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How to build an inclusive work environment

In this blog, we will talk about inclusion, how you can make everyone on your team comfortable, and how you can embed inclusion deep into your company values.

Written by
Aagje Reynders
Front-end Developer

Most companies agree that inclusion and diversity are important and many of them claim that they harbor an inclusive work environment. For them, this often means not discriminating against people based on their skin color, background, gender, and so on. A great start, but being inclusive entails more than tackling diversity issues.

There, we already have the first issue: we often use inclusion and diversity as interchangeable terms, but they aren’t the same. The act of (not) discriminating mentioned above can be categorized under diversity. Often, these are statistics a company can monitor (e.g., the gender ratio). Inclusivity is more than this; it’s a mindset. It’s how your employees act, talk, and even think. Often, this is embedded deep in the company culture. Essentially, it’s the day-to-day interaction between managers, peers, and the team as a whole.

It’s clear that inclusion revolves around feelings and making everyone comfortable, making it a lot harder to incorporate than diversity. Sure, you can say you don’t discriminate against gender or background, but tiny remarks can already undermine this statement. In this blog, we will talk about inclusion, how you can make everyone on your team comfortable, and how you can embed inclusion deep into your company values.

Aagje Reynders, inclusion blog

Possible pitfalls

Let me give some examples of possible pitfalls when it comes to inclusion:

  • Some people like calling because this way, they can discuss things immediately. However, others might struggle with calling because they can explain themselves better in writing.
  • Some people like surprise events, but others want to know what will happen precisely.
  • Some people like the idea of pair programming. Others hate the idea of someone watching them work.

People make assumptions about what others enjoy or dislike based on their preferences. When making decisions, you are most likely looking at a mirror instead of looking at different groups of people. Keep in mind that some people might not come to your team event because it gives them too much anxiety.

I often hear people say: "Someone will speak up if they have a problem with it". But most people don't want to be the only person who has an issue with it. So, even if multiple people don't like how it is, most likely, they will not talk about it.

💡 You will isolate and eventually lose good people because they couldn't work in a comfortable workplace.

How do you solve this?

Normalize being empathic to your colleagues. Try asking yourself: Why would someone dislike this?

Example: Why would someone not like video calling

  • They have a lot of background noise (because of playing children, people who are fighting, working next door, barking dogs, etc.)
  • They have hearing issues (1 out of 10 people in Belgium is hearing impaired)
  • They can formulate their thoughts better in text
  • They struggle to focus on someone speaking
  • ...

So instead of sending a message, "Can we call right now?" you might ask, "Would you like to call or type it out?"

But if they don't tell you, how do you know?

Just ask! Let’s take a teambuilding event as an example. In this case, you can gather ideas and feedback by letting your team fill out a form.

Deciding an event for a small team

When your team is small, it is easier to pick something that everyone likes. Make a list of 3 to 5 ideas and let the team decide what they would love to do and what they would dislike. In the end, it is better to do something that might be less exciting, but everyone still enjoys, than doing something that some find exciting, and others might not show up.

Deciding an event for a big team

When your team is big, you won't find something everyone enjoys. Giving people a choice between different activities will make a big difference. You can have something sporty, gaming/playful, creative, and something simple, like walking. Please don't make it a surprise. Some people will avoid coming to your event or feel uncomfortable throughout it (which gives them a bad or even negative feeling towards your company).

Providing options will help with an inclusive environment. Even if giving alternatives feels like "splitting the group", it makes your team even more united because people with the same interests will be together.

Sometimes you have to listen to the silence

You can learn a lot from a lack of reaction from people. The ones who love your idea are going to tell you. Instead of focusing on them, you have to watch the ones who don't react. They might not dare to speak up about something. Ask them how they feel about it later.

Conclusion

Creating an inclusive workplace is all about leaving assumptions behind. Just because you like something doesn’t mean everyone will like it. It’s better to give your colleagues a chance and a safe environment to speak up by using a form or asking them directly in a one-on-one. Let’s all create a fun work environment where everyone feels welcome!

Written by
Aagje Reynders
Front-end Developer

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