5 Ways To Be A More Inclusive Professional
A manager once told me that they didn’t care if their employees were happy. If their employees weren’t happy, they were encouraged to leave. Now, this is true. If a person is unhappy, free-will allows them to make a life and career change. But it seems that companies everywhere are forgetting that people are their greatest asset, not their product, and not the revenue. Businesses do not run effectively without people. Study’s show that when people enjoy going to work they are more likely to produce quality material, work longer hours, and stay loyal to the company.
I’m not a business analyst, I’m just someone who’s seen behind the curtains, and tries to bring positive energy into every space I enter, but this seems like a simple concept to me. After countless conversations with friends and strangers in elevators, I’ve gathered that everyone is miserable at work. First, it made me immensely sad. Then, it made me wonder why so many people are unhappy in the work force, and what could change this narrative.
Life is already hard. Going to work every day for hours of our lives should not negatively affect one’s mental health. Sure, jobs come with inherent stress that can’t be avoided. The anxiety of holding someone’s heart in my hands or cutting someones cuticles without nipping them, is anxiety that I never want to experience. This is why I’m not a cardiac surgeon or a nail technician. When people enjoy their job, and when the work environment does not add to the stress of performing the task that they have studied for, prayed for, and are paid for; people are happier and gain a sense of fulfillment at work.
But everyone is stressed out, unhappy, and dealing with anxiety. How do we create professional environments where people are happy and fulfilled? How can we be better humans? This isn’t another diversity and inclusion class that the Human Resources department has to organize and encourage people to attend. Inclusion is a practice and diversity is a personal choice. Building and maintaining a positive and inclusive work space is a personal responsibility.
5 Tips To Be A More Inclusive Professional [Human]
1. Remember that inclusion is a practice.
In my career in technology, because there aren’t many women of color in technical roles, there have been countless times when I’ve been the singular black woman in the room. While under-representation comes with its challenges, this is something I’ve become accustomed to. But to a person in the majority, they don’t see the hurdles that a woman like me has to jump through to speak and be listened to during a team discussion. Trying to contribute to group conversations brings back memories of learning how to jump double dutch.
The fear, of getting smacked by the old clotheslines that were turned into jump ropes, was serious. After finding an opening between the ropes, I had to quickly jump in, or risk having a cluster of whelps from the ropes on my face, arms, and legs. Much like the days of trying to be a cool kid jumping rope, I learned to stay cool in these tense professional situations.
Fighting through frustration and fear of potentially getting smacked around (being over talked or ignored) as I try to jump into the conversation during the first available opening. Through the anxiety and waning patience, there’s the added challenge of remembering your thought when it’s finally your turn to speak. Why is contributing to conversations difficult for some people and not others? Not everyone is being included. Instead, although present we’re often treated as bystanders. This isn’t always done intentionally. But take a moment for self reflection. If you are someone who dominates most group conversations, check in with yourself. Are you being inclusive? If the answer is no, it’s okay. Recognize it as an area where you can improve, then consciously work to do better.
2. Be aware of your existence.
Be aware of your existence and how the world views you. For people in the majority, thinking about their racial and gender identities before walking into a new space may be a foreign experience. For those in the minority, our physical identities are often used as an instant respectability barometer.
There may be rare occasions where our identities are not at the forefront of our thoughts. In America, the history of racial and gender inequalities is deplorable. There has been significant progress, but the fight for equal rights for all continues. While we’ve become accustomed to using technology to connect with friends and share pictures of dogs and babies, it’s important to acknowledge that there was a time when literacy led to dismemberment and death for some people in this country. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. Interracial marriage became legal in 1967. And in 2019 everyone is on anti-depressants.
The ugly truth, that is often not told outside of elective history classes, is that American history is no fairy tale. The majority may not be affected by the weight of American history, but if those in the majority begin to understand and empathize with those who are affected by America’s tumultuous history, the world could change for the better. There’s no shame in recognizing your privileges when you choose to use your privilege to combat inequalities for others.
3. Boundaries. Respect them.
Personal space is valuable real estate that extends beyond a physical area. Understanding the need for boundaries requires you to have some emotional intelligence. But it’s centered on respecting others autonomy. For some people, physical touch, eye contact, hair styles and attire hold special cultural or spiritual significance. Before making comments, jokes, or judgments, acknowledge the humanity of the person you are engaging with. In a perfect world no one would ever offend another person, and we’d all live in perfect harmony. In reality, no one is perfect and every person is unique. But we can learn from our experiences and become people who respect others and their differences.
4. Diversity is your personal choice.
Naturally we are attracted to people who share in our commonalities. If you like football, you’re probably more likely to talk to other like-minded individuals about your fantasy football picks, not an ice-skating instructor. If you like reading, you’re more likely to join a book club than perhaps someone who likes snorkeling or martial arts. Finding and creating communities of like-minded people gives us room to exist in our own hypothetical bubbles of joy and for some, safety. These spaces are necessary. Yet choosing to permanently live in that bubble is unrealistic and dangerous. History has shown this to be true. Choosing to not interact with someone solely because of their differences is a personal choice that can be altered. Check your biases and make the choice to be a better human.
5. Check yourself. Educate yourself.
For me, being the sole black person, or sole woman, in the room is awkward sometimes. But what makes the experience even more awkward, is when someone reminds me that I’m in the minority. Often this is an innocent attempt to do just the opposite, but it doesn’t always go over the way it’s intended. Some examples include, asking if freshly installed braids is someones “real hair” instead of simply paying the person a compliment. Saying, “no offense” before making offensive comments. My personal favorite is when someone returns from a beach side vacation and wants to compare their sun kissed cheeks to the natural melanin of someone else’s skin. Ensue the uncomfortable chuckle. We’re in a team meeting after all, and not laughing would be weird. Never mind your discomfort, something inside of you says, “you must laugh to save face”, so you do, and your discomfort goes unnoticed.
As professionals, and people who are trying to be better humans, we must be honest with ourselves to correct inappropriate and exclusionary behavior that could cause tension in the world around us. Asking someone from a marginalized community how you can be a better “ally” is not inherently bad, and probably shouldn’t be perceived as malicious, but its annoying. It puts the burden on a person, who is already overly aware that their own existence makes some people uncomfortable or hostile, to teach you how to treat them humanely. Also, it’s an odd question with a simple answer. Be kind.
Beyond showing basic human decency, understanding comes byway of learning. Put the effort in to educate yourself, then ask questions if further guidance is needed. But you have to do the work.
Good luck to everyone who wishes to become better humans. We may be on different paths, but the destination is the same.
I hope this helps someone.
This story was originally published by Leslie Crews for The Startup on September 1, 2019