This “Outside Consultant” column by Rama Hart, PhD, an associate professor of management at the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on July 12, 2021.
Inclusion in the workplace is widely agreed to mean creating an environment where people feel a strong sense of belonging to an organization and where they can also be their authentic selves. What this looks like is everyone in the organization is heard, seen, and valued for their contributions and work efforts – and for their unique individuality. Equity refers to taking actions that are fair and just. At work, this translates to fair and just access to resources, opportunities, and support networks of peers and leaders.
The first and most important lesson about educating employees on these topics is to “meet them where they are.” And the best way to start is to encourage dialogue and conversation about their own experiences, background and personal life histories. This can be best accomplished if you demonstrate good habits for discussion. One of the most valuable practices I learned was through the training at the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity), where techniques for good conversation were fostered. One such technique required that everyone in a meeting or discussion gets a chance to speak on the topic – with a time limit. We all have experienced the team member who likes to wax poetically or pragmatically about their ideas! By using this technique, you are demonstrating and teaching inclusion and equity.
Next, I recommend you make it a regular topic of discussion at team, department or organizationwide meetings. Doing so would encourage quieter members to participate more. You could ask for success stories with being inclusive and equitable, or ask employees to highlight where attention needs to be placed to grow in these areas.
It is helpful to set some short and long-term goals for inclusion and equity outcomes. This could be a learning goal, such as reading a book collectively as a team or watching a documentary and having a conversation about it; or it could be more oriented toward your organization, such as conducting an assessment like the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) to determine where employees are on their learning journey toward accepting and adapting to cultural differences. Most importantly, to teach inclusion and equity successfully, you should consider how to reward employees for participating in educational opportunities and advancing inclusion and equity goals.
Rama Hart, PhD, is an associate professor of management at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.