Changing Workplace Culture to be More Inclusive

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​The concept of ‘feeling like you belong’ comes up again and again throughout life.

As children, we learn to fit into our family.

As teenagers, we struggle with cliques while we discover our own identities.

And, as adults, we seek out environments where we can be ourselves. Ideally, our workplace would be one of those places – but this isn’t always the case. For LGBTI people (and other minority groups), inclusive workplaces are often elusive, though sites like inclusiveemployers.com.au can help.

Below we look at:

  • How being more inclusive can benefit your business

  • Some signs that suggest this is something you need to work on

  • What you and your management/HR teams can do to improve your workplace culture.

Before we get into it, there’s one important distinction to make: having a diverse team of people is not the same as having an inclusive workplace culture. The former just means you’ve hired a range of different people, whereas the latter involves actually working on your culture to make it a safe and welcoming environment for those people.

Why an inclusive workplace culture is worth striving for

When a company’s culture isn’t inclusive, this is a problem – and not just for LGBTI employees and candidates. Marginalised staff will quickly become unmotivated and less productive, which can lead to real consequences for your business’s bottom line. It also makes for an unpleasant workspace, so you’ll likely see low employee satisfaction and high turnover.

There are also many benefits to having a diverse workplace, including:

  • Different types of people bring unique points of view to a workplace, which can help your business stay innovative and creative.

  • Diverse companies are more likely to attract the high-potential talent they need when recruiting because

    take diversity into account when choosing where to work.

  • Spaces that welcome people with different life experiences get to take advantage of those varied perspectives, which is very helpful for many specialist areas like marketing, tech and education.

If your business doesn’t have an inclusive culture, you’re missing out on these benefits.

How to know if your workplace culture needs improvement

Generally speaking, there’s room for improvement in almost any workplace. Even if you’d consider your business ‘decent’ or ‘good enough’ in terms of inclusivity, there are things you can do to make it even better.

Here are some signs that indicate your workplace really needs improvement:

  • Employees regularly or occasionally make ‘casual’ homophobic comments or jokes and are rarely called out on this.

  • An LGBTI employee has told their manager they have been bullied or made to feel uncomfortable due to homophobic colleagues.

  • Diversity programs and events are poorly attended or treated as unimportant.

  • Colleagues don’t feel comfortable coming out in the workplace (or there are no LGBTI employees in the workplace).

  • Your workplace doesn’t have a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (or employees aren’t aware of it).

How to make your workplace culture more inclusive

Create a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

This detailed plan needs to include action points for each leader in your company. As a whole, your Diversity and Inclusion Strategy should clearly show your business’s commitment to improving the culture and list out the steps/activities involved in making this happen. And, perhaps most importantly, this strategy needs to be shared with everyone.

A document that reinforces your stance on creating an inclusive workplace won’t single-handedly fix everything. But it can reassure LGBTI and other minority staff that your business officially has their back.

Educate Staff on Diversity and Inclusion

Being homophobic or transphobic in the workplace is unacceptable. But some people genuinely don’t understand what this behaviour looks like, which is why training is so important. For example, someone who tells derogatory jokes needs to know that these are inappropriate before you discipline them for continuing to tell them.

While things like this might seem like common sense, keep an open mind and understand that not everybody has had enough exposure to the LGBTI community to know what is and isn’t offensive.

Lead by Example

Managers have the largest role to play when it comes to creating a more inclusive workplace. They are the people who can step in when someone says something out of line, for example. And by acting in accordance with the business’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, they can pave the way for other staff to do the same.

The effect of vocally and boldly promoting LGBTI rights can go a long way – especially if it comes from the company’s top leaders. This is exemplified by Douglas R. Conant’s story about supporting gay pride as the CEO of Campbell’s.

Change Language Where Appropriate

Do your workplace manuals, employment contracts, onboarding packs, or other documents use heteronormative language (e.g. husband and wife)? If so, aim to go through these and amend to more neutral terms (e.g. partner or spouse).

Similarly, when presenting to the team or even just chatting over lunch, don’t use gendered pronouns when enquiring about a co-worker’s partner (unless you already know their partner’s gender).

While these small things may seem inconsequential, they can add up and detract from your workplace’s inclusive culture. Keep in mind that LGBTI people live in a world that constantly reminds them they are not the ‘norm’ – it’s nice to work somewhere that doesn’t thoughtlessly reinforce this.

Review Hiring and Promotion Processes

An employee’s gender identity and sexual orientation should never be a factor when you consider them for a new position or promotion. Review your processes to make sure there’s no chance for this kind of bias to creep into a decision-maker’s recruitment and promotion choices.

Respond to Discrimination Quickly and Seriously

Any incident of discrimination needs to be dealt with swiftly and treated with zero tolerance. Discipline offenders as you would in any case of workplace bullying, and escalate the issue with higher managers if needed.

With committed managers and persistence, it’s possible to drive your workplace towards having a more inclusive culture. Depending on the current stance of your business, this might seem fairly easy or it may look like an uphill battle. But, either way, the benefits for both your employees and your business are well worth the effort.

Is your business on a journey towards better inclusivity? Tell us how it’s going in the comments below, or share your own tips for improving workplace culture.

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