When it comes to developing an inclusive workplace culture, a lot of the talk focuses (and rightly so) on how we can transcend traditional mindsets and ingrained habits to create environments where everyone feels like they belong. We talk about mitigating bias in hiring, the importance of being an ally, and working toward gender pay equity, to name a few. These are all very important topics that require continued attention.
Something that gets discussed less often, however, is how to create an inclusive physical space where we actually do the majority of our work. Once we’ve hired a diverse team, and created inclusive systems and processes, we need to be just as intentional in creating a welcoming physical space for all the members of our team. Below are five suggestions for how to do this.
Removing gender specific labels on bathrooms is a good place to start when thinking about creating an inclusive physical space. Not everyone self-identifies as male or female, so why force people to choose one or the other? Clearly labeled gender neutral bathrooms significantly lessen angst and discomfort that non-gender-binary persons may feel. Creating gender neutral bathrooms sends a clear and proactive message of welcoming and belonging.
Being a new mom is hard and trying to balance the often conflicting demands of infancy and career is an ongoing challenge. You can make it a lot less daunting by providing a private space in the office for new moms to pump and store breast milk on a regular schedule. Providing a space (including a mini refrigerator) to nurse or pump lessens stress, which allows for more focus on work. If you have the funds, you may also consider an on-site childcare facility.
This may seem minor, but imagine how empowered a person from an underrepresented group might feel to see a conference room named for a non-white male. Even better is naming conference rooms after underrepresented people who are relevant to your company’s industry, as opposed to general names like Martin Luther King or Betty Friedan. Renaming conference rooms is a subtle way to send a powerful message of inclusion.
Whether it’s a company kitchen, the place where you keep all the office supplies, or even where employees leave their coats in the morning, ensuring universal access is important. Intentionally thinking about things like wheelchair access for tables, doorways, and walkways; the placement of shelves and cupboards for people with different heights; labels in braille; and the location of your company lounge go a long way in making people feel like you care about their well being and specific needs.
If we want everyone in the company to thrive, we need to make sure that everyone has what they need to do their job well. This means providing assistive technology tools such as screen magnification systems, speech synthesizers, braille translators, and other tools for those who need them. Make sure that people can access the information they need on their personal computers, at meetings, and in interpersonal and social interactions.
People notice when you’re being inclusive. And they notice when you’re not. By thinking critically and creatively about how to implement these strategies into your workplace, you’re doing a great service to everyone who comes to work in your space. People feel like you’ve thought about their needs and are invested in their sense of belonging. This will go a long way toward their continued engagement and productivity with the company.