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June 12, 2019

Creating a Culture of Inclusion at Your Organization

Cultural change is a key part of enterprise transformation. In addition to focusing on technology and delivery, it helps to create a culture of inclusion.

As DevOps transformation agents, we at Liatrio are always talking about cultural change. We believe successful organizations understand that cultural change is central to any transformation. While this conversation often focuses around technology and delivery challenges, it also helps to look more broadly at how to create a culture of inclusion within the organization.

When I think about a culture of inclusion, I imagine organizational customs, beliefs, and actions that truly honor and welcome all individuals. To me, such a culture encompasses a multitude of factors, including race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, mental health, religion, ethnic and cultural background, and socioeconomic status.

As a white gay dad to two kids of color and as someone who used to do diversity training for a living, I’m acutely aware of issues of difference. My husband and I like to think we’re living in a bit of a safe bubble here outside of Boston, but just last month schoolchildren were the victims of racial prejudice and profiling at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I feel that I have two important duties to my children in this regard. First, prepare them to live in a world where people will likely see and treat them differently because of the color of their skin. Second, do my small part to change that world -- one person and one organization at a time.

The author with his two children.
Jeremy Hayes and his kids.

Here, I’ll share some ways you can help foster a culture of inclusion within your organization.

Be Your Whole, Authentic Self

First thing's first. A culture of inclusion enables us all to all feel comfortable bringing all aspects of our identity with us to work. For example, it should be completely normal to mention a same-sex partner when talking about weekend plans with colleagues. It should be completely normal to ask for an adjusted work schedule when you’re fasting during Ramadan.

If you work at an organization that doesn’t respect you for who you are, I encourage you to find allies within the organization who can help you bring about the change necessary to create a more inclusive culture. Alternatively, find a different organization that will show you the respect you deserve. [I acknowledge that I’m speaking from a place of privilege as a cis white male (someone who identifies with the gender of their birth sex). Not everyone can take these kinds of risks.]

Use Inclusive Language

Be mindful of the words you use to foster a culture of inclusion. I’m not talking about “political correctness” here per se; instead, I’m talking about being aware of the language you use and how it may impact people.

For starters, try using gender-neutral terms. For reference, check out Jen MacLean’s Twitter conversation on the subject. As she notes,

“‘Guys’ is gendered. Think it’s not? Swap it out for “gals” for a day and see what happens. [I]ntent =/= impact. You may not *intend* to exclude or offend someone when you choose to misgender them, but the *impact* of your actions is different. ‘Guys’ isn’t just about what you mean when you use it, but what it means to your listeners.”

In short, if someone’s ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, etc., isn’t germane to the topic at hand, leave it out of the conversation. Check out @CourtneySeiter’s blog on the topic.

Avoid Making Assumptions and Practice Compassion

A hand holding a pink index card that says 'Practice Kindness'.

Get to know people as individuals and treat them as such. You are a complete, complex person with a multifaceted identity. So are all of your coworkers. Try not to rely on stereotypes based on someone’s appearance or background.

Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million people) experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Some mental illnesses are more debilitating than others, but the reality is most of us will be impacted by our mental health at some point or another. Practicing empathy and compassion toward those in need can help those people get through some tough days.

And be sure to take the time for self care. Talking openly about mental health can help to reduce the stigma around it and contribute to a more inclusive culture. I tell pretty much anyone who will listen that, between my husband and me, we see two individual therapists and a couples therapist every month.

In addition, burnout is a real thing. Some employers in tech offer unlimited PTO or have allowances for mental health days. Take advantage of those days when you need them. Be as open as you feel comfortable with your supervisor about your needs.

Check out for some excellent resources. You may also consider taking a mental health first aid course to learn how to help someone who is dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Notice the Voices That Aren’t Being Heard and Amplify Them

A black and white closeup of a microphone with drums in the background.

Earlier, I mentioned seeking out allies when you’re feeling excluded in your organization. Those of us with privilege also have a responsibility to help foster a culture of inclusion by looking out for those who aren’t being included. For example, men can watch for times when women’s voices aren’t being heard and ensure they’re getting credit for the ideas they bring to the table. One technique an ally can use to boost the message of a member of a less-dominant group: repeat what that person said and give that person credit for it. For example, “Tina suggested we try ‘git reflog’. Give that a try, and let her know how it works.”

Create Welcoming Physical Spaces

It’s important to have a working environment that is accessible to individuals with physical disabilities, but creating a welcoming space goes further than that. Go beyond thinking about accommodation and instead look at inclusive design, which focuses on making environments universally accessible. Many forward-thinking organizations even have created lactation rooms and a prayer/meditation rooms to make their spaces more welcoming for all.

Review Your Recruiting Pipeline

If you’re involved in the hiring process in your organization, take a critical look at your processes. How diverse are the individuals in your candidate pool? How can you actively reach out to candidates who have traditionally been underrepresented? In your interview process, look out for unconscious bias. See @hedgehogprints’s Forbes article about unconscious bias.

Follow a Clearly Defined Code of Conduct

Make a clear statement about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Be public with it. Someone who identifies as transgender or non-binary is more likely to consider joining your organization if your job site explicitly states that harassment and discrimination based on gender identity and expression are not tolerated.

Want to Build a Culture of Inclusion? Time to Get Started!

The list above is by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it can help you get started in creating a culture of inclusion. Of course, some of these things you can do as an individual, while others require broader buy-in from the organization.

We all have biases, and it’s important to acknowledge them and find ways to challenge them. Look for books, podcasts, and blog posts about the experiences of people who are different from you.

Here are some additional resources that might help:

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