How to Improve Workplace Culture Through Inclusive Group Agreements

Group of employees happy in an inclusive workplaceMost businesses and their employees agree that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), is an important workplace issue that needs to be addressed. 

In fact, a recent Glassdoor study showed that 76% of employees and job seekers care about a diverse workforce when evaluating companies and jobs. Yet, another study run by Deloitte, showed that while many manufacturing companies are taking measures to improve DEI in their organization, only a minority found these initiatives to be helpful in retaining talent. 

So what can companies do to implement DEI initiatives in a successful way? 

In June 2021, CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke, co-founders of thrive! Inc., presented How to Build a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion: 5 Key Focus Areas to Build an Inclusive Culture as part of TERRA’s HR Hotspot webcast series.

In this informative webinar, they explained that one of the best ways to take inclusive measures within a company is to spend some time as a group and establish a set of standards, behaviors and communication practices that are inclusive in nature. They call these Inclusive Group Agreements. 

Here’s an example of an Inclusive Group Agreement: 

  1. Practice a learning posture.
  2. Practice Inclusive speech.
  3. Speak from your own experience.
  4. Prioritize impact over intent.
  5. Practice active listening.

In this article, we’ll walk you through each measure of this proposed agreement and explain why they matter to foster an inclusive team environment.  

5 Group Agreements to build an inclusive work culture 

1. Practice a learning posture

The first step to growth is usually a willingness to learn. Same goes for inclusive group agreements. 

That’s because while we may think we know better, we all sometimes display exclusive behaviors. Accepting that and being willing to learn how to be more inclusive is essential. 

So encourage your team to learn and grow together. Push them to get curious about their own biases. Start by taking the time to think of the ways that your own history and experiences might have affected your perceptions and lead by example. 

If your team sees you are willing to be held accountable, they might be more open to feedback themselves.  

Keep in mind that employees will only be willing to display a learning posture if they don’t feel judged. Help them see feedback as an offering, a demonstration of care for their growth and success, not a form of punishment. 

2. Practice inclusive speech.

Inclusive speech (or language), is language that avoids the use of biases, slang, or expressions that might discriminate or exclude a group of people. 

By agreeing to use inclusive speech, you and your team will be agreeing to make a conscious effort to include each other at every turn. 

It can be as simple as saying “hi everyone” instead of “hi guys”. While it may not seem like a big change, referring to your audience as “guys” implicitly assumes that your listeners are composed of men only. In turn, women in your team might feel excluded or uncomfortable. 

That being said, consider that non-inclusive language is often not intentional. It usually doesn’t come from a desire to exclude but from ingrained speech patterns.

Still, it can still do damage and make people feel less welcome in a particular space. Inversely, the more inclusive speech you and your employees use, the more you will feel comfortable together. And the more likely everyone is to feel included and respected. 

3. Speak from your own experience.

The idea here is to be respectful of others by using personal experiences instead of generalizations. 

It’s tempting, especially when discussing difficult topics, to want to protect oneself by grouping with similar others. You might feel like generalizing your own opinions as if you are speaking for more than yourself. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of assuming others agree with you. While these feelings are only human, try to resist them and help your team do so as well.

Have your team agree to use “I” statements instead of “they”, “we” and “you”. Instead of saying something like “I think we all agree”, which assumes others feel the same way you do. Take ownership of your own opinions, and expect others to do the same with theirs. 

Not only does this avoid generalizations, it also ensures that no one is put on the spot, or has words put in their mouths. 

4. Prioritize impact over intent.

When open conversation has been established, it’s likely that someone is eventually going to say something that offends or hurts another colleague. 

They may not have meant to say something insensitive, but their intent is less important than the impact their words or actions had on their team members. 

Instead of saying “it wasn’t my intention”, encourage them to take ownership and try to learn about how they impacted the other person. 

As Susan says, “it’s not what you do, it’s what you do next. What you do first is motivated by intention but what you do next is motivated by impact.” 

Encourage your team to think on the impact of their words and actions, and learn from them. 

5. Practice active listening.

When having a conversation, it’s often tempting to lend half an ear to the speaker while planning what to say next.

In contrast, active listening is the act of making a conscious effort to understand another person’s position, being in the moment and giving them your undivided attention. 

It’s always good practice when having conversations, at work or otherwise, to practice active listening. When it comes to sensitive issues such as inclusion, it’s even more vital. 

So make sure that you and your team members are on the same page on this. When a colleague is talking, especially about a sensitive issue, Follow active listening best practices by using body language, eye contact, and verbal cues to demonstrate your attention and help them express themselves. 

Not only will this show the speaker that their opinions are respected and valued, it will also improve understanding and help avoid miscommunications. 

Inclusive group agreements come in many forms, and might have different content than the one listed above. But the idea is always the same. They serve to make sure that everyone on a team (or in a company) is actively working together to build a space where everyone feels welcome, and where different opinions and backgrounds are valued. 

These agreements are a good step to take in order to build an inclusive work culture in your business. They will have a direct impact on your employees and their emotional success in your company. 

Want more tips to build an inclusive workplace? Watch CrisMarie and Susan’s full webinar! 

And if you want even more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion advice, take a look at these helpful articles:

How TERRA Can Be a Resource 

TERRA Staffing Group is a leading staffing agency, headquartered in the Pacific Northwest. We work with many companies across a variety of industries in the Seattle-Puget Sound, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver metro areas.

Our monthly HR HotSpot webinars provide guidance, solutions, and best practices for HR professionals, managers and business leaders.

These free webinars feature insight from industry experts on a wide variety of timely workplace topics. Subjects include: diversity and inclusion, talent engagement, communication, HR advice, and more. 

If you find yourself needing staffing help, don’t hesitate to reach out to TERRA. Our expert team is eager to be a resource to you.

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