Every day we get calls from clients who have been disciplined or even abruptly fired for unwittingly making remarks or “jokes” that coworkers found offensive or that concerned management as a potential risk. You can protect yourself and improve your working conditions at the same time, by setting the context for an inclusive workplace.
When it comes to creating a respectful, inclusive workplace, much of the burden – and the legal obligation – falls on employers. But employees can also play a big role. After all, the culture and environment of many workplaces depend largely on the employees. While management sets the policies and framework to help foster an inclusive culture, they’re not the ones in the thick of day-to-day employee interactions. And it’s those small daily interactions that collectively create a large-scale culture.
So how can you help foster an inclusive environment as an employee? Here are some ideas:
- Think before you make a joke or comment. Most of the comments which lead to action against employees were made inadvertently and without intent to offend, so check yourself by pausing before making comments or “jokes” that may be stereotypical or otherwise misinterpreted.
- Avoid cliques. There’s a natural tendency for like-minded coworkers to bond over shared interests. And there’s nothing wrong with that – so long as others aren’t actively excluded. Nobody wants to show up at work feeling like they’re back in high school, with the “cool kids” looking down on everyone else. Avoid exclusivity by extending an open invitation for anyone to join your social group at work.
- Don’t make assumptions. It’s easy to miss the subtle words and behaviors that can make others feel excluded – that is, until you’re the one being excluded. Assumptions often contribute to discrimination and other harmful behaviors. Learn to identify and challenge your assumptions about others, and never assume the worst.
- When you see something, say something. It can feel intimidating as an employee to speak out. Understandably, you don’t want to risk jeopardizing your job or standing with the company. But if you witness wrongdoing – such as harassment or discrimination – you’re not doing anyone any favors by staying silent. The law protects whistleblowers who report wrongdoing in good faith. At the very least, talk to an employment attorney about the best course of action.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to review your employer’s policies regarding harassment, discrimination and inclusion. Don’t wait for mandatory training to familiarize yourself with how to identify and report misconduct in the workplace.