Fostering Inclusion in the Workplace

Posted Jun 9, 2020


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Get tips to make your workplace a place where everyone is accepted, connected, and respected. 

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So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been an outsider? Have you ever felt like you were just on the outside of a situation? Just not on the inside. Maybe it was a first day on the job or a move to a new town or you were just in a situation where people were on the inside and you felt like an outsider. I remember when I went to law school. I went to law school when I was 32 years old and I remember being in my first class that first day. I'm looking around, it's 200 people in that room and I must have been the oldest one there. I am surrounded by 22 year olds. I went to law school. I had a husband, a child, a mortgage. I was an older student and I felt like an outsider.

I felt like I didn't quite belong. And then the class was ending. It was just about lunchtime. And the young lady sitting next to me, leaned over and said, "Hey, do you want to go to lunch with me and my roommate?" And I was like... because you know what I was thinking. I went back to junior high school in my mind. I'm like, geez, who am I going to have lunch with? I'm going to have to sit all by myself. I was in that space and this young lady invited me to lunch with her and her roommate. We ended up being the best of friends throughout law school and until this day. So my point is we all know what it feels like to be an outsider. And we know what it feels like to be included. And with that in mind, each of us has a responsibility and the ability to foster, to create, inclusion in our workplace. And that's what we're going to talk about here today.

Hi, my name is Star Bobatoon. I am an attorney, speaker and trainer. My background is in employment litigation, which means I handled cases in discrimination, harassment, wrongful, termination. You know, all the things that bring us together as a people. I transitioned into being a diversity counselor where I help Fortune 500 companies grow their diversity while staying on the right side of the law. And now I'm a full time speaker and trainer. Absolutely love what I do, but you know what? I like to break it down and make it simple. Here's what I do. I travel around this great country of ours and I remind us grown people of the things we learned in preschool.

You help me out. If you remember what they were. Keep your hands, what? What? I know. To yourself. I know you're saying it. And if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. It's amazing that we learn these things in preschool and yet, as grownups, we somehow feel that they no longer apply. But if we could remember those two things, there'd be a lot less aggravation going on in the world and a lot less litigation.

So we're here to talk about fostering inclusion in the workplace. My first question to you is why? Why does anyone want an inclusive environment? And you're saying, "Star, why wouldn't we want that?" You're right. An inclusive environment is something that's very important to us as human beings. There are three things we as human beings, wherever you come from, whatever you look like, we all want three things. We want to be accepted, we want to be respected, and we want to be connected. And that is what an inclusive work environment does for us. It gives us an opportunity to be accepted, connected, and respected.

And it's also important to understand that when we humans feel that way, we are more productive, we are more creative, we are more innovative. And this is good for business. Now it's good for us because if we're in a good mood, we're going to do good work and we're going to have good relationships, but it's also good for business because you get that extra creativity. There was a study done with children in elementary school. And they found that having an inclusive school environment is great for children, because children learn more from the children around them than sometimes they do from the teacher, right? They learn from each other. And so children do better when they have a diverse background of children to be with. Different cultures, different races, different levels of intelligence, different levels of ability.

Yes, it enhances the experience for the children. Same thing at work. It enhances our experience at work when we have people from different cultures and it enhances our ability to be creative and do innovative work in the marketplace. So this is why we want an inclusive relationship, but who are we talking about? Who are we trying to include? Everybody, right? Everybody is part of that. Different people of different ages. We want to be inclusive of all ages, of all abilities, right? We want to be inclusive of all religions, marital status, race, veteran status, gender, sexual orientation. And there are a bunch more, but these are some that I think everyone can relate to. My favorite, of course, is dietary habits because I'm gluten free and dairy free. And so I know I'm a lot of fun at parties, but I like the fact that some people think about that and it makes it an inclusive environment for me as well.

So what are the components of an inclusive environment? How do we know we have it? Well, you know you have an inclusive environment when individuals feel as if they are treated with respect and dignity. Regardless of who they are, regardless of their background, regardless of where they come from, they are in a space where they are treated with dignity and respect. You know it's an inclusive environment when you feel valued for who you are, you feel valued for your similarities, you feel valued for your differences. In an inclusive environment, we have to be conscious. We have to consciously make an effort to respect people, to invite people, to include people, to listen to people. We need to be conscious of it.

I teach a lot of classes on sexual harassment discrimination, as I said, and a lot of people will say, "Oh, Star, I don't have any biases. No, no, no. I treat everyone the same," but we don't. We treat people differently based on our judgment of them. We do. And I would rather people just be aware that they have biases, because if you're aware, you can do something about it. People say, "Star, I don't have any biases." I got a question for you. How many of you out there like mint chocolate chip ice cream? How many? Go ahead, raise your hand, raise your hand. Look at that. Look at that. I do see some hands out there, but I don't see that many. So the rest of you have a bias against mint chocolate chip ice cream. What do you like? Vanilla butter pecan, right? We all have preferences. And as I said, if you know them, if you own your preferences, your biases, you can do something about it. If you own it, you can change it.

But if you pretend, or if you think that you don't have them, they are going to ooze out into how you treat people. It's going to ooze out in how you behave. And you've been in that situation where you said something or done something, and you look at yourself and say, "Why would you say that?" That's because we have these unconscious things going on in our minds. I'd rather, like I said, be aware of it. Just be aware, because if you own it, you can change it. You can do something about it. And another way to make sure that we have an inclusive environment is to understand and accept the fact that each person brings value to the organization. Each person is an essential part.

Okay. So that's a good idea. It's a good idea. Those are the components of an inclusive environment, but what does it mean to you? What does it mean to the individual? Right? Well, I know what it means to me. I know what it means to me to feel included. It is like when you are invited to participate in meetings, that's a way of feeling included. When the young lady back in law school, her name was [Anu 00:09:32], when Anu leaned over and invited me to lunch, that made me feel included. When she invited me to the study group, those kinds of things make people feel included. I know that vice president of Netflix, her name is Vernâ Myers, she describes it like this. Diversity is having a lot of different people in the room, right? Diversity is, she says, being invited to the party, right? Want to invite all kinds of people to the party. That is diversity. But inclusion, inclusion is being invited to dance once you get to the party, right?

We can have diversity. We can have people invited to our organization, but are we inviting them? Are we inviting them into the meetings? Are we inviting them to our activities? As coworkers, when coworkers invite you to activities, different things they're doing, you feel included. You feel invited. When employees understand your personal interests, religions, beliefs, they don't have to agree, but they understand where you're coming from. You know you tend to feel included when people are cognizant and aware of maybe some health concern or some child concerns. When those concerns are acknowledged, people acknowledge that they exist, you feel included. You feel that they see you totally, wholly. They see all parts of you. And when there is strong and positive communication, this is when we feel included. This is a place where I know I can speak up. If I don't like something, I can say it. If I do like something, I can say it. But that's what you want. A place where there is strong, positive communication.

We have all probably worked in situations where you knew you couldn't say anything. Where it may have been a negative sort of influence, a negative experience, atmosphere. And you knew you could not speak freely. We don't want to work in an environment like that. That is not an inclusive environment. So we know what it feels like to be included. How do we do this? How do we create an inclusive environment? One of the ways we do that is get involved in extracurricular activities, do things that are outside of your normal. Be friendly, be friendly to people, especially to people who don't look like you, people who are different, right? That means people who are married. Don't just talk to people who are married, reach out and be friendly to everyone. Include others in a conversation.

I remember being at a networking event and whenever there was two people that were kind of like in in a circle like this, two people talking, and I would come next to them, that circle would immediately open up and they would invite me in. It was a great feeling. But that's how we want to be in our conversation. You see someone hovering around, just open it up, invite them into the conversation. Listen. Listen to what other peoples have to say, give people an opportunity to express themselves, right? You don't want to speak in or butt in, speak over people, or cutting other people off. Very, very rude. And we do this sometimes because we think we know where they're going and we want to get there faster. Absolutely rude. So we want to listen to other people, consider other people's view points. Choose topics, venues, events, whenever you're thinking about what you want to do, just try to be broader in your acknowledgement of the people. Make sure everyone's going to feel included as much as you can.

Sign up to lead something in the office. You want to educate people. You don't want to put people down. You never want to put people down. And this happens a lot, I would say, with people from various cultures, right? Here's the deal. Sometimes we say stupid things. We do. We don't mean to, but we do. We say things that are not a good idea. We do things. We don't mean to harm, but they come out. And it's important to be open to learning to fix that sort of situation. You know a lot of people who are, let's say biracial, they get this question a lot. What are you? I'm sorry, what am I? What kind of question? What am I? I am human. First of all, it's a rude question and it's, it's a very personal question. You're trying to find out my heritage, my background, my ethnic makeup. What gives you the right to ask me this?

And I know you're saying, "Well, I was just curious." Here's a question. How about if I were to ask you, "Hey, nice to meet you. I'm sorry. How much do you weigh?" That's completely offensive, right? That's personal information. It's the same thing. When you approach a person like that, you're asking personal information because you want to know. Now I just say that to say this. When that happens, a lot of times those of us on the receiving end of that, we get offended and we want to strike back or we want to put people down. My suggestion is that educate. Most people do not mean to offend. Most people don't want to offend. You might have a better time saying to that person, "Hey, I know that you're just being friendly and you didn't mean anything by it, but I find that kind of offensive, and here's why," but that's it. You educate people rather than putting them down and we can move on.

I know that I have been told some things about myself, right? It's a little hard to take, but I appreciate it after, because in most cases I did not realize I was being offensive and I get to change. Thank you, before I continue to make an idiot of myself. Anyway, other ways to create an inclusive environment is to smile. We are just a lot more attractive when we smile. So try that. And here's a simple one, a simple one to make people feel included. Say, "Good morning," that's it. Say, "Good morning." When you see a person passing by just say, "Good morning." I know we like to say good morning to the people that we know and like. How about just throwing some extra ones out there to the people you don't know as well. This will make an inclusive environment.

So let's talk about this. Let's talk about tolerance versus acceptance. Tolerance versus acceptance. I remember when I was little, I was taught that I needed to be tolerant of others. Okay. And I did that to the best of my ability, but as adults, I just want to ask you a question. If your spouse, your partner, your loved one, came up to you and said, "I tolerate you." Is that going to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside? It probably is not. We don't want to be tolerated. We don't want to be put up with. We want to be accepted. And there is a difference. Tolerance focuses on separateness and it's based on ignorance. Acceptance celebrates differences. Tolerance, you have two sides who just... They put up with each other. They endure each other's presence. That's not a nice place to be. Whereas acceptance, it fosters understanding and togetherness. Tolerance, tolerance sometimes based on misunderstanding why people act, behave, the way they do. A misunderstanding and a judgment based on that misunderstanding with no desire to understand, right? No desire to fix that misunderstanding. And with acceptance, there are no boundaries. They're just different ways of approaching the same problem. Acceptance versus tolerance.

I remember when I first started working in the law firm, I had the opportunity to work for two partners, Jim and Alison. Now Jim and Alison both did all the work that they had to do to be partners in the firm, but they were different people to work with. I loved working with Jim. It was great. He always had positive words for me. He was inspiring. I always knew that he thought I was going to be a great lawyer someday and I did my best work for Jim. Jim fully accepted me. Then there was Alison. I hated going into Alison's office. I hated it because I knew I was about to get a beat down. It didn't matter what I did, how long I worked at the firm, how long I... And sometimes I stayed till two, three o'clock in the morning trying to get work done. It didn't matter. She always had this knack of finding the one, two things that I did wrong and that's all she would focus on.

She did not accept me. She tolerated me. For her, I was just a no good, first year attorney who didn't know anything. But for Jim, Jim accepted me as a first year attorney with potential. I felt the difference between tolerance and acceptance. And I want you to know my work product was so much better for Jim than it was for Alison. So something for you to think about as we think of tolerance versus acceptance.

We want inclusion outside of the workplace as well. So how do we do that? How do we foster that? Here's one thing. Explore the world. You know, when we're allowed to do that again. Different cuisines, other forms of entertainment, something different, culture that is different from your own. Inquire about passions and interests that are outside of the workplace. This is how we get to know each other and this is how we foster that inclusiveness. You want to embrace others despite their differences. Look for ways to learn from others. There's so much out there in the world that we don't know we could learn from other people. And bottom line is don't be afraid. Don't be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone.

And what happens when you don't. Well, what happens when you don't is that you get sued. Case in point Abercrombie and Fitch. They had to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit that accused the company of race discrimination. This one employee, Asian American employee, doing her business. She says corporate came in, looked around the store and told management, "We want you to have more employees that look like this." And they pointed to one of the posters. The poster of a young, Caucasian football looking man, brown... I'm sorry. Blonde eyes. You know what I'm saying. Blonde hair, blue eyes. It didn't look like her. And she was shortly terminated after that.

And what they found when they did the lawsuit is that Abercrombie and Fitch didn't hire many people of color. And if they did hire African Americans, Asian Americans, Filipinos, if they did hire those people, they had them working in the storeroom. They weren't having them out front. Anyway, they got sued and they ended up paying a lot of money. You compare that with a company like IBM. IBM actually pioneered the concept of inclusion in the workplace. According to records, IBM hired their first female employee in 1899. They hired their first African American employees shortly thereafter. They hired their first person with a disability in 1914. Far before affirmative action. Far before it became trendy to do that. They were in the forefront.

So what are some common examples? Some common examples of exclusion in conversations. As I said, most people do not mean to offend. We're not trying to be mean and evil. We just don't think about something. So one thing is asking a question. So what are you doing for Christmas? What if that person doesn't celebrate Christmas? Oh, my gosh. I remember I was working as a legal secretary and I went from this very big firm to a very small firm. And I've been there a couple of weeks and I thought, you know what? I'm going to get some Christmas decorations and I'm going to decorate the office. I am. It's going to be great. And so I bring in the Christmas decorations and the partner comes in and says, "You know we're Jewish, right?"

Yeah. I didn't put the two... Yeah. So it was a little bit embarrassing. I mean, they were happy enough with me because they knew, but this is what happens when we're just not thinking. We're just not thinking. Anyway, asking people so what are your kids doing for the summer? But what if I don't have any kids? What does your spouse think about blah? I don't have a spouse. Right? And then if we're picking a restaurant for business to go to lunch, think about all of the people that need to be considered when we're making those decisions.

In the end, we all want an inclusive relationship, an inclusive place to work. And I'll ask you this. Remember at the beginning I asked you, have you ever felt like an outsider? Have you ever felt like the outside person looking in? We all have. At some point we have felt that way, so we know how bad it feels. We know this. And so when we see people who might be feeling that way, we also know that we can do something about it. For me, it was someone just inviting me for lunch. It changed everything. There are little things that we can do to foster an inclusive relationship. The point is we have to take personal responsibility. My name is Star Bobatoon. I invite you to embrace your inner light and be the star you were born to be. Thank you for your time.





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