Do any of these happen in your workplace?
In an engineering team, primarily men, women engineers were excluded from happy hour or team dinners. Coloured employees attempt to fit in by dressing, walking and speaking like their white colleagues in a predominantly white company. In a multicultural organisation, employees of similar ethnic groups sit together, with little cross-ethnic mingling or conversations, during lunch at the company's cafeteria.
Do these stories sound familiar to you? No matter the background, shouldn't everyone have the right to be included and feel safe? People do their very best when they can be their authentic selves. Why don't workplace encourages that?
This is where DEI comes in. DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, where diversity is the presence of differences in a specific environment. Equity refers to fair treatment of " unequal " people in society, while inclusion ensures that people feel a sense of belonging.
Undoubtedly, DEI is crucial in creating and maintaining a successful workplace. With DEI, self-esteem and work satisfaction of your peers will increase. Subsequently, employees feel motivated, engaged and willing to contribute more to the organisation.
Yet, fostering a safe, collaborative and inclusive workplace has its challenges. DEI efforts are a precarious balance between preserving separate voices while remaining unified towards the organisation's or community's goal. When you don't have a specialist, DEI tasks can seem daunting.
Read on to learn about how you can start to untangle this complexity.
- Organise a Cultural Pot-Luck or Happy-Hour
- Put Together a Cultural Calendar of Everything
- Build a Cultural Photo Wall or Virtual Photo Album
- Raise Funds with The Bias Jar
- Hold Regular Diversity Sharing
Is There A Need For A Dedicated DEI Specialist Or Team?
DEI can be messy and confusing. And so, having a DEI specialist or team can bring a huge relief! A specialist or team can focus on doing research, providing guidance, facilitating activities, or implementing changes in the organisation.
Truth be told, even if you have a dedicated DEI team or Human Resources person working on DEI initiatives, the job of cultivating a DEI culture rests on everyone's shoulders. From top board members to the front-line customer service staff, everyone needs to learn, embrace and embody DEI.
But, don't fret. Even without a dedicated DEI team, you can still create a DEI culture!
The magic ingredients to cultivate DEI culture is commitment, responsibility and strategy. A DEI commitment is when leaders and their employees promise to embody DEI in their speech, behaviours and decisions. Responsibility is ensuring that everyone carries out their promises. Suppose it's not possible; the team will work together to develop a solution. A DEI strategy is the agreed-upon method of cultivating a DEI culture.
With these magic ingredients, you can start to cultivate a DEI culture, where everyone can thrive personally and professionally.
Five Easy DEI Activities
Not too sure where to start?
No matter the size of your company or organisation, you can make DEI an essential part of your culture with a few simple activities. Try these five easy DEI activities in your workplace.
Organise a Cultural Pot-Luck or Happy-Hour
Who doesn't love food or drinks? Organise a Cultural Pot-Luck party!
A pot-luck party is when each party-goer contributes to the party by bringing a dish. Although, for a Cultural Pot-Luck Party, have your friends or colleagues bring along their favourite traditional dish instead. Traditional dishes allow everyone to share and learn about different cultural histories.
Research has shown that when people have clarity and can share their cultural identity, they get a boost in their self-esteem and sense of well-being. In addition, encouraging people to share their cultural identity allows them to be more open and accepting of people from other cultural groups.
Prefer drinks over food? Consider organising a Cultural Happy-Hour where your colleagues bring along a traditional drink of their choice, alcoholic or not. They can bring drinks for themselves or others. They can make the drinks in the office pantry, or purchase a crate or box of beverages.
Whether you choose a pot-luck or happy hour or both, the purpose is to get your party-goers to share about their cultures and to have fun!
Put Together a Cultural Calendar of Everything
Celebrations should not be limited to the "official" public holidays. The richness in diversity may mean there are more things to celebrate than you know!
Put up a large wall calendar in the office or set up a virtual team calendar. Besides "official" public holidays, have your team members indicate their important cultural days. You can also include dates that are meaningful, relatable and possibly funny, such as Cultural Diversity Day (21 May), World Chocolate Day (7 July) or Earth Hour (last Saturday of March from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm).
Depending on the team dynamics, the calendar may evolve to include more personally meaningful dates, such as birthdays or anniversaries.
As a team, you can decide what you would like to do on those days. It could be a simple sharing of photos, articles or videos. Or a short show-and-tell in the team meeting. If possible, arrange a team outing or a day-off. Your colleagues will appreciate the gesture, large or small, and the time spent together.
Build a Cultural Photo Wall or Virtual Photo Album
Like the Cultural Calendar of Everything, you can create a photo wall in the office or a virtual photo album in a shared drive. On the wall or album, compile photographs of personal and cultural moments from your colleagues or as a team.
These photographs make excellent icebreakers and conversation starters because they spark connections. Important events in other people's lives encourage perspective-taking and empathy. Photos of a traditional Indian wedding can start conversations about the diverse ways of celebrating marriage. Or pictures of family dinners encourage people to share their family traditions and food.
Make it a team project. Get everyone involved to curate and edit the wall or album. Add descriptions. Allow others to add comments via post-its or on the album feed. Make it a yearly project, with a new wall or album at the start of the new year. You can even throw a party to "takedown" the photo wall at the end of the year so that you can start anew.
Raise Funds with The Bias Jar
Fostering inclusion is not only about sharing diverse cultural stories and experiences. It is also about calling out on non-inclusive language and behaviours in the workplace.
Diversity is complex, and it is difficult for anyone to know all non-inclusive languages and behaviours. Besides, long-term habits are hard to change. This is where we can all help each other.
For the Bias Jar, you call them out every time someone says or does something non-inclusive. Those who were called out will need to contribute to the Bias Jar.
For example, calling your team "hey guys" may make women on the team feel excluded. Or selecting a restaurant that does not offer vegan, vegetarian or halal meals may mean your colleagues will go hungry.
Calling out non-inclusive language or behaviour is not for "punishment" per se. Instead, it is a collective learning opportunity about what makes your friends or colleagues feel included or excluded.
Once the Bias Jar is full or reaches a certain amount, decide as a team what you would like to do with the collected funds. Your team may choose to fund a team meal or trip or make a donation to an important cause.
Hold Regular Diversity Sharing
If your team or organisation holds regular meetings, why not dedicate some time to diversity sharing? Decide with your team how you would like to shape your Diversity Sharing session. Be creative!
You and your colleagues could take turns to present a cultural tradition, stories, celebrations, or news. You could also share a case study of how your colleagues overcame or solved a cultural issue. Or perform traditional music with a traditional dance using traditional instruments!
Diversity sharing is an opportunity for you and your colleagues to learn something new and exciting about another culture. Not only, but the diversity session also gives your colleagues a chance to practice their presentation skills. Or even become the informal leader or go-to-expert of a particular cultural group.
Cultivating a DEI culture does not need to be complicated. You do not need a dedicated DEI specialist. Instead, DEI is a way of life. Anyone can start a DEI culture!
Whether you are a team of 2 or a company of 200,000, everyone can do a little something to make the workplace inclusive for everyone.
Diversity is about all of us and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together. Jacqueline Woodson
Have you tried any of the activities? Or are there other DEI activities you've tried and worked on? Drop a line and share it with us!