As leaders in the workplace, we know that the employees are most satisfied when they know they can be their authentic selves, where they feel a sense of belonging, where their differences are viewed as a source of strength, and where their individual contributions are recognized and valued. When more organizations understand how to cultivate this kind of workplace culture, they help employees feel a sense purpose and belonging, and the organization as a whole reaps significant benefits – the organization is productive and successful, and employees are engaged and satisfied. Many leaders desire such workplace cultures, but many often struggle with where to begin.
One area that leaders find most challenging is dismantling workplace barriers for historically underrepresented and undervalued employees who are not a part of the workplace’s dominant culture. As a transgender man, early on in my career working at the White House, I withheld sharing my gender history (i.e., that I was assigned female at birth). In 2006, the White House didn’t offer employment protections for transgender people, and I feared losing my job. As a result, I wasn’t my authentic self, I didn’t feel like I belonged, and I couldn’t leverage all of my expertise and talents to ensure my organization’s success.
Not showing up authentically at work also impacted my personal health and well-being. Feeling like an outsider at work during this early employment period of my life motivated me to become a diversity, equity, and inclusion leader. For the past 20 years, I have advocated for the fair treatment of employees who are at the margins – including people of color, women, LGBTQ people, Veterans, people with disabilities, undocumented workers, and those at the intersections. Four years ago, I started my own business where I continue to help leaders build more inclusive workplace cultures across a wide range of sectors.
To help leaders, change agents, visionaries, movers and shaker build more inclusive organizations, I recently published my first book, Belonging at Work. It offers simple, everyday actions you can take to get started with this important culture change work. To give you a flavor of some of the support the book offers, below are five concrete actions you can take to build a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture for your team – centering your approach around those who can benefit the most from our actions.
- Self-Educate. Be curious and learn more about groups of people who have been historically underrepresented and undervalued in your workplace and community. Why is that the case? What’s been done so far to make positive changes? Take the initiative to educate yourself on the basics, and don’t expect others to do this work for you.
- Apply an Equity & Inclusion Lens: When making important business decisions, who’s at the table informing them? Who’s missing? Who does the decision impact? Are individuals/communities who are impacted by the decision at the table? What is the intent of the impact? Did you solicit feedback from those individuals/community who will be impacted by the decision? Asking these questions will help you begin applying an equity & inclusion lens to your everyday work.
- Communicate the Business Case: It’s critical to communicate within your organization and with stakeholders about why an equitable and inclusive work environment is essential. Remind them that organizations where employees feel they belong and are engaged, are more productive and successful – make the business case.
- Get involved with DEI Efforts: Be part of your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, whether you’re an employee, an executive champion, or a board member or advisor. Consider being part of an employee resource group within your organization or consider starting one if they don’t currently exist. Is your organization staying true to its intention of being an inclusive environment? How does your organization’s equity statement align with its strategic plan? Help create the structures to hold you and your organization accountable.
- Be the Change: Step up and be part of the change by taking on a diversity, equity and inclusion leadership role. Drive your organization to be more inclusive, be willing to share your own diversity story – all of us have at least one. Share your experiences of how you felt when you didn’t belong and how it impacted you; share about a time you really connected with your team and how you thrived. Engage with colleagues and stakeholders and demonstrate the progress your organization is making. We all need to celebrate our successes to stay the course!
Having more employees feel a sense of purpose on the job is an asset considering that 108 million of the 150 million workers in the United States feel a lack of meaning at work. When workers feel a sense of purpose, the business results speak volumes as employers will earn:
For employers seeking a competitive advantage, it makes good sense to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to encourage all workers to show up as their authentic selves, which leads to more employees feeling a sense of belonging.
For more information and further reading on Diversity + Inclusion, visit our online library.