Inclusion: Out of the Training Room and into Employees' Hands

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek November 20, 2019

​Employees' daily interactions drive inclusion and belonging, and that means company leaders should move inclusion efforts out of the training room and into workers' hands, said Maureen Berkner Boyt.

Boyt is the founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and mentoring organization for women and others in underrepresented groups. She also is the author of the five-book series Rock Your Moxie: Power Moves for Women Leading the Way (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014). She gave a Smart Stage presentation at the recent Society for Human Resource Management Inclusion 2019 event.

"When we're teaching our people about inclusion and belonging, [we're] teaching them about being courageous," and that starts with creating psychological safety in the workplace, she said.

Psychological safety is the ability to express oneself without feeling intimidated or fearing retribution.

Boyt and her husband, parents of a daughter born with a form of dwarfism, initially didn't feel that safety when they attended their first Little People of America conference. Towering over most of the other attendees, they felt out of place and worried about saying or doing the wrong thing.

"We were very polite and not very inclusive" in interacting with others, she recalled. Their experience is similar to what employees feel when they work with someone who is different from them.

Noticing the couple's discomfort, an attendee born with dwarfism approached them and offered to answer their questions. He opened the door to inclusion, Boyt said, by allowing them the freedom to say the wrong thing as they tried to become educated about their 11-month-old daughter's condition.

In the workplace, such "courageous conversations" can adopt a more formal structure, such as the forums General Mills holds for leaders and employees to talk about issues like #MeToo, mental health in the workplace and unconscious bias.

"We'll stay at 'polite' if we don't allow the messy, hard conversations to take place, because when we talk about diversity and inclusion, it is messy," Boyt said. "It is hard."

The Power of Questions 

Questions have the power to build inclusion.

"If we can keep asking questions to see and understand a different perspective, it's a very easy way to build inclusion daily," she said. In the workplace, that includes asking questions such as the following:

  • Who else should be involved in this project, meeting or decision?
  • Who is not represented?
  • How do we get those underrepresented people in the room or start thinking about other perspectives?
  • How can I be more inclusive right now?
  • What else could be true?
"Teach your folks to be like reporters and keep asking those questions," Boyt said. "That leads to everyday inclusion through curiosity."

Set the Expectation of Inclusion 

Give employees tools to be inclusive by setting clear expectations on what inclusive behavior looks like at your organization.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Intercultural Competence as a Key Enabler of Organizational Growth and Success]

"Mistakes are going to happen. Everybody can't know everything about everyone. It's what we do after someone has said something that is the most important," Boyt said. "Let's make sure we commit to having these tough conversations and move away from blame and shame" when people err, "because if we allow [shaming] to happen, we'll never get to inclusion."

That means being open to hearing how you may have made someone uncomfortable and learning from that experience.

"Create clarity—what was the impact? What are the solutions? When we allow for mistakes, that's the core, foundational piece of everyday inclusion."

Leaders also need to explain the personal benefit of inclusiveness to employees, Boyt said.

"Have them understand that being inclusive is a recipe for their career success, that people that get along get ahead. … You have to connect the dots. [Inclusion is] about dignity, respect and career success."

Make Inclusion About Today 

"Don't make inclusion an event," Boyt said. "Meet people where they are, literally," to change behaviors and create inclusive environments. "Every time you're interrupting a routine, it's an opportunity to build inclusion." The Moxie Exchange created an app that shares inclusion tips and tools every time someone checks his or her smartphone.

Boyt advised HR professionals and other leaders to consider their employees' daily habits and routines to build inclusion.

"Do they enter through a certain door [at work], have to log their hours, check a portal? Those are all opportunities," she wrote, "to remind them of inclusion and share an inclusion tip or tools."



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