An article from t-three consultant Laura Whitworth, where she discusses how to make it safe for everyone to speak up.
If we’re going to make our workplaces more welcoming for everyone, we all have a responsibility to create an inclusive environment in which we can feel safe speaking up for others and also ourselves.
While you might not experience these challenges personally, there are different ways you can support colleagues who may face non-inclusive behaviour at work. Showing support for others in this way means you are being an ally, which is an important part of being a good colleague, but it can also have a broader ripple effect in creating a more inclusive company culture.
Practical things you can do…
It’s a big, bold move of standing up to someone who is being overtly discriminating.This is great if you feel confident, know what to do and say, and feel safe doing so. But these situations can be intimidating and it’s normal not to know how to react.
Some of the key things to do in this situation are:
Stay calm – this will help you to talk to the person who is being discriminatory in a way that’s productive, rather than turning it into a shouting match.
Ask them why they have a particular point of view.
Offer them an alternative perspective on the issue.
Show empathy for the person experiencing racism. This might help the person who is being discriminatory to see that the person they are targeting is no different from anyone else.
If necessary, consider making notes on, or recording, the incident.
Actively supporting a colleague
A lot of our work with clients shows that colleagues often make assumptions without realising it. For example, comments like ‘Where are you actually from?’, or ‘Your English is so good!’ make assumptions about a person based on their race.
Someone experiencing these comments might just laugh them off, even if they feel uncomfortable. This might be because they don’t want to create conflict or don’t feel safe speaking up. Let them know that you’re on their side and that you think the discriminatory comments/actions they’ve experienced are wrong. Discrimination can make someone feel humiliated, threatened and alone, so knowing that you’re on their side can help your colleague feel supported.
Often, the best way to know how you can help a colleague is to ask them. Listen to what they have to say without making any judgements. You could ask them how they feel about their own experiences or things they’ve seen in the media, what their thoughts and opinions are, and what you can do to support them.
Having these types of conversations provides people from different cultural backgrounds with the space to express themselves, and can give you a clearer idea of what you can do to support them and how to follow through.
Be curious about your colleagues
With many of our clients we design fun activities which will help everyone in the team understand each other and their backgrounds better. The bonus is that by doing this, you're building a culture where everyone feels more included, and each colleague feels valued for who they are.
So at your next meeting, spend 10 minutes asking questions, build the interest and show support for everyone's unique experiences. Here are a few you could try:
What does your name mean? Is there a story behind your name?
What would your theme song be if you had your own show?
What is the most memorable lesson you learned from a parent, guardian, or childhood mentor?
If you could start a charity, what would it be for?
What are some of your favourite childhood holiday traditions or general celebrations?
It is the responsibility of all of us to make our colleagues feel included and welcome to be themselves at work. For more information on how to create a more inclusive culture in your workplace contact email@example.com