How to make inclusion a daily practice in any organization’s culture

As a woman-owned business, Madison knows that the marginalized in our community and our industry have to work twice as hard to get half as far, and though many organizations want to embrace the importance of inclusion and diversity, not many know how to follow through.

It’s something we’re putting in focus through the Madison Ways. They aren’t just a fancy list on our website; they’re calls to action—challenges that keep us focused and keep us striving, all while holding us accountable to our values.

That kind of active intention is especially important for this particular Way: Include (and by extension, its pillars: diversity, empathy, and authenticity). But to keep “Include” in focus long enough to change company culture, it takes more than just one-and-done seminars or reflective talks. To make real, lasting change at any organization, concepts like inclusion need to be built into the foundations of a brand, into its values themselves.

But until revisiting those brand values is a possibility, there are steps you and leadership can take daily that will naturally lead to a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

1. Listen to understand.

According to Forbes, 86% of employees believe they aren't being heard “fairly or equally,” and 63% believe their voice has been ignored by their employer or manager. But when they do feel heard, they're 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform to the best of their ability. So when a coworker comes to you with a concern or a question, don’t just listen to solve the problem. Listen to actively understand that person’s perspective. Ask yourself questions like…

  • Have they brought this up before, and did I listen then?
  • What could have made them hesitant to share this with me?
  • What could have made them eager to share this with me?
  • How can we communicate or check in on this going forward?
  • How are my own unconscious biases contributing to how I react to this conversation?
  • Is my energy going into defensiveness or deflection, or into finding a solution?
2. Acknowledge personal unconscious bias.

Even though unconscious biases are just that—unconscious—they can have real (and negative) effects on the workplace and beyond. Fortunately, it’s possible to dismantle those biases by actively working to recognize them. How? This excellent guide from Idealist is a great place to start. For deeper work, consider a training course from the YWCA, which can be customized for any organization.

3. Look beyond your typical go-to people.

Especially in the workplace, we’re often surrounded by people who look and think like us. Next time you’re searching for a new hire, a consulting expert, a vendor, or just a second opinion, try asking people you may not have considered before, or searching in places that you usually wouldn’t.

4. Attribute and credit ideas.

In a meeting, a presentation, or even a break room conversation, it’s frustrating to hear others paraphrase your own ideas—especially when they then get praise for them. It’s especially important for those in privileged positions to recognize where their ideas may have originated, and to acknowledge those contributors. Even brief attribution (“Shout-out to the design team for that idea” or “It’s like Jen said…”) makes team members feel like they’re being heard and that their contributions have value. When that’s the case, they’re more likely to contribute going forward. And studies show that employees who feel heard at work are more likely to feel empowered and perform better.

5. Build greater trust with people who are different from yourself.

Working on all of the above can build greater trust between yourself and your team, improving morale and creating an open environment where people can authentically be themselves.