Businesses, nonprofits and governmental organizations are only a few of the outfits needing to make up for lost time regarding equity and inclusion. Too many companies haven’t hired individuals from diverse backgrounds, and too many institutions have biases, benefitting historically preferred groups. However, organizations can implement tangible and mental shifts to eliminate inequity and exclusion, creating more safe spaces for workplaces and communities.
Whether a university is awarding a scholarship or an employer is hiring for a job, decision-making teams often have a short battle with their subconscious. Most fall into snap judgments, informed by unconscious bias, and organizations are now implementing training to test the validity of teams’ abilities to make impartial choices.
Unconscious bias training dissolves fears that companies will hire men over other genders or prefer to give grant money to a white person over diverse racial or ethnic demographics. Unconscious bias training rewires the brain to have a greater awareness of unintentional preferences and overcome intentional discriminatory thoughts.
However, unconscious bias training has received mixed results — some studies show it hurt companies, increasing exclusionary practices. Updates to unconscious bias training regimens extend beyond informing people of their biases and enforcing behavioral accountability. It’s not just a seminar — it’s a continuous monitoring and self-evaluation program to face societal and cultural conditioning and harmful belief systems.
Making unconscious bias training programs focused on active involvement instead of passive observation of lectures increases motivation to improve among students. Exercises include interactivity with diverse perspectives and prejudice habit-breaking. The goal is to provide trainees with resources to overcome biases with empathy, not just inform them stereotypes exist and cause exclusion.
Most organizations, especially long-standing institutions like schools or some enterprises, have policies written when the doors first opened — and few people have reviewed them since. It’s time organizations review every document — print and digital — within the organization’s brand to change to accepting language. Here are some questions that support an inclusive, equality-driven self-assessment of an organization’s policies and procedures:
- Do workplace procedures have inclusive, gender-neutral language?
- Do advertisements for the company feature various cultures?
- Are inclusivity, acceptance or accessibility part of an organization’s written core values or mission statements?
- Are company materials accessible to all, including versions in multiple languages or accessible mediums for people with disabilities?
Company procedures also outline in-house activity. For workplaces, do the procedures allow individuals to take smoke breaks but not allow new parents to pump or breastfeed in a private area?
Nuances like this accentuate and encourage years of embedded, systemic oppression of countless groups. If an organization outlines inclusive expectations, culture shifts and participants will follow suit or otherwise breach standards.
Every organization must ensure everyone can participate in all activities — whether learning, working, volunteering or otherwise — within the task’s means. Benefits include more than health care for employees. Benefits could include accessibility tools in classrooms or flexible work hours in the office.
Everyone should at least feel accepted and safe within the space because the organization took steps to offer benefits for everyone to be as equal as possible.
Benefit equity in the workplace encompasses potentially more minutiae, including but not limited to:
- Mentoring and growth opportunities from diverse groups
- Equal and fair wages across all groups
- Equitable time off benefits like equal sick time, paid time off and mental health days
- Equal parental leave and inclusive childcare expectations
- The choice for inclusive holidays off for cultural or religious reasons
- Equally advanced and accessible office equipment and other physical, electronic perks
Advocating equal benefits across an organization also means providing equivalent support for employees to advance in their personal and professional paths. Executive and upper management teams can ensure everyone is equally empowered to advance to their desired position by having chances to learn and lead with diverse groups.
Championing equity and inclusion will be an ongoing process. Organizations should expect obstacles and mistakes to occur along the path. Regardless, resilience is critical in the face of feedback. Organizations should accept criticism from all groups but pay special attention to those previously excluded.
These individuals have the most insight from lived experience that boards enacting diversity and inclusion initiatives can’t always speak to. Therefore, interviewing and asking for feedback will be a priceless resource for continued growth.
Administrative boards should not only learn how to accept feedback on how to be better at inclusion, but they should also learn how to deliver unbiased and inclusive feedback to employees equally. Appropriate and inclusive feedback contains quality constructive content and thoughtful, empathetic delivery. Often, minority groups either don’t receive feedback at all or don’t have both elements included in their reviews.
Organizations should analyze how they distribute feedback to their members. Minimizing feedback prevents growth, diminishing their work effectiveness, morale and ability to advance. Unfortunately, research illuminates marginalized groups receive less feedback from supervisors.
Every organization can balance receiving and delivering feedback in impartial, holistic ways that encourage betterment and equality that focuses on problem-focused remediation — not people-focused.
Undoing decades of toxic, systemic exclusionary practices take time, but it is required. Organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to community intramural sports teams, must analyze their leadership decision-making and professional progress to ensure a fair environment for all.
Proper equity and inclusion initiatives should be the expectation now. Hopefully, the future won’t contain them at all because organizations will have adapted inclusive, diverse practices organically.
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and pup, Bear.