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Learning and development support for minorities in the workplace

Whether you work with your hands, face to face with customers or in a digital space you likely work with people of all different races, backgrounds, cultures, and creeds. This is due to how our working environments have changed over the last few decades, and now with accelerated remote working due to the pandemic, we are working with people all over the globe and yet remain part of a team. 

However, this does not mean that there is balance in the workplace. It can be daunting for someone who is in the minority working with people whose backgrounds and cultures they are unfamiliar with. Or they can feel that they are ‘different’ and that extra and perhaps unfair attention is directed their way. For our adult lives, work, no matter what way you look at it, it does impact our social lives too. It becomes a part of it. People connect through work, make friends and sometimes more. And feeling left out of this social aspect can be isolating and have adverse effects on mental health and productivity. It is vital that a workspace, whether physical or digital, is inclusive. And the way to ensure this is through education and development.

This article will explore some things that you can implement in your workplace to support minorities and educate staff on inclusiveness. 

  1. Incorporate cultural awareness into company policy
  2. Recognise, acknowledge, and manage unconscious bias.
  3. Mix up teams
  4. Gather feedback
  5. Celebrate holidays and festival times of year 
  6. Ensure the work environment is accessible to all
  7. Make it easy for employees to communicate with senior staff

1) What is cultural awareness?

The National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC) defines cultural awareness as the “first and foundational element” of cultural competence, because without it, “it is virtually impossible to acquire the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that are essential to cultural competence.”

Cultural awareness is recognising differences in people. That is not limited to just race but religion, sexual orientation, disability, age and identity. In recognising cultural differences, it means that people can feel included by addressing them properly, understanding how they like to present themselves and communicate and in turn how they are culturally aware of others. By outlining cultural awareness in the onboarding process, you are setting a precedent on inclusiveness from the very beginning.

2) We are all guilty of unconscious bias at some point. It comes from our personal experiences and backgrounds but does not mean that it is reasonable. Unconscious bias is when we have preconceived notions of a person’s ability to perform a task based on their age, gender, race etc. Simply put it is seeing someone as a stereotype. It is easy to recognise unconscious bias, and the first step to managing it is teaching and incorporating cultural awareness as outlined above. It can be very serious as it can lead to someone who is suited to a role not being hired, which is discrimination. 

To avoid it, resources and training should be provided to employees to teach them when to recognise it in themselves and others. Many people might be bias without even realising it and just need to be pointed in the right direction.

3)  How many times have you sat on a team and been the only woman, or only person of colour, or the only one over a certain age etc? When you are in this situation it can be very daunting as you feel that either you stand out or are invisible. And this can then lead to not wanting to have any input or having your ideas rejected out of hand. Which of course can then lead to job dissatisfaction and an impact on productivity. 

It is important to try and mix teams up as much as possible and not simply for optics. Having people of different ages, race, gender etc. in one team working to solve a problem or come up with a new idea is far more likely to yield results that have a broad impact. This is because you have many voices and minds from different walks of life coming together to offer their views to be united into one final product. 

Having people all of a like minded viewpoint simply limits scope on a project’s outcome.

4)  It is important to check in with minorities in the company to get feedback on how they feel in their position. Only by meeting with them can you fully understand if policies that you are putting into place are working, or if there are any problems that are present that you are not aware of. 

It also helps to build a positive relationship with employees, as they must be able to feel that they can approach and speak to you about problems and issues before they get out of hand, or worse, before they hand in their notice. 

Many minorities simply feel that they are excluded based on bias, as outlined, so by asking them about first-hand experiences and their input on how to solve such problems, you can continue to lay groundwork for a more inclusive company. 

Gathering feedback should also be done anonymously through surveys and polls, as many minorities may be too frightened to speak out about ongoing issues in the workplace. 

5) There are so many holidays and festivals throughout the year that pass us by but are a huge deal for others. Celebrating these as a company is not only showing cultural awareness but is simply also fun from a social perspective. It can also just be acknowledged through company emails by wishing employees a happy holiday. Another way to show respect and cultural awareness here is to try and not arrange meetings or important deadlines on these holiday days. 

6) Are all your employees the same height? Are all you employees able bodied? Are all your employees one gender? Of course not. Hopefully. Anyway, ask yourself the question, is this workspace somewhere that I would be able to move around easily if I was disabled, a different gender, taller or smaller etc. We are all built differently and need to share the same space, so it is essential that everyone feels that the workplace is built with them in mind, as well as everyone else. There is nothing worse than feeling oppressed simply by how something was built in a way that is not considerate of different needs. 

7) Lead by example. If someone feels that they cannot speak to their senior, how are they expected to see themselves progressing in a company? When someone is hired, they want to see that they have the same opportunity as everyone else for career advancement but for minorities this is harder as there are simply fewer minorities in senior positions. 

Senior leaders — most of whom are white men — must set the tone. Why? In one survey, nearly 40% of black employees said they feel it is never acceptable to speak out about experiences of bias — a silence that can become corrosive.

Of course, the issues and solutions here are just a very basic outline of what is a deeply complicated issue but one that thankfully is being more and more discussed with solutions and active changes in mind. However, there is still a long way to go and only by bringing in these changes and actively following them can a lasting change be made, so that future generations do not have to go through these same problems decades down the road.

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