Last year, I had the honor of being a part of a book project with thirteen brilliant authors from around the world. I contributed as a co-author for A Journey Back to Humanity. My chapter was about my personal experience with unconscious bias. As I was writing it, I reflected upon my own biases asking many questions that I might not have thought of before or included in my daily reflections. I wake up every day seeking to be better than I was the day before, both in words and in actions.
Yes, I do judge myself before I am judged, and I evaluate myself before I am evaluated. I am always ready to make the necessary adjustments and modifications to be the best version of myself. This is the only way I can comfortably transfer knowledge to others. After all, we cannot preach what we don’t practice.
Throughout my journey, I realized that every change that we want to see in ourselves, or in our world, starts from within. In this article, I gathered a few ideas to keep in mind when building more inclusive workplaces, better communities, and healthy families. So here they are...
It Starts with Self-Reflection
Self-reflection is one of the most important tools to ensure we are aware of our effects on other people. One exercise I conduct with myself is to think about an encounter I may have had where someone reacted in a way I did not expect. You can put yourself in their shoes and ask what they might have been thinking or feeling. Then ask, “would I have acted the same way with a different person?” If not, we can reflect on if our original response was suitable or not.
Do not just listen, be active in engagements. We must reflect on our role in conversations and consider whether our nonverbal messages are in line with our intent. You can assess yourself like this often and come to a better understanding of how you behave or act in various situations. Another step you can take would be to ask for input from someone of a different background or culture than you. Conduct research on the differences in what is valued or various social cues that may be different.
A good exercise is to create goals, both short-term and long-term that will help you monitor your biases. Identify a group you may be unfamiliar with and make it a goal to take time to learn more about them. Choose a different culture, socioeconomic background, or generation and discover various self-perceptions to reflect on and change. One goal I always hold is to create an atmosphere that allows people to share information or ask questions without fear of criticism or penalty. To create a space like this, reflect on how effective any current inclusion methods or practices may be. If you are in a place to do so, invite suggestions or improvements, and do not hesitate to make any adjustments.
Building A Foundation of Empathy
Speaking with others from various backgrounds teaches us not to judge too quickly. Pay close attention to communication patterns. They can be based on national culture, social class, generation, gender, career experience, and so much more. Use these groups to consider when you could adapt your own communication style to be more effective across these groups.
It is important when discussing any topic, not just sensitive topics, to remember you may not have the full picture. Being aware of any gaps in our knowledge is an essential element of inclusivity and growth. Learning about diverse backgrounds and cultures that differ from your own is not only an effective way to ensure you continue to combat your own biases, but it is also a great way to build empathy.
Express a sincere interest in learning about the people around you. Empathy helps us understand how others may have been excluded in the first place. Be sure to listen to what they have to say and create an inviting atmosphere to draw them out further. Aim to understand people’s needs, both internally and externally. Seek out those you may be close to or in your community that may be similar to those you want to better understand. They can provide a new perspective that may broaden your understanding.
It is important to remember, your goal of striving to foster an environment that enables others to speak up and share information without fear of criticism will help to build an environment of trust, respect, and safety. Practicing this will ensure others are more comfortable when taking action themselves.
Actively seek out new and effective ways to be creative in your inclusion.
I did this by writing a chapter in A Journey Through Humanity, but you don’t have to write a book. Another way to be active is within your relationships. Look for ways to draw out untapped or underutilized skills in your friends and colleagues. Observe what drives them or create opportunities where you can ask and use these instances to explore the differences between what motivates them and what motivates you.
Working Across Boundaries
Ensure people that anyone can work to create a more inclusive environment. Make it known that the environment you are building is one to uplift voices. Work to be aware of any hurtful or disrespectful comments or actions—from ourselves or from others—and be certain to address them in a constructive manner. Brainstorm ways to keep the topic of inclusion dynamic and alive.
Address aspects of communication and behavior in the groups or teams around you and examine any habits within the workplace that may benefit from inclusion.
Check various aspects of any key team processes like, “Who is involved?” or “What is the goal?” and “How does the team complete their tasks?” to see what changes could bring improved results. Think if any elements of the process have slowed, and how any inclusionary practices can break through those problems. Another goal you could have is to advocate for highly capable people from backgrounds that differ from yours, especially when their styles may vary from what might be the norm within the community or company. For example, within the workplace, if you are told that someone with a unique work style is not ready for a promotion or project, you could question the evaluation of that person to understand if there was a bias in the decision.
Continually seek out ways to broaden your experiences and find ways to make them more inclusive. In the workplace, this could be within the recruitment process or performance assessments, as well as in talent development or rewards and retention.
Diverse work teams can hold different perspectives that can be beneficial to learning. Sharing these perspectives can also bolster inclusivity within the shared environment. Be mindful of any learning practices that can be implemented for employees at all levels in a company and ask yourself if you can contribute to them.
Consider the various skills of those you are working with and think about how to best integrate teams. You could provide agendas and materials in advance for non-native speakers to prepare. You could always have a visual aid to assist several types of learners. You could structure team meetings so each team member can contribute and make sure those that take risks and speak up are encouraged—not punished.
Encourage others to think together and debate against each other in a joint-solving approach. Always seek multiple sources to find the best solutions and be wary of those who ensure a one size fits all attitude. Encourage collaboration at every level and debate at key decisions to ensure everyone has their voice heard and everyone understands the reasons behind actions. By doing this, you will foster more open discussions and allow for the expression of differing opinions, increasing the range of input and bringing diverse voices into the fold.
Fostering inclusivity within our communities and workplaces requires a genuine commitment. Being mindful and reflecting on our actions and the positive change we can bring about will help develop potential leaders and their careers. Be open to those with differing communication styles or ideas you might believe to be radically different than yours. There are many ways to communicate, and you could learn new ways of producing productive results and new ways to nurture positive change.
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