Normalize people having permission to say a space that might be good for others isn’t okay for them.
I wrote this quote to emphasize the importance of recognizing that individuals have unique experiences and perspectives, especially in the workplace. We must create cultures where people feel empowered to express their discomfort or unease in certain spaces and acknowledge that what may be comfortable for one person may not be the same for another. When organizations give people permission to voice their feelings and needs, they create more inclusive and equitable environments that value and respect everyone's opinions and experiences. These points offer suggestions for normalizing differences at work.
Foster and reward a culture of open communication
To foster and reward a culture of open communication in the workplace, organizations can take several steps. Encourage employees to speak up about their needs and preferences concerning the workplace environment by creating a safe space for them to discuss what is working well and what isn't. Regular opportunities for feedback can be provided by holding town hall meetings or focus groups with marginalized employees.
Additionally, organizations can implement recognition programs that acknowledge employees for speaking up and contributing to a culture of open communication. For instance, a reward or bonus system can be established for employees who bring forward valuable feedback or suggestions for improvement.
Offer flexible work arrangements
The pandemic showed us that many people no longer want to work in person. Providing flexible work arrangements such as remote work, flextime, or job sharing can allow employees to work in a space that accommodates their needs, including those related to their mental wellness. Instead of going back to rigid space, consider revamping workplaces in ways that demonstrate care for all employees without micromanaging their time. As I said in this Stop Playing Diversity podcast episode, workplace trust is a two-way street.
Provide a variety of workspaces
Having a variety of workspaces, such as quiet rooms, collaborative spaces, and standing desks, can accommodate different work styles and needs, including those related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In places that haven't addressed microaggressions and workplace harm, consider ways to give marginalized employees permission not to be physically present where issues remain unaddressed. An example of accommodation of employees' life changes and personal beliefs and values include lactation rooms for nursing mothers or quiet spaces for employees who need to pray or meditate.
Lead by example and with education and integrity
Senior leaders and managers should lead by example and openly discuss their own preferences and needs when it comes to the workplace environment. Although they should educate employees on workplace norms, they must note when those norms need to be revisited. This requires awareness of workplace needs and changes on a daily basis and beyond traditional bias and discrimination. Finally, leaders must ensure that all employees receive equal opportunities for advancement and that workplace policies and practices do not unfairly disadvantage individuals who work differently.
Effective communication is essential for building a workplace culture that values employees' differences and fosters inclusivity. By embracing diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility and by valuing the unique contributions of all employees, organizations can create a productive, innovative, and successful workplace where people who don't represent the majority are celebrated, not tolerated. As a bonus, leaders who prioritize a trustworthy and respectful work environment are more likely to retain top talent and foster a high-performance culture for everyone.
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