Diversity and inclusion have become commonly heard words in the media, at work and in our communities. As a result of our nation’s climate, just about everyone knows what diversity is. However, inclusion is less clear. While there is a plethora of anecdotal statements to help people understand the relationship between diversity and inclusion, catchy sentiments like “Diversity is the mix and inclusion is making the mix work,” can be difficult to connect to real-world inclusive behaviors. But being inclusive doesn’t have to be difficult. We can help to create an inclusive environment by applying mindfulness to the ways we normally engage with others around us day to day.
Here are five ways to attain role-model inclusion, each of which contribute to creating a space that feels inviting and safe for everyone.
#1 Extend courtesy to everyone.
Courtesy traditionally comes with cultural attachments to gender or age. Gentlemen are encouraged to hold doors for ladies and help elderly people carry items to their vehicles. Children are admonished to mind their manners with “please” and “thank you.” Consider for a moment what would happen if we lifted the mental limits we have framed around courtesy and, instead, offered a helping hand to anyone who may be attempting to exit a door with their hands full, or offered our seats to someone standing on the train ride home while trying to manage heavy luggage.
When we shift our perspective on courtesy to see it as something that is extended to everyone, we can create inclusive spaces that are safe for all kinds of diversity – from physical ability, to race, to gender.
#2 Mind your group meal planning.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), about 15 million people in the United States have food allergies, which includes one in three children. This number doesn’t include intolerances or autoimmune disorders connected to food such as celiac disease, which makes gluten unsafe to consume for those impacted. It’s safe to say that if you are hosting a group gathering over a meal, whether it is for a meeting or to watch the next big game, you should ask your guests to let you know if they follow a special diet.
You can also share your meal plans and partner with your guests to create a menu that includes them, or you can invite guests to bring their own food if they are concerned about being able to eat. Food is a communal experience; we build relationships over meals. Help everyone feel included by creating a safe meal space for everyone.
#3 Ask anyway.
Sometimes our biases make assumptions for others that not only may be untrue, but they can also create unfair barriers for others. For example, women who are pregnant are often overlooked for special projects or opportunities because people assume they will be too busy with their new little one. They might be, but asking gives her an opportunity to share her position, rather than be impacted by a decision. Maybe dad plans to stay home so she can continue to grow her career.
Asking anyway also means inviting the perspectives of everyone rather than a select group. Saying to a group, “Where is the best Thai restaurant in the area?” gives everyone an opportunity to share their perspectives and engage in some fun debate about local food options. Allowing our bias to lead us to ask the one Asian-looking person in the room could set us up to appear discriminatory and judgmental, rather than just wanting to have a good lunch.
#4 Use gender neutral language when gender isn’t necessary.
When you read the words: policeman, stewardess, or chairman, you likely associate those words with a specific gender. Let’s swap those words out for police officer, flight attendant, and chairperson. Now those aforementioned roles could be filled by anyone. It is only helpful to assign gender when speaking about a specific person whose gender is clear, such as, “Our Chairwoman, Angela, will be arriving a few minutes early for the event tomorrow.”
#5 Don’t rely on spokespeople.
It is natural to want to feel like we are asking the right person for information, but assumptions can make for very awkward interactions. If you catch yourself starting a sentence with, “Do black people…” or “Are gay people…” take a moment and consider: can you speak for everyone of your race? What about for all of the people of your sexual preference? Of course you can’t. Remember, Oprah Winfrey and Kanye West may both identify as black people, but their identity and perspectives will not necessarily represent every black person. Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell are both lesbian, but can’t communicate about being homosexual for the whole gay community.
Culture and identity questions can be challenging to ask, so if there is a question you’d like answered, first consider if it is a “need-to-know” or a “like-to-know.” If your inquiry is a “need-to-know,” (for example, you are writing an article and do not know if you should use term Hispanic, Latino, or Latina) it is ideal that you ask someone with whom you have an established rapport before firing off what might be perceived as an offensive inquiry. There is a way to appropriately ask culture questions, but remember, you are only getting one individual’s opinion, not the perspective of an entire group.
While there is no sure-fire formula to make inclusivity happen all the time, implementing each of these five mindful tips can help you create an environment that invites the diversity around you to feel included. Sincere efforts toward creating an inclusive space do not go unnoticed, especially by people who often feel excluded for one reason or another.
Amber Cabral is a speaker, writer and inclusion consultant based in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She founded Cabral Co. in 2005, which has allowed her to coach and mentor a wide range of diversity leaders by helping them transform their passions and ideas into executable content and services.