• Kristen Kelley

Building an Honest Workplace Culture Around Inclusion

Have you ever followed a job listing that encourages diverse candidates to apply to the company’s “who we are” page on the website just to be greeted by a group of smiling, white cishet male faces? Of course, there may be a cis woman or maybe a person of color sprinkled in here or there, but for the most part leadership is clearly represented by a specific demographic. As you scroll further down the page, the company begins to look more and more diverse.


Many companies have this problem. Though they hire intentionally to diversify their business and may be able to boast high percentages of diversity within their workforce, this is not reflected in leadership or in the spaces in which decisions are being made. Inclusion is key in creating a diverse and equitable workplace. However, many companies struggle with this as allowing marginalized individuals to be in positions of leadership and decision making means being ready to listen and trust in those individuals’ leadership.


Inclusion in leadership in organizations can look like many different things. It means inclusion in the highest levels of leadership such as CEO, CFO, or Executive Director, but also within leadership throughout the company in positions of middle management and program direction and coordination. It also means representation on the board of directors and in ERGs (employee resource groups). It is important to recognize that though leadership is generally responsible for making important decisions, it is extremely beneficial to have workers at all levels of a company or organization involved in spaces in which decisions are being made. Frontline staff are often the most directly impacted by company decisions and are the most familiar with both the work and the clients and therefore can provide vital insight during the decision making process. And yes, inclusion in leadership is crucial, but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the majority of workers in a company are not in leadership positions.


Inclusion means more than just having representation present in the room. In order to have a truly inclusive work environment, it is necessary to foster a culture of inclusion. Beyond having a culture of awareness around diversity issues, such as proper pronoun use and diversity training, it is essential that this culture is consistently self-reflective and embracing of growth. For example, even though there are femme people present in leadership spaces within the company, do leadership meetings or social events feel like a boys-club? Is everyone in these roles taking on similar work, or are femme people the ones responsible for keeping things on-track and organized? Are gay men encouraged to share honestly about how their weekend went and their family life or are they expected to adjust it to accommodate their straight colleagues comfort zones? Do nonbinary people have space to exist authentically as themselves and outside of the gender binary, or are they expected to conform to either gender expectations or androgyny on a day-to-day basis in order to be taken seriously? Self-reflective questions like these are a necessary part of the process to creating a workplace that is genuinely inclusive.


Ultimately, having a workplace that truly embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion comes down to listening to employees themselves so that they can determine what actions can be taken to make themselves feel safe, supported, and empowered. For those in leadership, that may mean taking a big step out of their comfort zones. Leadership must be ready for regular self-reflection of company policies, culture, and themselves. It is important to open space for constructive feedback as well as development and education. This means regularly engaging with ERGs, unions, and employees generally. Cultivating a workplace that embraces diversity, acts equitably, and is inclusive is not an end goal in and of itself, but rather a commitment to a process of continual growth.


The PATHS program is committed to deepening conversations around workplace inclusion, by uplifting the experiences of LGBTQ+ workers themselves. The final episode of PATHS Season 2 comes out Thursday, August 25th. Watch it here.



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