partners converge organizational purpose to create global impact with a lens of inclusion.