I recently attended St. Thomas’ 29th annual Forum on Workplace Inclusion in Minneapolis, MN. The national conference brought together Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) practitioners from companies of various sizes and across numerous industries. Attendees ranged from full-time practitioners embedded within organizations, to I&D consultants, to people like me – part time volunteers and “enthusiasts.”
As a newbie to the I&D space, I was hugely impressed by the expanse of this area. While West Monroe has always valued inclusion and diversity, we are currently on a journey to strengthen I&D as a strategic commitment.
As I continue to digest my takeaways from the conference, I reflect on some of the “quick wins” I learned about. What they come down to are common, everyday practices that anyone can do – no degree or special training required. They are simple acts of deliberate thoughtfulness that are fundamental to an inclusive culture.
Diversity is a proven competitive advantage, so let’s take the next step and contribute to an inclusive culture that inspires diversity to thrive.
Everyday Habits of Inclusion
- Introductions at the Start of the Meeting
How many times have you entered a cross-functional meeting and not known some of the others in the room? Did you try to introduce yourself? My guess is you’ve found yourself in a similar position as I sometimes find myself – I’ve got a jam-packed hour agenda on the executives’ calendars and “they don’t have time for niceties.” It somehow feels more respectful to ignore unknown people in the room; seems crazy, right?
The practice sounds simple – it is painfully simple – and yet we too often don’t take the few minutes for introductions. Imagine how much harder it can be for the newcomer to speak up in front of the executives. The executives don’t even know the newcomer’s name so of course this meeting feels less welcoming. But what if the newcomer has the fresh perspective and innovative spark the executives need to hear?
Though there’s always an exception to every rule, I challenge you as I challenge myself to make the time. To foster an inclusive discussion that values the diversity of opinions in the room, know each other’s names.
- Get to Know Each Other – Personally and Professionally
At West Monroe, we have a meeting practice that we call “Around the Horn.” As part of this practice, we’ll allot time for the start of a meeting agenda to hear about each attendee’s life at the moment – both personally and professionally. Each attendee takes a minute to highlight what’s new in his or her life.
We don’t do it at every meeting, and I’d argue we could all be reminded to do it more, but this simple practice creates space for us to get to know each other, to see the humanity in each other, and to continue to build trust in each other.
You’ve probably read the books on building the best teams, and at the core of the theories and methodologies is trust. It’s certainly easy to read and talk about, but it’s harder to put trust into action. Set aside time on the agenda for each other through this easy practice and lay the foundation for trust to grow.
- Invite Others to Participate
Each year I find more of my business stakeholders working from various locations. Technology has adapted to accommodate virtual meetings, but what about our meeting practices? Have you modified your meeting facilitation methods? Make it a point to ask those on the phone to share their perspectives. And equally important, help remind those in the room to stop side conversations from distracting from the virtual attendee.
Not only is it important to update facilitation techniques to accommodate virtual colleagues, but purposely inviting others to participate in a discussion can go a long way to make in-person attendees feel more included as well. There’s always a few outgoing attendees that can drive a discussion, but my guess is the soft-spoken attendee was invited for a reason too. As a facilitator or as an attendee, each of us can make it a priority to invite others to participate. If someone is interrupted, act as an ally and pass the conversation back to the interrupted. Additionally, reserve time at the end of meetings to go around the room and give each stakeholder the opportunity to add a thought to the discussion.
It takes one invitation to bring an outsider in. Whether it be to share a perspective in a meeting or to join the group for lunch, inviting others to participate opens the door and clears out uncertainty.
So, what’s stopping us from putting these practices into action? Too often we get caught up in the whirlwind of the next big deliverable and the looming deadline that we forget the importance of inclusive practices. If we want innovative, nimble, and collaborative teams, we must prioritize the foundations of such a team.