In the opening lines of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the character Nick Caraway recounts advice his father once gave him:
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
It’s a comment on our tendency to view the world through the lens of our own experiences, which can sometimes put us in a privileged position that makes it difficult to understand where others are coming from. It can also, at times, cause us to be unfairly critical of others in ways we may not even realize. Unfortunately, this even happens in the workplace.
Though we try our best to create work environments that are inclusive and supportive of all employees, discrimination persists in the workplace as a result of unconscious biases. Our experiences and backgrounds shape how we view others and can lead us to make unfair judgments, perpetuate inequality, and create work environments that aren’t always as welcoming as they should be.
While senior leadership unquestionably plays an essential role in helping their organizations overcome the kind of biased thinking that leads to discrimination, each and every employee in an organization has an important role to play in promoting work environments that are more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for their co-workers.
Employees can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations by being mindful of their own privilege and how it can impact the work environment, fully aware of how DEI supports a healthy work environment, and supportive of a positive work environment in which all employees feel valued.
In this article, I’ll explore how team members can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace and support a positive employee experience for all employees.
What Is DEI?
DEI, an acronym for diversity, equity, and inclusion, is a theoretical structure that promotes the complete involvement of every staff member in an organization.
Diversity refers to the spectrum of unique similarities and differences that each person contributes to the work environment, which can include aspects such as language, race, country of origin, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status, among others.
Equity, as defined by Gallup, refers to the just treatment, accessibility, and progression of every individual within an organization. This includes equitable compensation, fair experiences in daily work, and opportunities for career growth.
Inclusion is defined as “the strategy of granting equal access to opportunities and resources for individuals who may otherwise be excluded or marginalized.” Inclusion aims to foster a setting where all members of the team, irrespective of their disparities, can flourish and participate fully.
What Is Privilege and How Can It Impact the Work Environment?
Privilege can be a touchy subject for some people, but it is a subject we shouldn’t be afraid to explore because knowing what it means and how it impacts us and those we work with can help us be better employees and better co-workers.
Privilege in the workplace refers to unearned advantages that individuals may have due to certain aspects of their identity, such as race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, wealth, class, and many other factors.
Because it is invisible, privilege can be a challenge to recognize and address. But it can impact everything, from restroom access and time off for holidays to salaries and opportunities for development and advancement.
Being aware that privilege exists and understanding its impact on the work environment is an important first step to addressing it and creating a happy, healthier workplace that supports diversity, equitable treatment, and an inclusive environment for all employees.
How Does DEI Support a Healthy Work Environment?
Employees value DEI and want their employers to show a commitment, reinforced by actions, towards social responsibility. Organizations that promote DEI aren’t just satisfying employees; though—they are also laying the groundwork for sustainable, long-term success.
This is because DEI in the workplace can positively impact collaboration, employee satisfaction, and employee engagement.
Collaboration: Cultivating a feeling of unity is essential for building employee involvement and fostering a spirit of togetherness within the team, which can enhance cooperative endeavors. The shared sense of purpose that employees experience in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment brings them together and can amplify their collaborative initiatives.
Employee Satisfaction: Being part of diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces offers employees the chance to leverage their unique experiences and backgrounds. Employees who feel that their distinctive skills are appreciated in the workplace have a heightened sense of purpose, experience greater fulfillment, and are likely to be more content going to work each day.
Employee Engagement: Working in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work environment can increase engagement, significantly impact the performance of employees and teams, and foster a stronger alignment with the organization’s culture. This is attributed to the integral role DEI plays in shaping the experience of employees.
These benefits create a healthy, harmonious work environment where employees work well together and are consistently motivated to do their best. This, in turn, helps organizations retain talented employees, meet goals, and achieve financial success.
How Do I Bring DEI to My Organization?
Leaders play an essential role in shaping the employee experience, but they also play a pivotal role in shaping how employees support each other and create belonging with their co-workers.
Good leaders support an inclusive culture in their organizations by modeling inclusive behaviors for their employees. Getting all your team members onboard with this is essential to building a resilient, sustainable work culture and ensuring long-term profitability.
Leadership should be fully invested in DEI and committed to achieving measurable results with DEI initiatives in the organization, but they should also be committed to making employees a part of the process and open to receiving feedback that can help them improve the success rate of DEI initiatives and foster a culture that stays true to DEI principles.
As an employee, there are several ways that you can support and promote DEI in the workplace:
Provide feedback to leadership: Whether it’s encouraging HR to update job descriptions or to take different approaches to recruitment, employees can be instrumental in alerting their organizations to opportunities to promote an inclusive, equitable workplace and regularly update their anti-discrimination policies.
Support psychological safety for all: Psychological safety is essential for inclusion, belonging, and team cohesion. Employees work together to create an environment that is psychologically safe and respectful for all their co-workers and encourage them to bring their authentic selves to work each day so that they can fully participate.
Create a work environment where everyone feels valued: Along with psychological safety, employees need to feel that they have a voice, are part of the decision-making process, and that their ideas are heard and considered by the team. Employees who want to create a work environment where all their co-workers feel heard should support open communication, demonstrate respect for all voices, and welcome diverse perspectives.
When done right, we know that DEI initiatives can help us reduce the unconscious biases and microaggressions that make workplaces toxic, but for them to be successful, it takes the whole team working together toward shared goals.
While leaders lead the way on DEI initiatives, each team member must be invested in the process of building an inclusive culture that supports diversity and equity for all.