Standing out in a crowd is never fun, unless you're a stilt walker in a parade. For a company to function effectively, all employees need to feel accepted and valued, rather than feeling that they don't fit in because of a culture of stereotyping and intolerance. In a workplace that fosters inclusion and tolerance, employee job performance, job satisfaction and creativity all benefit. Retention rates increase, as does employee willingness to pitch in and help other employees.
Sometimes full inclusion in the workplace is thwarted by outdated company policies that permit discrimination to go unpunished. HP, PepsiCo, Ford Motor Company and many other businesses have taken measures against discrimination by creating policies that specifically address inclusion. For example, the HP Nondiscrimination Policy states "...we do not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of gender, color, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, pregnancy, covered veteran status, protected genetic information and political affiliation." Although not all of these categories fall under federal protection, companies like HP are unwilling to tolerate discrimination in any form.
Viewing differences positively is a key component of a healthy and inclusive organization. One way to create a more inclusive work environment is to help coworkers view differences as assets rather than as potential liabilities. For example, rather than viewing an older employee as someone who doesn't fit in a youthful work culture, help coworkers realize that the older person is a valuable, experienced resource. When employees are uncomfortable working with a person from a different culture, help them appreciate how cultural differences can be used to build bridges with clients.
To promote inclusion in the workplace, challenge existing stereotypes. For example, employees might expect older people to be in leadership roles while younger employees fill support positions. Women might be expected to be sympathetic and nurturing while male aggression and self-confidence is accepted. Questions these assumptions, which might appear antiquated but in fact are insidious ideas that prevent everyone from achieving their full potential.
Encourage people to consider and challenge their views of other people by conducting workshops that address diversity and inclusion. Educate employees on how to challenge collusive behaviors such as remaining silent in the face of prejudice. Help them understand how the lens through which they view the world influences their perceptions of fellow workers. These tactics foster an environment that welcomes diversity, thus promoting inclusion in the workplace.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.