By Nivedita Kannan
In the 1990s, at a local school ground, a group of young girls was sitting by the corner of their playground as their male classmates were playing games raucously. The boys had access to equipment which they happily used to their heart’s content. The girls were asked by a bystander why they weren’t playing and they were told that the boys didn’t include them and formed teams of the desired size and skills within themselves. The girls sat the games period out due to lack of equipment and the encouragement to participate.
While this seems like a small thing to happen in their day, the consequences of this willful exclusion will have long term effects on both the girls and the boys. While the girls would probably get conditioned to accept and conform to the societal idea of who should play what sort of games, the boys would lack the opportunity to learn empathy, inclusion, team playing which is best learnt when the “team” has diversity and doesn’t have a similar pool of participants.
The world has since changed and more and more systemically excluded groups are coming forward to claim their rightful place at the table. Creating an equal and acknowledged space for them in the workplace becomes the very basic thing to establish as a modern day employer. The LGBTQ+ community is one such section of society that has faced unnecessary discrimination and bias in different workplaces.
The flavor, perspective and personality that they could bring to the table are invaluable to growing teams and not making an effort to include them seamlessly could prove to be an expensive mistake.
Employers should actively seek to hire solely on the basis of the fact that the candidate’s skillsets are most suited for the role and nothing else matters. Some of the strategies that have proven to be helpful are shared here. Hope this helps:
- Policy review: It is the first thing we did. Go over all policies – hygiene or specific and ensure the language, inclusions and exclusions address all folks – regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Two such policies which we created were the POSH and the parental leave policies.
- Sensitization: This is a very useful step to take. The unfortunate truth is that many people are unfamiliar with what it means to belong to the LGBTQ+ community and may not even know the full form. It will be worth your time to spend time and money in sensitizing your work force and creating empathetic colleagues out of them.
- Set up a network of allies: Everyone likes a comrade. Imagine what a game changer having an army by your side could be! Allies work to help folks feel included and create a sense of belonging. Choose your “allies” carefully and make it a point to introduce them to the folks in the organization at regular intervals.
- List everybody’s pronouns: All employees being vocal about how they’d like to be addressed normalizes not assuming another’s gender. Some examples of how to do this could be Nivedita (she/ her), Karteek (he/ him) and so on.
- Gender neutral language: Ensuring what we say doesn’t seem biased to a particular gender is a subtle but powerful way of creating inclusion in the workplace. Using “they” in policies or documents instead of he/ she is one way of doing this. Alternatively, it is absolutely OK to confirm with the employee/ candidate what their preferred pronoun is and use that in all official communication.
- Unisex washrooms: We recently did this at our office premises. We had two washrooms – one for each gender on the binary but we’ve now opened both washrooms (considering they have cubicles and urinals) to anyone therefore eliminating the bias towards the binary!
- Create awareness: Often, sensitive topics like this are spoken only in a particular month to honor what the month stands for for the community. However, to ensure recall and for all inclusion efforts to seem organic, it is important to talk about it more throughout the year using planned sessions with experts, employee-led sharing sessions, webinars, interactive sessions with folks from the community who can share their own personal experiences among other ideas.
These strategies with so many more are just the tip of the iceberg. To make the art of inclusion more part of an organization’s DNA, it is important to prioritize that over all else. This may also mean taking disciplinary action against folks who find it difficult to align with the spirit of inclusivity and show tendencies of bias or willful exclusion – no matter how “important they are to the business’ success.”
Psychological safety stems from acceptance, inclusion and acknowledgement. Intended acts of inclusion create a sense of trust for the employees and increased retention and engagement within teams is one happy consequence of being non-judgemental and bias free. And this is a sure shot way of creating psychological safety for everyone in the organization.
(This article is authored by Nivedita Kannan, Head, People Function, Mudrex, and the views expressed in this article are her own)