I find myself, more often than not these days, discussing workplace inclusion and how both public and private entities seeking to remain relevant should go about reimagining their existence. Now, I am known to embrace trying new things and testing the boundaries, but the idea of exploring workplace culture as it relates to the individual identity of employees is crucial. An organization cannot expect to become or remain relevant if their office norms are reflective of a period of time that no longer exists. That said, I have created a top 5 list for your consideration. Consider this list a consolidation of my own personal experiences and observations of workplace culture. This list is obviously not exhaustive and I do not seek to suggest that these items are the only valid items in dealing with issues of identity politics in the workplace. However, what I do hope to suggest through this list is that our organizational policies often reach far beyond our own understanding and that part of ensuring inclusion is by first recognizing that the experience of your employees, whether you can identify or not, is valid.
- WHY ARE YOUR HOURS OF OPERATION 8 TO 5? Now, I’m not suggesting that the workplace should not have structure, but if you can’t specifically articulate a reason for having rules in place as they relate to your outcomes as an organization, perhaps it’s time to rethink your policy. The reality of our lives, particularly millennial’s, is that flexibility makes us happy. Our ability to integrate work into our lives in a way that is conducive to our priorities is essential. The employer’s expectation is for you to perform at your best, so the employer has an equal responsibility to understand your work style as it relates to their strategic goals and outputs. That said, this theory only works when accountability exists in the organization; if you are not accomplishing the work you are expected to, then the appropriate discipline should be implemented. But it is old school error to equate visibility with productivity.
- I AM NOT LIKE THE REST OF THE OFFICE AND YOUR WORKPLACE NORMS REMIND ME. Perhaps you don’t pay attention to what’s going on in your office, or maybe you simply don’t care but either way you cut it, workplace norms are sometimes culturally exclusive. Whether it is religiously, racially, economically, gender related or any other experientially charged happening, being conscious of the fact that not everyone identifies with life in the same way you do is important. It’s also important to put actions into perspective, meaning, realize that your perception of disrespect is equally as valid as the next person. Creating a workplace that embraces a singular belief or encourages actions specific to a “type of person” is not inclusive. That said, if you are addicted to having an exclusive environment, embrace that shit, be honest in your interview process and don’t pretend to want people you actually do not.
- DO NOT LIE TO ME ABOUT WHO YOU ARE, SO I CAN BE HONEST ABOUT WHO I AM. We do this a lot – we say we are about diversity and inclusion, equity, pick a buzzword, we hire people that fit the diversity addiction of the year, and then they quit after a few months and we act confused. Newsflash: hiring people that “look” like your diversity priority doesn’t actually equal a diverse environment if you haven’t changed the culture that created the exclusive environment you harbored in the first place. So when you lie to yourself about your existence as a company you are also forcing others to lie about the culture in which they can exist because you were never honest about how you exist…so how can a potential employee be honest about their needs before they sign their life away?
- WHEN I SUGGEST THAT A CULTURAL NORM IN THE WORKPLACE IS UNCOMFORTABLE, DO NOT DISMISS ME. This is self explanatory and if you don’t understand then hopefully you are not responsible for the wellbeing of other people. Meaning, hopefully you are not a manager of any kind.
- TREAT ME EQUITABLY, RESPECT MY CHARACTER. Just because you don’t understand who I am or how I am, does not give you license to treat me poorly. It also does not place the burden of proof on me to show I can be trusted because you don’t know me or understand me. If I’m under a microscope 24/7, so should every other person who shares a similar standing within the company. If I am reprimanded for certain types of activity, so should others who perform the same selectively prohibited activity. I should not be punished because my diction makes you uncomfortable. I should not be examined because you have neither encountered a minority so competent nor a women who you perceive to be so threatening.
All of the above considered, this is where the battle against identity suppression in the workplace begins. We must first recognize who we are as organizations before we attempt to retain talent, then we must retain talent who fit within the culture we seek to maintain as organizations. The moment you retain talent whose existence you are attempting to alter through the enforcement of cultural norms you never clearly articulated prior to hiring, you are attempting to suppress the identity of said individual within your organization – and that is the furthest thing from cool. And perhaps most importantly it will either render your organization irrelevant and/or dysfunctional.
For the worker reading this post, remember, no individual/company/organization should define your terms and conditions for happiness. You determine where you go. You control how you get there. You decide what you’re willing to accept along the way.