Expert answers questions on workplace diversity and inclusion

group of people sitting around a table, including a person in a wheelchair and people of color

Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only the right thing to do, it’s better for the bottom line. But many still struggle with what it means to value equity—and how to do it. We asked certified diversity professional Deborah Biddle to provide insight by answering the following questions.

What does it mean to have an inclusive workplace?

headshot of Deborah Biddle
Deborah Biddle: Employees at all levels should think, learn and act inclusively.

It means providing an employment context where equal opportunity exists for all people to fully engage themselves. It also means creating an environment and a cultural attitude whereby everyone and every group feels accepted, has value and is supported by a foundation built on trust and mutual respect.

This creates an environment where people care about what they say and do and how they say and do it before they say and do it. It’s about giving respect and embracing difference. People should acknowledge their key developmental patterns and stories and build trust based on assuming positive intent. An inclusive workplace is one where people are more committed to building relationships than they are to their own comfort and are willing to start where they are.

What are a few ways that all employees (at any level) can help create a more inclusive workplace?

Think inclusively. Seek, value and leverage different perspectives to achieve successful outcomes. Acknowledge the accomplishments and contributions of coworkers.

Learn inclusively. Elicit and use feedback from all directions. Actively seek feedback from people with whom you don’t usually engage.

Act inclusively. Create a shared identity with your coworkers while respecting differences. Instead of just saying, “people matter,” take time to engage one-on-one with coworkers just to get to know them.

What are some things that ‘influencers’ (management/leadership) can do?

Sybil Pressprich UW Continuing Studies
Sybil Pressprich is the career services director at UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies.

Stay thirsty. Stay focused and committed to diversity and inclusion because they align with your personal and organizational values and because you believe in the business case.

Be gutsy. Somebody has to take a stand, speak up and challenge the status quo. If you’re in leadership, that is you. Do it with sincerity and humility about your own strengths, weaknesses and struggles in this area knowing that others are struggling, too.

Stay woke (aka aware). Know your personal and organizational blind spots. Check yourself. Self-assess to be sure you set the example for “fair play.” Assess and re-assess yourself and your team to help ensure your culture is inclusive and equitable.

Be curious. Be open-minded and curious about how others view and experience the world and be comfortable in ambiguity. Be able to relinquish control in order to make room for new and emerging connections to develop into a clear direction. Accept that there may be numerous ways of answering the same question.

Culture up. Always be learning, reading, exploring and engaging in experiences of culture that are beyond your own background and comfort zone. Engage in active inquiry and observation, being mindful that your assumptions or interpretation of a given culture might not be accurate or applicable.

Collaborate. Empower individuals and leverage the thinking of diverse groups. Trust the people on your team. Know that people want a workplace fit for the human spirit, where they feel psychologically safe, free from fear and honored.

What can I do if I have made a mistake and said or done something offensive?

Accept responsibility. Recognize that you can cause harm with the things you say and do.

Apologize. Once a comment or action is out there, you can’t take it back, but you can apologize and try to make it right. Then the healing process can begin.

Offer restitution … if there are adequate options available for you. Now that you know better, do better.

Sybil Pressprich is the career services director at UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at sybil.pressprich@wisc.edu. Deborah Biddle is founder and chief consultant at The People Company LLC. She can be reached at DebBiddle@ppl-co.com. This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on February 16, 2020.