I am surprised by how often someone attending a seminar I am facilitating or participating on a webinar I am delivering will say something like:
- “Well if we value everyone’s diversity, we’ll never get anything done.” or
- “Why do the [some specific group of employees] get special treatment? They get whatever they want but I have to work hard for everything I get.
- “I just can’t include everyone’s ideas on every thing. I have a store to run and customers to serve.”
Based on the reactions of other participants to comments like this it quickly becomes clear that many people have the perception that valuing diversity and creating an inclusive work environment requires you to make up different rules for each person.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Valuing diversity means being aware of – and open to – the different experiences and perceptions of others. And being inclusive requires you to make adjustments because of the needs and expectations of others. But neither comes with an expectation that there should be no standard policies or practices that support a productive workplace.
There may be times when exceptions are approved for individuals, or when accommodations are made to allow an individual or group to be effective. But that does not eliminate the need for standard policies and procedures and systems for completing the required work. For example:
- In an organization where employees plan their breaks on a pretty rigid schedule there might be a need to adapt the scheduling process so Muslim employees can use their break time for prayer during their shift. The Muslim employees don’t get any more time than any other employee but their break time changes to allow them to pray at the specific time they need.
- Perhaps you have just interviewed an applicant at a career fair who has glowing credentials. Because she uses a wheelchair you would have to think through what accommodations or adjustments need to be made in the department to ensure both safety and success for this employee.
- What signs, forms or instructions need to be in more than one language? For example, if you have a group of employees who speak a language other than English, translating a step-by-step procedure related to fire drills into more than one language could save lives in the event of a fire or other emergency evacuation. But your organization might not translate all forms and signs into more than one language. Providing information in more than one language is less about being “politically correct” and more about being both productive and respectful.
- Many companies have found they need to completely rewrite their dress code policies in order to employ younger employees with body piercings and tattoos. Sometimes culture changes as groups of employees or customers become more involved with your organization, and that’s when old ways of doing things must also change. This is what inclusion is about.
Of course It is helpful if the values of the organization include the expectation that respect for all is an important part of the culture. But whether it is formalized or not, each manager and supervisor can model respectful behavior at all times and build relationships with all kinds of employees (and customers) for the benefit of the company.
So, if an employee comes to your office and says, “I never liked the color blue so I want you to change the company logo to yellow (because I like yellow and I think it’s prettier).” that would not be a request you would need to consider (in the context of diversity and inclusion).
However, if that same employee came to your office and said, “Because I am colorblind I’m having a real hard time following the monthly report because all the charts and graphs show the variances in different shades of blue. Since I can’t distinguish the subtle differences it would be helpful if each factor used a different color.” Because this affects the employee’s productivity and the team effectiveness, you might redesign the standard colors used in the charts, or accompany each chart with the numerical data the employee could use instead of the colors to track the meaning of the report.
Being inclusive is not about becoming a victim to personality quirks or individual employees who operate with a sense of entitlement. Inclusion is really about respecting and relating to all so you can retain the best employees who are able to their best work.