Creating a Healthy + Inclusive Office Culture? Here’s 5 Questions to Ask Your Staff Before You Start Planning

There is a growing investment in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives among companies in the private sector, and rightfully so. The benefits of fair treatment, inclusivity and a feeling of belonging among all staff has been proven to offer competitive advantages ranging from talent acquisition through to unique revenue-generating ideas. Planning for diversity is typically led by senior management teams in charge of developing company strategy, allocating resources and motivating employees. However, without direct input from the staff that allows them to share their experiences and concerns, any DEI plan will be far less meaningful and generally ineffective.

It’s critical to allow employees to share their vision of an inclusive work environment which offers them a chance to take ownership of upcoming initiatives while helping Management develop specific strategies to achieve it. Such input can be easily accomplished through focus groups, an anonymous employee survey administered and analyzed by a third party, or other employee engagement activities that provide a safe space for employees to share without fear of being penalized. Using data to drive your D&I strategy not only makes sense but is also more likely to yield the results you are aiming for. Getting input from your staff provides qualitative information that can inform your planning and help produce initiatives that you won’t even have to ‘sell’ to your staff because they came directly from them!

Here are 5 questions to ask your employees before you craft your internal DEI program.

1. Who are you? (Collect the Data)

You can’t diversify your workforce without taking the time to understand who is represented and who is missing. Judging your employees’ demographics based on what is apparent or presumed is a recipe for exclusion because many aspects of human diversity are invisible.

Collecting demographic data may be a new territory for businesses, but it is the way of the future supported by human rights legislation. Helpful tools and resources are available from the Ontario Human Rights Commission or by visiting our website at harmonyatwork.ca.

2. What does inclusion mean to you?

Inclusion and engagement are interconnected. When employees feel included they are more likely to feel invested in their company’s culture and activities and contribute more of themselves. However, “inclusion” is like “love” – it’s one of those words that if you ask ten people what it means to them you’re likely to get ten different answers.

It’s important not to operate on assumptions about what makes your staff feel include, considering diverse identities, needs and perspectives. Invite them to provide ideas or examples of initiatives they are most likely to see themselves reflected in and participate in.

3. How can we help you bring your ‘whole self’ to work?

Remember the old rule: “We don’t discuss politics and religion in the workplace”? While politics may still feel like a minefield best to avoid, this familiar sentiment points to an underlying fear of conflict. In reality, this has caused employers to go to the extreme and inadvertently create a culture where employees are afraid to bring up important aspects of their identity and culture such as spirituality and faith, sexual orientation, and family status.

Bringing your whole self means not having to hide or minimize parts of who you are that are important to your everyday life. When people feel that they have to hide or censor parts of themselves at work, it impacts their health and wellbeing as well as their productivity. For example, a report by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion showed that, for many LGBT identified employees, there is discomfort with disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity in workplaces that don’t feel welcoming of LGBT people, despite the majority of LGBT respondents saying that sharing their identity is important to them.

4. What are we doing well?

It is possible to acknowledge that there are larger systemic issues such as racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia impacting our workplace dynamics without succumbing to the feeling that there is nothing we can do about it. We can start these courageous conversations by asking people to first identify the things that are positive, promising and working well as part of a strength-based approach, a philosophy that is at the core of Harmony@Work services. It also primes the brains for thinking in solution-focused terms to create more of these positive experiences (a phenomenon called cognitive priming).

5. What needs to change?

Even the most well-meaning leaders can have blind spots that cause them to miss what some of their employees might be experiencing, be it micro-aggressions (the subtle, everyday expressions of racial, gender and other forms of prejudice), workplace bullying, harassment, discrimination and more. You want to catch and address these dynamics before they get to the formal complaint stage. It’s helpful to make the question specific and concrete. For example, you might focus on specific areas asking about improvements in the hiring, onboarding or supervision processes, organizational culture, and office environment.

There are additional questions you can and should ask your employees, but these 5 offer a solid foundation to build you strategy on.

 

For more information on how to integrate an effective DEI Program at your office or workplace (Diversity, Equity + Inclusion) contact our office.