You already know that inclusion initiatives are great, a vital part of any company’s strategy for success. Ensuring that every team member feels welcome when they walk (or log) into a meeting has been proven to increase productivity. I’m not just writing that as a queer, immigrant employee who feels more productive when I’m included—the data supports my anecdotal experiences. A recent report by McKinsey & Company shows that companies with a more diverse workforce make more money.
And yet. We’re very intentional about words here at Job Portraits, one of the many companies I work with as a writer. The idea that words matter is a fundamental part of our quest for the truth. And if I’m being truthful, I don’t love the word “inclusion.” To be included in an activity or a space implies that the space still belongs to someone else. When I invite friends over and “include” them in a dinner party I’m hosting, the home they’re coming to is still mine. At the end of the meal they will have to leave.
Although I can accept “inclusion” as the term we’re all going to use, I believe companies should aspire to create more of a co-living situation. Instead of graciously hosting their diverse teammates, imagine a world in which we are all equally invested in and responsible for the home in which we reside. Where we all do more than just bring flowers to dinner—our furniture is in the living room and our dishes are in the cabinets. A space where everyone’s culture, language, and experiences are part and parcel of the household.
When Physical Workspaces Are Inclusive, Everyone Can Feel at Home
Creating a truly inclusive workplace means making the physical spaces conducive to everyone’s success. For example, gender neutral bathrooms are a huge relief to nonbinary and transgender folks, and converting existing bathrooms into neutral ones can be as easy as putting up a new sign with a note about which room contains urinals. This means nonbinary and transgender employees don’t have to calculate how femme or butch they look on a given day before deciding which bathroom is safest. Safety is, instead, a given.
Other ways of indicating a welcoming space are also simple: putting ally stickers on office doors or adding your pronouns to your email signature. When cisgender people normalize sharing their pronouns, it makes it easier for queer folks to do so as well.
Intentional Inclusivity Means Intentional Etiquette
It’s hard to be as effective as possible when you’re constantly uncomfortable or afraid. In fact, some might say it’s impossible. A 2016 study showed that subtle discrimination—aka microagressions—are an important part of why women and people of minority genders leave STEM careers. Microagressions also diminish the productivity of those who stay. This finding is consistent with my personal experience, and it underscores the importance of diversity, too.
When I see other queer people and immigrants among my colleagues, I feel more comfortable at work. I don’t have to hide or edit parts of my life when communicating with other team members. Can I wear this shirt to work? Am I being too loud, taking up too much space? Can I talk about the gender podcast I’m binging?
When I’m not using up my energy gauging how much of myself is welcome in a certain situation, I am more able to focus on the tasks at hand. I get more done. But more than that, I can bring perspectives that only I, with my unique set of life experiences, can contribute to our company potluck.
Feeling welcome and safe also means I’m able to trust that my colleagues will do their homework and help lighten my emotional load. It makes sense for people to have questions about someone who has a different identity or life experience. But your LGBTQIA+ colleagues are already doing some heavy lifting by showing up as their true selves. It’s important to do some independent study about things you may not be sure about and check in with coworkers before asking anything personal.
There are some great resources out there for learning about LGBTQIA+ culture (this explainer site about they/them pronouns, this podcast of conversations with queer folks of note, these films about LGBTQIA+ history, and more), so take some time to engage with materials outside of work. And then? Questions are welcome. Just recognize it might not be the right moment, so start with a quick, “Hey, I have a question about (gender, queerness, etc.). Is it all right to ask you?” A little consideration goes a long way.
Embracing a Culture of Vulnerability Creates Actual Inclusion
The whole point of making everyone an equal roommate in the cooperative living space of your organization is to allow for the celebration of all identities. We all have unique life stories to bring to the table, and when we share vulnerable parts of ourselves, it signals to others that they are safe to do so as well.
This doesn’t mean divulging the details of your colonoscopy at an all-hands meeting. It can mean talking about a challenging situation you’re facing at home or at work, in the right time and place, of course. I have no idea who among my Job Portraits teammates are queer, but I knew I was in a safe space the first time I logged into one of our biweekly team check-ins. Each meeting begins with a prompt to share something you’re anxious or excited about and how you’re engaging in self-care. I went last, and the folks who went before me spoke about grief, about mental health challenges, about exciting personal goals and endeavors.
By the time it was my turn, I knew that I had nothing to edit or hide. As a result, when I have questions about thorny issues, I don’t hesitate to ask the team. Which makes my work, and the work we do for our clients, a whole lot better.