Do you feel part of the team at work? Do you trust your colleagues? Are you trusted? Trust is critical to our ability to do our job well. Demographics such as gender, race/ethnicity, and age are some ways in which we differ and can be barriers to optimising your workplace – if you let them. No one should be excluded from being supported in their workplace; everyone is part of the team. Inclusion is about creating an environment where everyone feels valued, supported and is offered equal opportunities to thrive.
So why does this matter? It matters because enabling our teams and our people to thrive and perform at their best is key to ensuring we are an effective Army. It has been proven that the standout characteristic that sets successful teams apart is psychological safety. This means that every member of your team not only feels safe in their workplace but has the confidence to take risks and ask questions. This enables learning, growth and high performance. Imagine an environment where everyone was fulfilling their potential and operating effectively within their teams to achieve their goals. This is exactly what an inclusive workplace does.
So how can we as individuals and leaders help contribute to a work environment that celebrates everyone? This article discusses four reflections for you to consider. While reading through the reflections we ask that you pose the following question to yourself: “Did my actions/words build or reduce trust within my team?” As you move through each reflection we ask you to think about your contribution to your team and broader workplace. At the end of each reflection there are practical, easy to implement tips on how to promote an inclusive and diverse workplace.
Fostering psychologically safe behaviours and valuing each team member for their unique contribution
Creating psychological safety and building trusting relationships is a great foundation for an effective team. In a diverse team, each member brings with them a variety of different experiences and a different view of the world. A supporting and inclusive environment will ensure each team member feels safe to be who they are and share their thoughts and views, particularly if who they are and their views differ from the majority. Views that are different from the majority help us to view problems from different angles and perspectives. Diversity of experience and thought contributes to organisational learning, creativity and innovation, and this helps us formulate solutions to problems in a way that may not have been considered.
Have the courage to open your mind to the value of different thoughts and experiences. Being able to consider all possibilities will allow the broadest consideration of problems and their associated solutions. Create an environment in your team where all team members have the opportunity to safely share their experiences, opinions and views. Reinforce positive behaviours that build on safe teaming behaviours and celebrate diversity.
Tip: Create space and opportunities for all team members to contribute to the team. Celebrate new ideas and reward the behaviours rather than the outcome. Don’t dismiss an idea because it is different or hasn’t been tried before. Allow your team to try new things, experience failure (safely) and learn from their experiences.
Tip: Ensure you seek an opinion from everyone in your team, not just the loudest. Find ways for all personality types to be able to contribute ideas, even if not always in an open forum. Understand that different people prefer to communicate in different ways. Get to know the ways your team members feel comfortable contributing.
Make it easy for your team to participate and contribute
Part of building trust in relationships is knowing your people. Understand the commitments, responsibilities and aspirations each team member has and support them in fulfilling these. A team member who feels understood, valued and supported will in turn be an asset to your unit. They will exercise discretionary effort in the work environment and remain committed to the organisation.
Look at and analyse all workplace systems to ensure they don’t leave minority groups at a disadvantage. If they do, work to make changes in those areas.
Tip: Avoid scheduling activities or meetings early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This can often preclude parents with caring responsibilities from participating and leave them without valuable information and reduced opportunity to contribute to the team.
Tip: Although flexible working arrangements will not always be appropriate, consider the ways flexibility can be applied to your team and work environment to help your team achieve balance. Focus on achieving team outcomes and consider the different ways team outcomes can be achieved. An effective team is outcome driven, not focused on what time people arrive and leave the workplace.
Ask your team if there are any parts of the workplace systems that don’t work for them. Consider ways to changes the systems to ensure the systems work fairly for all.
Be aware of the language you use. Language can convey and reinforce culture and behaviours within an organisation. The use of non-inclusive language can hold your team back from achieving high performance and could unintentionally be reinforcing non-inclusive behaviours. For example, “men” is not an inclusive term to be using when addressing a group of people that includes all genders. Asking women and minority groups if they mind doesn’t make it okay. Responding that they don’t mind is either a reflection that they are in a small minority that doesn’t care and were willing to join a majority-dominated field and accept what that brings, or they fear repercussions for not being compliant to the majority. Either way, it doesn’t make it okay to call a group of diverse gender personnel “men”.
Conversely, taking time to understand and use inclusive language that is culturally appropriate and respectful of the diversity of our teams will contribute to a more inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and experience a sense of belonging.
Tip: Be aware of the language you are using. Can you hear any unnecessarily gendered or non-inclusive language? Try to replace these words with non-gendered and inclusive language. If you are unsure, ask someone to help you identify parts of your language that could be considered non-inclusive. Consult the Australian Government Inclusive Language Guide if you are unsure.
Challenging your assumptions
How many times have you looked at someone and made assumptions about that person? These assumptions may have been based on their appearance, gender, race, age or religion. This is called unconscious bias and is a result of our own background and experiences. These experiences shape the way we view the world and allow us to organise our world in a way that makes sense to us. While unconscious bias is common, it often leads to undesirable organisational outcomes.
Unconscious bias can lead to inequality and disadvantage for underrepresented groups. Unconscious bias can often lead us to make decisions based on what we are used to as it helps us remain in a predictable and comfortable environment. For example, a leader may choose a person to attend a leadership course because that person has demonstrated similar traits to themselves. They look, sound and behave the same as the leader, and therefore they should do well on the course. Meanwhile, a person who may not look, sound or behave the same as the leader missed out on the experience simply because assumptions may have been made about that person’s potential for success on the course. Furthermore, minorities and underrepresented groups in the workplace are often required to prove themselves to a much greater degree than their majority peers – technical competence is constantly tested, physical achievement is scrutinised, mistakes are highlighted and attached to the minority trait despite a lack of relevance to the attribute.
The way we perceive others and our environment is deeply ingrained in us. The key to not letting unconscious bias drive our decisions is to recognise that we all have deep unconscious thoughts, and that these thoughts need to be acknowledged and challenged. The more we are aware of our unconscious thoughts, particularly about minorities and underrepresented groups, the more we are able to recognise them and challenge them. When we challenge our assumptions we are better able to see the facts of a situation and better decisions can be made.
Tip: Become aware of your unconscious bias. When you notice you are making an assumption about a person, challenge that assumption. Is the assumption actually true?
Tip: Flip it to test it – does it sound okay if you put the opposite group in the sentence. We tend to attribute minority characteristics to situations inappropriately which we would not do to a member of the majority. If we attribute a mistake/weakness to a person’s gender/race/other characteristic not related to the task, rather than the individual, we are less likely to identify an opportunity to develop and improve the person.
Creating psychological safety and building trusting relationships is a great foundation for an effective team. In a diverse team, each team member brings with them a variety of different experiences and a different view of the world. Supporting an inclusive environment will ensure each team member feels safe to be who they are and share their thoughts and views which enables learning, growth and high performance.
This article provided four reflections for you to consider. Applying thought and effort to introduce them into your unit can help you achieve an inclusive environment that will drive high performance.
Do you have any thoughts on how we can achieve an inclusive workplace in other areas? If so, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org