So you can’t exactly change the dynamics and culture of your workplace completely on your first week there – but let’s take a look at what you can control.
For instance, the way you conduct yourself can play a big role in helping people feel more accepted and included. You have a say in what initiatives you’re involved in and how you treat other employees – both of which are very important when working with people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures.
Here are three ways even entry-level employees can support diversity in the workplace!
Join an Employee Resource Group (ERG)
Many companies have Employee Resource Groups (or ERGs) to help bring together employees who care about the same issues. Their members are involved in all sorts of incredible activities, from mentoring new employees to holding skills workshops tailored to certain groups. They often work closely with Human Resources to ensure that a diverse demographic of employees are being hired. With such varied activities, ERGs tackle all sorts of goals, such as increasing cultural awareness, professional development opportunities, and career growth for minority groups.
See if you can find an ERG at your company that supports a group you’re passionate about. And remember – you don’t have to fall into the category yourself to be an ally. For example, even if you don’t have a disability, you can still be an active proponent in making the workplace a more accessible environment for those that do. It’s a very empowering thing to have a group of people work together to bring about positive change in the workplace.
If you’re looking for a specific group in particular that doesn’t currently exist, create it! Most ERGs begin with just a small number of employees. It can be as simple as a handful of coworkers meeting up during lunch to share ideas on how to make LGBT employees more comfortable in the workplace. Once you garner more interest, you can formalize the ERG by letting your Human Resources department know that you want to establish a group. They can guide you through the procedure to make your ERG an official part of the company.
Embrace Different Cultures and Lifestyles
In a diverse company, there are bound to be people who are part of communities that you’re not very familiar with. Instead of shying away from the unknown, take advantage of this opportunity to learn! For instance, if you hear a co-worker use a term or phrase you’ve never heard of, do a little research to find out what it means. This will help you understand them better and allow you to form stronger relationships.
In addition, you can take the effort to ask co-workers about their culture in a respectful way. Your interest may encourage them to be more open about sharing their unique experiences and viewpoints. Plus, it’s a great way to improve inclusiveness in a diverse environment.
Don’t ask about topics that are clearly too personal or sensitive. For example, don’t ask an individual with a learning disability if they’ve ever struggled to fit in at school. Sometimes, you might not realize you’ve stumbled upon an unpleasant topic until you’ve brought it up. But if you do end up in this situation, and your conversation partner shows signs of discomfort, simply apologize and move on to a different subject. Making mistakes is a natural part of learning about a culture.
Treat People the Way They Want to be Treated
Growing up, you probably had this golden rule hammered into your head: treat people the way you want to be treated. Unfortunately, that only works if the other party shares a lot of your characteristics. In a diverse team, it’s important to find out how your co-workers want to be treated, especially if they belong to a minority group.
For instance, some LGBT individuals prefer to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns, like ‘they’ or ‘them’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. In addition, those born outside of Canada often take on an anglicized name to make it easier for co-workers to address them. If you know someone goes by two names, ask them which one they prefer. You may have very different ideas on what would be considered comfortable or acceptable than your colleagues, so clear communication is key.
At the end of the day, keeping an open line of dialogue between you and your coworkers is a big part of an inclusive work environment. Simple acts like asking questions and sharing ideas can go a long way in making someone feel more comfortable, valued, and accepted.