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Employee Experience

8 ways leaders can create a more inclusive workplace

To celebrate Pride 2022, we’re looking at ways leaders can actively impact their people’s lives by building and encouraging a more inclusive workplace. Plus, we’ve included advice and actionable examples from our employee resource group, Qualtrics Pride.

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Managers no doubt hold the keys to inclusion. As frontline leaders, they’re uniquely positioned   to drive cultures of inclusion and belonging, directly impacting outcomes such as employee engagement and performance.

Because of that, inclusive leadership has emerged as a critical capability and competency enabling organizations to better adapt to diverse customers, markets, and talent (HBR, 2020).

Managers and people leaders need to model inclusion and be able to cultivate and sustain a more inclusive workplace.

“For Pride, ask your employees if they have any traditions or plans to celebrate the month – the same way you would for other holidays."

Here are 8 ways leaders can create a more inclusive work environment:

1. Make diversity and inclusion a personal priority

Inclusive leaders demonstrate active commitment to diversity and inclusion as a personal priority. Platitudes and performative language are not enough – inclusive leaders are transformational and look for ways to effectively challenge the status quo (e.g., entrenched cultures, accepted thinking/practices).

They also encourage this behavior and thinking within their teams. They articulate a clear vision and mission that celebrates everyone and holds their teams accountable to team norms and expectations that allow all employees to feel seen, safe, heard, and valued.

How can you action this today?

“Help your team members advocate for more equal benefits,” says a Qualtrics Pride member. “Especially when it concerns leave. For example, I am about to have twins via surrogacy and I am set to receive only 6 weeks of leave. I want my leaders to help advocate for equal rights in things like that, where we'll see action and impact.”

“If your people are referring to their colleagues with incorrect pronouns, notice that and correct them” says Sam Schmitz, Qualtrics Partner Delivery Manager. “As their manager, colleagues will take the lead from you.”

2. Focus on self awareness and humility

Inclusive leaders show an awareness of their personal bias and consistently seek deeper insights (e.g., feedback from direct reports, peers) related to their own opportunities for growth. They are quick to admit and own their mistakes, and they consciously create opportunities for others to contribute their best selves.

They understand they are not the smartest or the singular source of truth in the room – nor do they desire to be. They champion great ideas regardless of from where or whom they originate.

How can you action this today?

“Admit when you’re wrong,” says one Qualtrics Pride member. “It makes me respect leaders a lot more when they hold their hands up and admit they made a mistake. But it’s important that you then make sure you communicate to your team how you’re going to do better.”

“An employee may not want to share that they want to be called by a different name/pronouns/etc,” says Rachel Husberg, Qualtrics M&A Finance Integrations. “But if I create an environment where the message is ‘it’s safe’ then I hope they will tell me if they want to – and then if they do, I’m 100% honoring that request, admitting when I mess it up, and keep trying.”

3. Invest in building authentic relationships

Inclusive leaders make it a point to invest in their relationships and personal networks. They initiate and develop authentic relationships with individuals and groups different from themselves, frequently immersing themselves in new or learning situations (e.g., participating in employee resource group meetings or events).

They intrinsically value consistent and meaningful exposure to expand their thinking, as well as disrupt their preconceived notions, even when they feel uncomfortable.

How can you action this today?

“I love it when leaders attend our QGroup meetings or get involved in events,” says a Qualtrics Pride member. “It shows they’re willing to invest their time to understand different viewpoints and experiences.”

“As a manager I try to create an environment where people feel they can be their authentic selves. I share a lot about myself, including vulnerable things, with my team on a regular basis,” says Rachel Husberg, Qualtrics M&A Finance Integrations. “For example, if we do a check in before a meeting, sharing how I am feeling that day even if it's not great, I have ‘therapy’ blocked on my work calendar. This hopefully sends the message that it’s safe to share vulnerable things at work.”

4. Empowerment and collaboration

Inclusive leaders are able to work through and with others to achieve common goals and objectives. They communicate clearly and often, and unify individuals by creating a group identity, shared purpose, and meaning. They empower and develop others and foster opportunities for creativity and innovation.

How can you action this today?

“One of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with used the ‘yes, and…’ approach,” says an anonymous QGroup member. “I always felt like my ideas were being heard and valued. It made me a lot more confident, included, and valued. As a result I think I delivered some of my best work.”

5. Use Inclusive language

Inclusive leaders use language and words that make people feel included, safe, and  that they are all working towards a common goal. They understand, whether intended or not, non-inclusive language can have a harmful effect.

Not only do they avoid non-inclusive language in conversation, but they are proactive and identify potential words, terms that are embedded into processes and/or workflows.

For example, Using gendered plural pronouns like “you guys” can have the effect of making women or gender non-binary teammates feel excluded.

Or things like writing ‘womxn’ to talk about trans women – trans women are women. You don’t need to spell the word any differently.

As Jennie Kermode, former chair of Trans Media Watch, stated, “We would generally just write women in the usual way because we feel it’s important for people to recognize that trans women are women. Trans women aren’t a special, separate category.”

Some people are derisive about pronouns not seeing the importance of them and their impact. But getting them wrong can make people feel belittled and invalidated. So correct pronouns aren’t just ‘nice-to-have’. It can make a real difference to someone in the trans and non-binary community. Especially if you consider that 52% of all transgender and nonbinary young people in the U.S. seriously contemplated killing themselves in 2020.

How can you action this today?

Inclusive language is one of the things I really focus on,” says Rachel Husberg, Qualtrics M&A Finance Integrations. “I’ve worked to use the word ‘partner’ instead of husband when talking about my family. And when talking about someone I haven't actually met I use ‘they’ pronouns even if they ‘appear’ to be a certain gender.”

"Notice pronouns in digital tools, and get them right,” says another Qualtrics Pride member. “Not all employees want to make a big deal about their pronouns with their team, and putting them on digital tools such as Odo/Zoom/Slack can be a way to ‘announce’ to the team.”

6. Include diverse voices in decision-making

Inclusive leaders set practices that are intentional, and ensure all voices, perspectives, personalities, are involved in decisions that affect the team.

They avoid groupthink – by seeking alternate ideas and creating space for different points of view even if they are different from their own. Inclusive leaders also recognize this starts with leveraging the strengths of a diverse team; one that harnesses the full spectrum of human differences and all dimensions of diversity. To that end, they build their teams with diversity, intersectionality, equity, and inclusion in mind.

Common traps to avoid

+ Not having any underrepresented or historically excluded groups as as part of the decision-making process

+ Only making decisions with those who are likely to assimilate to one point of view

+ Not leaving any room for dissent or disagreement

+ Only taking into account the perspectives of certain personality types

+ Making isolated decisions that affect employees’ work without any input from them

How can you action this today?

It’s so important to have openly LGBTQ+ leaders,” says one of our Qualtrics Pride members. “But I appreciate that it's not an overnight solve. Something leaders can do immediately though is listen and ask for regular feedback. Especially with overlooked groups.

“I’m shy so I personally like giving anonymous feedback. But whichever way the feedback’s given I want to see leaders taking action and communicate that action so I know I’m being heard.”

7. Take a listen-first approach

Inclusive leaders model empathy and take a listen-first approach within their teams. They listen, observe, and then act. They welcome and value different perspectives and experiences, without judgment, in efforts to gain a better understanding of the needs and challenges their teams may be facing.

How can you action this today?

“Create a safe environment during 1:1s and other interactions where your direct reports can feel comfortable coming to you with issues,” says Sam Schmitz, Qualtrics Partner Delivery Manager. “Let them speak, and once they've shared their thoughts and feelings, then respond.”

8. Demonstrate both curiosity and cultural competence

Inclusive leaders demonstrate an open-mindset and a keen curiosity about others. They are attentive to others’ cultures and also possess the competence to effectively engage and interact with individuals from worldviews, identities, perspectives, and belief systems outside their own.

How can you action this today?

“Display your pronouns, have an ally pin/flag, wear company Pride apparel,” says Sam Schmitz, Qualtrics Partner Delivery Manager. “All these small things demonstrate you are an ally and can help make LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and welcome.”

“I encourage my entire team to participate in QGroups (Qualtrics Employee Resource Groups) and share events coming up that they should consider attending/articles to read,” says Rachel.

“For Pride, ask your employees if they have any traditions or plans to celebrate the month – the same way you would for other holidays."


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