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  • Kim Meninger

Three Ways to Take Ownership of Building an Inclusive Work Culture

It’s time to diversify your network and play your part in improving workplace culture.

Three Ways to Take Ownership of Building an Inclusive Work Culture

In today's dynamic work environment, diversifying your network and contributing to positive workplace culture is crucial to your success. But that doesn't mean it's easy.

How often do you go through your day labeling people as "difficult" when, in reality, they just operate differently than you do?

It’s human nature to avoid discomfort. We keep our distance when people challenge us or behave in ways we don't understand. Humans also have an affinity bias, meaning we naturally gravitate toward people we like and are like.

But if you work for a healthy organization, difference is all around you. You may have a lot in common with some of your colleagues. But there are likely plenty of people you interact with regularly who have different backgrounds, identities, work styles, and personalities.

Sticking close to people who match your traits feels safe, but it holds you and your organization back. It’s not solely the leadership team’s responsibility to ensure everyone feels included. Inclusion and belonging are the work of everyone.

The choices you make and the relationships you cultivate influence your experience and that of your colleagues. The more individuals you can be your authentic self around, the better your work experience will be. And humanizing people who make you feel uncomfortable is the first step.

Here are three strategies to diversify your network and take ownership of inclusion in the workplace:

1. Show Genuine Curiosity

Everyone wants to feel like their thoughts and contributions are valuable. Being curious, rather than judgmental or dismissive, when new perspectives are shared builds a culture where everyone feels safe speaking up.

When I worked in high tech, I often noted when people shared interesting comments in meetings. Afterward, I'd follow up with the person, asking if they would share more about their thinking. And you know what? Every single person said yes and thanked me. People love talking about their ideas and themselves.

This habit of demonstrating curiosity shifted my own sense of where I fit into the organization. It also humanized people who often had different perspectives or ways of being than I did.

2. Have the Conversation

The workplace can feel like middle school all over again. It triggers that insecure inner thirteen-year-old in all of us.

If you want to advance with integrity, avoid the impulse to gossip and perpetuate cliquey environments. These behaviors are usually defense mechanisms we use when we don’t feel safe. Unfortunately, they cause harm on multiple levels: hurting colleagues, creating a toxic culture, and keeping us stuck.

Instead, challenge your assumptions about people and why they do what they do.

Take, for example, a participant who approached me after a workshop I facilitated about navigating difficult conversations. He shared that his tight-knit team regularly socialized outside of work—except for one woman. She had small kids at home and seemed disengaged. He wanted her to feel included but didn't want to bring up the topic because he didn't want to pressure her or seem insensitive.

I immediately wondered about her side of the story. What was her perspective on this dynamic? Was she at home feeling left out?

There are so many stories we tell ourselves about other people and their personalities, thoughts, and motivations. When we opt for communication over speculation, we can build connection.

3. Aim to See More

Hybrid and remote work environments can make people feel more intimidated to bring their whole selves to work than ever before.

Every person has far more to them than you see in a meeting. Still, it can be easier to put your colleagues in boxes (“he’s a naysayer” or “she always has pie-in-the-sky ideas with no follow through”) than to see them as three-dimensional humans.

Whenever possible, try to notice the little clues people give about their humanity beyond their role. These clues may come from a shirt they wear, a desktop background photo, office décor, or a comment they share about their weekend plans.

A friend shared that until recently, she had a challenging relationship with an intimidating colleague. It all changed when on a Zoom meeting, she spied a Pearl Jam poster in the background on his office wall. She took the risk of mentioning it and opened up an entirely new connection point. Since that moment, their interactions have become warmer and easier—all because they met on a human level.

Challenge yourself to share a bit about yourself as well, when appropriate. It may give someone else a window into who you are. The more people you feel comfortable around, the greater your ability to contribute and be successful. And the people you reach out to will benefit in the same way.

Are you ready to put these strategies into action?

By embracing curiosity, engaging in constructive conversations, and striving for a holistic view of colleagues, you can foster an environment where everyone feels valued and respected. If you want to discuss these strategies with other professionals, join us in my free virtual Leading Humans Discussion Group.

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