How you can go ALL IN on diversity and inclusion (without having to be a D&I expert)


When you hear conversations about diversity and inclusion (D&I), it’s easy to feel disconnected when the talk is only ever at the organizational level. You want to take part, but it’s not always tangible to talk about “executive diversity” when you’re not an executive. Or perhaps you are a senior-level team member, but your organization’s talk is only about diversity statistics “increasing” and little else.

What’s really needed is a conversation at the micro level. Person to person. The things in your sphere of control that you can do something about today – the things that don’t require a degree in D&I or years of experience. It’s about going all in on inclusion in ways that work for you and the people around you.

We’ve put together a list of actions you can take right now to make your personal world a little more inclusive, one person at a time.

Use your voice to raise others up

We’ve all been in this type of meeting: one person constantly talks, not letting others share their opinions. Or perhaps it’s one type of person. Either way, there’s also always a quiet one in the room or the person who gets shot down when they speak up. This is a great opportunity to use your voice. If you’re noticing the quiet type of person in a meeting (or any other company setting), one of the easiest ways to help that person feel more included is to ask for their opinions.

It can feel intimidating for that person to suddenly have all the attention on them, so it’s not about singling them out or forcing them to speak. Instead, it’s about genuinely wanting to know their opinions. One way to move attention to them more kindly is to say, “I’m liking all the comments and ideas so far – [person’s name] I’d love to know your thoughts. Do you have any ideas or comments to share?”

Some people are the type that need to be asked or encouraged to speak. Others feel they can’t speak in certain spaces and need an ally on their side to encourage them to speak up. Using your voice to offer them the opportunity to speak addresses both challenges. As a bonus, you also get more knowledge in the room, which leads to better results.

Use the “step up, step back” mentality in group settings

In meetings or group work, it’s easy to get on a roll with ideas and work. It feels great to be on that roll, but you may inadvertently be pushing others to the sidelines and pushing out ideas that could produce a better outcome. Since studies show that diversity of opinions and experiences leads to more innovation, try the “step up, step back” mentality to ensure more thoughts come to the table.

Step up, step back is a simple rule. It means that you have an obligation to step up and share your opinions or thoughts if it makes sense to do so (for example, in a meeting). But it also means you have the obligation to step back and create room for others to step up. This rule is all about balance – if you’re always stepping up, no one else can.

It’s not a matter of stopping yourself from contributing nor does it mean you can’t do great work that you’re qualified for. It is also not about asking people who are unqualified to do something just for the sake of “inclusion.” Instead, it’s about making sure that you create space for others to step up and provide their expertise while also fulfilling your obligation to speak up and provide yours.

Give space back when someone is interrupted

In many business settings, women are typically interrupted more than men. This even happens when the woman is in a position of seniority over the men interrupting her. Either way, interrupting is one way that people get shut down and feel they can’t contribute in group settings. One of the simplest ways to create a more inclusive environment is to bring the attention back to the interrupted person as soon as you can.


Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

This doesn’t mean you should interrupt everyone again in order to call attention to the interrupting. Instead, try a way that allows everyone to save face while also realizing their wrongdoing. One way to do this is to say, “I don’t think [person’s name] got the chance to finish their thought – sorry about that – what were you saying about XYZ?” With a statement like this, you don’t directly blame anyone but you also clearly redirect attention back to the interrupted person so they can finish their thoughts.

Over time, this behaviour makes it clear that interrupting people is not ok in a business setting – people should be able to say their bit. But it also connects directly to diversity and inclusion, since women are often the ones getting interrupted. So it’s a win-win-win in the end – better ideas, a more respectful workplace, and more inclusion.

Always cite your sources

This section may bring up bad high school English class memories, but it has a real use in creating inclusive environments. People get ideas from all over the place. It’s no longer considered a weakness to get ideas from multiple sources – it’s a strength. And as you go about getting ideas and then communicating them, make sure you cite your sources. If you read a great article, say who wrote it. If you got an idea from a coworker, say so as you’re explaining it.

Very often, people who face the most discrimination at work (or those who don’t feel they belong) will share ideas privately only to watch the person they shared with take all the credit. Noting where you got your sources from won’t diminish your creativity because you built on it to get to the final, new idea that you’re presenting. But what it does is ensures that people who helped you along the way, whether they be bloggers, coworkers, or other experts, are credited for their contribution.

Not only will you highlight the great ideas from intelligent people, but you also send a message to everyone that you’re not out to steal credit – and that’s a powerful way to get people to open up and share more.

Listen to and learn from others

One of the biggest challenges in the world of diversity and inclusion is language and understanding other people’s experiences. Not only are there new words to contend with (such as “intersectionality”), but some words are used in different ways by different types of people (for example, “safe space” has many connotations).

If you want to make your immediate sphere of influence more inclusive, learn the words that other people use and learn how they use them.

This can happen in 1:1 conversations, attending employee resource group (ERG) events, or outside events such as conferences and summits dedicated to inclusion in tech and other industries. Outside events can be particularly impactful because they bring in a wider range of speakers and practitioners than you’d get in a typical organization.

When you take the time to learn from others, you develop empathy, a key part of helping other people feel welcome. While diversity training can be a great starting point, studies show it isn’t effective in the long-run if it’s the only thing you do. After learning the foundations in D&I training, learning on your own time – and on your own terms – is an effective way to make your immediate sphere of influence more inclusive through the knowledge picked up.

Small acts make big change

As the saying goes, diversity is being invited to the party but inclusion is being invited to dance. If you think of work as the party (weird as that may sound), then helping someone feel more welcome is the equivalent of asking them to dance. You may not be able to change the whole organization overnight, just as you can’t change the party from a casual pub night to a black tie gala with the snap of your fingers, but you can make tangible change in your immediate sphere of influence.

When you change your actions, two powerful things happen. One, the people around you begin to feel more included. A small act is not small for the person it helps. And two, you show others not only that you are inclusive but also how to act better themselves. Over time, and much of the time without you having to say anything, people will begin to adopt your practices as they see the positive impact your actions have on the people around you and your work product.

Workplace culture is the sum of all individual actions. You may not change the whole world, but you can change your world, and overtime changes your company’s culture.

By Guest Writer: Stefan Palios

ALL IN is the theme of the 2019 Global Summit. Find out more:

articleMove the Dial