Fostering Inclusivity During the Holidays and Year Round
Creating an inclusive workplace is a complex task. After all, people are anything but simple. None of us have merely one “self.” Every person is a mixture of intersecting identities that influence how people see us and, conversely, how we see them.
How, then, can a business foster an inclusive workplace, particularly around the holidays? As Stacy Stolen, HR Manager at Alliant National, explains, it requires being mindful of how our biases shape our perceptions while working toward a culture where everyone can be recognized and respected. I spoke with Stolen on the complexities of this work, what Alliant National is doing to promote inclusivity, and takeaways for agencies looking to build inclusive workplaces during the holidays and year-round.
Inclusivity begins with empathy
When asked how she defines inclusivity, Stolen said, “Simply put, inclusion and being inclusive is to have empathy,” adding that, “at a company-level, it takes developing a shared understanding that we all have our own unique experiences that occur within a society filled with inequalities.”
Once this understanding is established, productive work can begin. “We can then start to relate and learn from others. This is important because empathy allows us to humanize one another and feel responsible for everyone’s safety and well-being. We can positively influence our surroundings and ensure everyone feels seen, validated, and heard – even if we don’t directly relate to everyone else’s experience,” Stolen said.
Easier said than done
What makes this easier said than done, however, are social constructs and the unconscious biases they produce. Identity composes a wide range of attributes – from race, sexuality and ethnicity to education level, family of origin and belief structures. Some of these identities, said Stolen, carry more power in the world than others. Depending on how someone identifies, they may find themselves unjustly stereotyped by the dominant power structures of society.
Building an inclusive workplace, then, necessitates building a culture where people can feel safe and supported enough to interrogate their biases and push back on the inclination to stereotype. A first step involves simply accepting that such biases exist and that typically we have little opportunity to reconsider our ingrained beliefs. As Stolen explained, “Quite often, we interact with folks who look, feel, act like us, or have identities roughly like ours. Therefore, we can’t do anything aside from perpetuate these stereotypical beliefs about folks in other social groups. That’s because we aren’t being exposed to anything different to dismantle these inaccurate ideas. We need to break this cycle and cultivate mindfulness to expand our idea of what collective community looks like.”
It also involves seeing this work as more of a journey rather than a destination. “This work requires consistent and intentional engagement with yourself and others that you interact with daily,” said Stolen. “Just like anything else you aspire to change in yourself or in your environment, you must commit that same time and effort in showing up as an ally and advocating for necessary change.”
So, what does this look like in practice? Stolen noted that Alliant National’s commitment to building an inclusive workplace involves investing in culture awareness training and dialogue. Additionally, in the New Year, the company is launching an internal committee dedicated to ensuring that its priorities are considered through an inclusive lens.
Stolen described how these efforts are not viewed as one-offs by the company. Instead, they are part of a continuous, holistic and ever-evolving move toward a more inclusive culture. This is an important feature of Alliant National’s larger goal of being a workplace where every employee feels comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and can:
- Remain present even when uncomfortable;
- Accept that we are all part of the problem and must work to change society for the better;
- Learn how to empathize with others’ experiences that are different from their own;
- Make mistakes while striving for a better tomorrow;
- Educate themselves and those around them; and
- Not expect those with the least power in society to do the brunt of the work.
How to promote inclusivity during the holidays and everyday
Holiday periods are a perfect opportunity to promote an inclusive culture, Stolen noted. For many, holidays are informed by cultural identity. It is important to be mindful around language and emphasize respect for all regardless of individual beliefs. “Just because you don’t celebrate certain holidays doesn’t mean that you are exempt from being aware and educated on holidays and religious practices that others celebrate,” Stolen observed.
Of course, there are many other ways to build inclusivity year-round, including:
- Researching histories of marginalized groups and investing in cultural awareness development.
- Developing ally programs/affinity groups and creating places for folks to find community and to encourage dialogue around challenging topics.
- Hosting “Lunch and Learns” that expand cultural humility and awareness. Alliant National, for example, recently hosted one titled, “Challenging Stereotypes and Microaggressions.”
- Surveying your workplace to better understand understand your company’s culture better and find opportunities for improvement.
There is no time like today
Building an inclusive culture takes work; there is no doubt about it. But as the holiday season continues, there is no better time to begin nurturing greater respect, empathy and belonging in the workplace. Stolen noted that when companies commit time and resources to encouraging inclusivity, great things can happen. “Workplaces that commit to inclusivity become more instrumental to their employees, customers and communities.”