If your office culture doesn’t make everyone in your company feel included and comfortable, then seemingly harmless day-to-day habits might be making your diversity efforts ineffective. Baratang Miya, Founder of Girlhype Coders and Uhuru Spaces, shares some of the everyday company habits you can adopt immediately, that make the people in your team feel welcomed and respected, and like their voice is not only heard, but encouraged and nurtured.
Baratang is a passionate advocate for helping young women develop a career in tech, and teaching them the skills they need to thrive. When she was at university, she taught herself to code, and knows what it takes to navigate the tech industry as a black female.
Even though diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing: Diversity relates to the differences between people within a team (such as race, educational background, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs), while inclusion refers to whether and how individual people are made to feel like they have an opinion that matters to other people in their team and their organisation.
Baratang’s own experience of various kinds of ‘company culture’ has been one that illustrates that point exactly: She believes that just ‘having’ a diverse range of individuals isn’t enough, and that making them feel part of your company’s culture goes far beyond values on a whiteboard. For her, ‘culture’ is what happens on a day-to-day basis:
“People don’t read the vision or mission of a company and leave. It’s about a person’s daily experience. If I don’t really like being touched, and someone leans on me every time they ask me a question, it’s never seen as a cultural problem. Or a company problem. It’s my problem, and I tend to ‘deal with it’ by suffering in silence, and might end up leaving if the company culture doesn’t allow me to speak up.”
Diversity is about the kind of people you have in a team, and she says that it can drive a company’s ability to innovate: Different people bring different thinking, and with that comes new ideas. If a company cannot adapt its culture to ensure that every single person within a team feels included, Baratang finds that it becomes difficult to be competitive. You not only risk excluding (and therefore losing) a person, but you risk excluding a unique point-of-view and insight that then someone else might use.
A company that doesn’t make diversity its problem, as Baratang says, is often a company that struggles to innovate, and thus struggles to be sustainable.
If different thinking is what every company should be striving for, then - from Baratang’s point of view - diversity shouldn’t just be a sub-section of company culture; diversity should itself be the company culture, and everything else falls into place from there.
“We shouldn’t be operating in fear,” Baratang explains. “New ideas keep your company alive and competitive. It keeps you full of innovations, all the time. Where are they going to come from if they don’t come from different thinking?”
4 daily habits to grow a culture of diversity right now
That said, nurturing a diverse work environment is a slow process, and knowing where to start is hard. Baratang believes that there are simple, daily habits to make people feel more included within company culture that anyone can start practicing today. Whether you’re a team lead, a CEO, or a junior, being intentional about including diversity can be as easy as the following:
Start by learning everyone’s names
In Baratang’s own experience in the tech industry, respect is one of the biggest contributors to making someone feel welcome. She described an example of when she worked in a team of male developers: “Walking in, and seeing them all so zoomed-in to their computers, not talking to anyone… It felt weird, I couldn’t fit into it. It was intimidating to even talk to them.”
To avoid making others in your office feel like she did, Baratang’s advice is to make it a rule that team’s default to greet people by name, always. If someone walks into a new space, and feels like they are not being welcomed, it’s unlikely they’ll want to stay at that company.
“I liked this one piece of advice,” Baratang says, “that if it moves, you greet it. Even a plant, for argument’s sake. But you know all the staff members by name. And you greet them by name as well.”
This immediately takes the pressure of getting to know everyone off of their shoulders, which makes them feel included and cared about, and makes it easier for them to engage with the team openly and comfortably.
Make onboarding a company problem and priority
Baratang has found that putting things in place for someone to engage with the company is only the first step to greater inclusivity. What needs to happen next, is for a company to take responsibility for helping the person joining the company approach you, ask you questions, or raise things they aren’t comfortable with.
In practice, this could happen through things like mentorship for new joiners: “Some companies I’ve seen,” Baratang explains, “provide people with sponsors and mentors - the former is like a ‘buddy’, who introduces you to people and has lunch with you, and a mentor helps you set goals and develop your skills. It’s an open agreement, which is nice for the new joiner: We are employing you, and by virtue of employing you we’re going to give you a mentor and a sponsor.”
When a company takes on the responsibility of getting a new-joiner well setup, people automatically feel like you really want them to be there. You give them a mentor, so they don’t feel like they have to wonder if they’re allowed to ask.
Be proactive and ask for input directly
If someone already feels like an outsider, for whatever reason, they’re less likely to feel confident enough to speak up or raise questions. Without looking beyond the surface, they might come across as uninterested, indifferent, or unengaged, which could affect the way their team perceives them, how included they feel, and how long they want to stay.
Baratang’s advice to combat this is simple: “Just ask them: What do you think of this? It’s that easy.” Rather than waiting for them to speak up, make it easy for someone to offer their opinion. See how they feel about the way something is worded, or whether they can see anything that might go wrong with a new idea.
This doesn’t mean you should force an opinion, but include them in decision making or brainstorming by asking them directly - in-person and by name - how they feel about a certain thing.
Celebrate everyone’s achievements
Recognition and appreciation go a long way. Baratang’s experience of successful companies have been those that treat any achievement in their team as a celebration. “Nobody should get special treatment,” she says. “We are all accountable, all equal, to the point where anyone who does something well, no matter how small, is an achievement that everybody celebrates.”
She believes that giving someone a feeling of purpose and worth, like what they do matters, will manifest as a team that invests time and effort into a company: “People who feel at home where they belong, where they’re given their own feeling of value, will do anything for that company.”
Company culture that emphasises diversity
Baratang’s biggest lesson in her work with diversity and inclusion has been around biases, and the effect they have if they are not made obvious. She has found it incredibly useful to recognise the ‘lens’ we look through, and then actively try to see things through someone else’s: “I always say that my biases can make or break me, but my biases can also make or break someone else.”
If ‘company culture’ is approached through many of these ‘lenses’, on a daily basis and with everyday habits, it becomes a lot less likely for someone to feel unwelcome. Diversity will thrive, and people will be fueled to innovate, think differently, and fight for the organisation they feel is their ‘home’.