Fostering justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (JEDI) in your organization is an ongoing task. Inclusion and justice are intertwined and require compassionate ways to ensure they are alive and well.
Fostering Inclusion: Rehumanizing the Workplace
There are ways to foster inclusion in your diverse company that rehumanizes the workplace. Most of these actions simply require sensitivity.
Provide a space where employees can take time to observe specific religious obligations. For example, set aside a room where Muslim employees may pray during their shift. If the employee has an office, then specific hours should be respected where the employee can lock the door and pray. If the door cannot be locked, a simple do not disturb sign should suffice. Specific office hours can be posted when the employee’s door is open.
Allow your employees time off to observe holiday/religious customs. Those employees could also be assigned to work during Christmas or Easter when their Christian coworkers are off. If employees are paid for their holidays off, then those with different holidays should be paid and the holidays simply swapped.
If your company decorates for Christmas or Halloween, consider allowing decorations for other holidays that your employees may celebrate. For example, the office could have Kwanza decorations put up after Christmas for the employees who celebrate that holiday. Dwali in October for those south Asians who celebrate or Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in November after Halloween for Hispanic workers. The holidays chosen for decorations should be those that your employees choose to celebrate. Make sure to get their input on how to honor those holidays.
Other celebrations such as birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, new baby arrivals (including adoptions) can also be celebrated. Again, connect with the employees who are at the center of one of these celebrations and find out what and how they want to celebrate. Inclusion of same-sex couples in these life milestones is a positive way to ensure everyone is represented.
Inclusion also involves how you address others. It is important that you respect the identities of your employees. Just as it is important to address a female employee as Miss, Mrs., or Ms. Jones, it is important to find out how all of your employees want to be addressed. Ask your employees, especially new hired, what title they want to be addressed as and what pronouns to use. Many trans or non-binary employees may not be comfortable being addressed by the pronouns they seem to project—either through dress or appearance. They may also feel threatened if they are consistently referred to a “ma’am” when they are dressed in a man’s tailored suit or as “sir” when in a dress. It is human nature to assume one’s preferred pronouns. But until you ask, you will never know. Managers can instill a culture of inclusivity by avoiding binary pronouns and adopting “they” to refer to gender-variant employees.
Finally, make sure everyone uses employees’ real names. Don’t be lazy and say that a name is too hard to pronounce. Ask the person how to pronounce it and ask his or her patience as you strive to perfect your pronunciation.
While inclusion pulls out a chair at the table in the workplace, justice values what is said and done in that chair. Valuing employees is vital to JEDI in your company. There are several ways to foster justice.
Conduct JEDI training regularly, especially bias awareness that includes role-playing. People learn stereotypical behavior over a lifetime, sometimes without even realizing they are showing bias or racism. Education can raise awareness to ingrained bias. The lessons learned in training should be actively applied to the daily routines of your workforce.
Establish a telephone hotline for workers to report violations of JEDI and other incidents of unethical conduct they have witnessed or experienced directly. This is a first step in grievance mitigation. An anonymous hotline can help those employees who may feel threatened if they report what happened to them or what they saw. Those employees may feel that if they go first to management or even HR, that those who perpetrated the incident could find out and retaliate. By notifying management, these incidents can be investigated.
Inclusion means that your voice will be heard. Let employees know that it is safe for them to communicate their concerns and to offer suggestions to management about how to handle a specific JEDI incident or other workplace issue.
Feedback from management is also essential. Imagine your surprise when a worker puts in their resignation with no warning and only then finding out how unhappy the employee was even though that employee never complained. Employees and managers need to be in constant communication and both should offer feedback. The annual review shouldn’t be just about an employee’s performance but should be an opportunity for both the supervisor and the employee to offer suggestions for improvement and to tell one another positives about the work effort during the year. Both should check in more regularly than the yearly review in order to head off any problems that might have cropped up in the workplace, either with the work, the employee’s motivation and attitude, or with other employees or supervisors. Don’t wait until it’s too late to communicate. Workers can feel that they are being treated unfairly if the they find out a year later that they are not performing well or doing a job wrong.
One way to make sure justice is being served in the workplace is to meet regularly with your employees and offer them the opportunity to ask questions or voice concerns. Sending out quarterly surveys could also help employees rate their experiences and talk about their concerns. Make sure that you consider the issues raised and devise remedies for them. This is proactive management that ensures fairness and can be an incentive to enhance creativity and productivity in the workplace.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit, May 25, 2002, Crown Plaza Atlanta-Norcross
The Atlanta Opera’s Statement of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
The Atlanta Girls School
Emory University’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Report