Committed to creating a respectful and inclusive organizational culture? Begin with these three simple, powerful practices in any meeting you host/lead in your workplace.
1. Gently weave your input into the tapestry
Become aware of your unique skills and know how to weave them into the flow of the conversation seamlessly. Knowing yourself is far more important than rank to put your unique skills into play, and to mobilize other contributors to do the same. Your input gets woven into the piece you’re creating; it does not have to stand out or to be (artificially) subdued.
Many well intentioned leaders, even with extensive leadership development training, still hang on to the belief that leaders are superior to others. Take the pressure off your shoulders and treat yourself like you want the people around you to treat one another: As equal to everyone else in the team.
2. Be an engaged facilitator
As an engaged facilitator you are both a facilitator and a contributor. First, you need to know the players’ unique skills, and enable those skills to come out and become part of the piece you’re creating. The quick, perfunctory “does anyone have anything to say” question won’t engage everyone. Genuinely seek to bring out each participant’s contribution in various, fun ways. Make the conversation process reciprocal at all levels and in all directions. No need to over orchestrate the conversation based on rank, or to unnecessarily wait until the end to contribute your views.
You may be concerned that once you voice an opinion you might stifle the conversation. This can happen when leaders (unconsciously) convey and there is an implicit expectation that no one should speak once the leader has spoken. This belief – remnant of highly scripted, hierarchical relationships – is almost never taught but tends to be part of the (unconscious) organizational culture. Its value in creating openness and safety is doubtful. Model openness and reciprocity by contributing to the conversation flow weaving in and out along with everyone else.
3. Pay attention to subtle forms of inclusion
When creating mailing lists, place people’s names alphabetically (like in Zoom) or randomly. This subtle way of communication conveys that everyone’s contribution is equally valuable whatever their hierarchical rank.
In many organizations, grand declarations about students as the “innovators” and “leaders of the future” are sung and plastered everywhere. But, when mailing lists are created, students’ names and those of administrative assistants always come at the end of the list. Manifest the spirit of inclusion in small gestures that can affect the culture in unspoken but impactful ways.
To sum up, show your serious commitment to inclusion and respect for all by applying and supporting equality-based practices. Focusing on any specific group, memos, declarations and policies alone does not change culture. Inspire and persuade your team with your own behaviour. Be a driver of culture of inclusion with your own truly inclusive practices.