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12 practical diversity and inclusion activities you can start today

When you see the slow pace of DEI progress and the backslide of DEI commitments among organizations in recent years, it’s easy to get discouraged. As you’re consistently working to implement diversity and inclusion activities for your organization, you look up to see there’s still so much work to be done. Recent research from McKinsey found that “…as just one example, at the current rate it will take another 151 years to close the global economic gender gap at all levels.” Oof.

If your own company has tried and failed to improve things, you might even be at risk of “diversity fatigue”—that feeling of exhaustion after hearing the same sad statistics in endless trainings, presentations, and programs, and seeing little improvement.

Building a culture of inclusion and belonging can feel like a slog at times. But small steps add up, and sometimes you just need a few wins to feel like you’re still making progress.

From subtle changes in language to new practices and policies, there are several practical ways you can effect positive change (without committing large amounts of time or budget). Here, we’ll look at twelve activities you can start today to support a culture of true belonging.

12 diversity and inclusion activities to try today

1. Acknowledge non-work news and events

Look at the calendar. Look at the news. What’s happening, where, and for whom? Hopefully it’s something good, but even if it’s bad: Think about how your teammates may be feeling on this day, and say something. A short email or Slack post will do. 

Is it the start of Ramadan? Was there a big policy win for transgender rights? Are folks dealing with dangerous weather? Are parents dealing with a weird new infection in their daycares? See it and say something. Whether it applies to many or just a few, it shows people you recognize they are whole people with lives outside of work—and that you want them to feel seen and welcome when they’re with their team.

2. Appoint new leaders and speakers

Do the same few people always lead the big company meetings? Do the same few teams share their work publicly, while other teams always stay behind the scenes? Maybe it’s time to shake up your speakers. Who can you invite this week to host a scheduled meeting, or share about a project they recently completed? In this way you can make sure more people are feeling included in the regular goings-on and celebrations of your organization.

Also: Find other ways to prop people up and share wins that don’t involve the spotlight, for those who may not want it. Could they submit a video or write-up of their work, for the company to review together? Be sure to offer alternatives so more people feel comfortable taking part.

3. Make cameras optional

If you have employees working from home or otherwise video-conferencing in, consider setting the expectation that cameras are always optional in meetings. When you demand that folks have their cameras on, you introduce barriers that could make it difficult for some people to be as engaged and effective as they want to be.

For people with ADHD, for example, having their camera on can increase levels of stimulation and distraction. People with anxiety can feel extra anxious on camera. Blind/low vision and deaf/hard of hearing people can face additional hurdles with cameras on. There’s also research to show that women, as well as employees who are newer to an organization, often pay a bigger price with cameras due in part to pressures to present a certain image. Let folks choose! And make it clear that there are no advantages awarded to the most “visible” people.

4. Do (fun) get-to-know-me exercises

Before you groan, know that there is truly a fun and worthwhile version of these DEI activities for the workplace for every culture. For example, on our team the “fun fact about me” and “two truths and a lie” games started to fall flat, but we recently created “personal user manuals” (not a great name, but stay with us) and presented them to each other—and we all really enjoyed it. We got to cover our preferred working styles, share about our backgrounds and interests, and show sides of ourselves we may not have otherwise felt comfortable sharing. (Here’s a great template from Atlassian, if you’re interested.)

Note: Be sure to assure people that how much they share is up to them and these diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace are completely optional. The goal is inclusion, not to force people to over-share.

5. Institute a no-interruptions policy

Yes, it’s a “policy,” which sounds like it could take a while to enact—but this is one you can do quickly.

Gather your leaders and together declare your culture a no-interruptions kind of place. This means when someone speaks, no one is allowed to talk over them or cut them off before they finish their thought. Not only is this simply a more pleasant way to work for everyone, but it also allows voices that are often dismissed or pushed out of a conversation to be heard.

Women at all levels and across industries report being frequently interrupted at work. More introverted employees sometimes hesitate to speak up. When you discourage interruptions, you create the space needed for everyone to share their thoughts. This can be a hugely impactful part of your diversity and inclusion activities.

6. Have afternoon tea instead of after-work happy hours

Having post-work drinks is a common practice in many workplaces and can be a fun form of bonding—but it’s not inclusive. Switch your next after-hours happy hour to a company-time afternoon tea. This is more inclusive in three important ways:

  1. It doesn’t exclude sober people.
  2. It doesn’t exclude people who have commitments after work, like picking up children or taking care of loved ones.
  3. It combats drinking culture in general, which can serve to exclude people from key decisions and conversations that happen among the team over drinks, putting them at an unfair career disadvantage.

7. Take online trainings together

Block an hour or two and do an online DEI training, assessment, or reading together. The pre-scheduled time and energy of colleagues all working through something simultaneously can be just what folks need to prioritize the DEI self-education they’ve assigned themselves (or that you hope they’ve assigned themselves).

Our (biased) recommendation? Try Textio’s Interrupting Bias in Hiring certification course. It takes about 90 minutes and will teach folks key concepts in workplace inclusion and equity.

8. Cut clichés from your employer branding

Showing your company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is important, but take care to not look like you’re trying too hard.

For example, please don’t go overboard with the rainbow or multicolored imagery, which has been identified as the number one cliché in DEI communications. You’re also likely to get an eye roll if you use stock photos showing a conspicuously diverse group of colleagues looking “heterogeneously happy at work.” Avoid overused visual tropes, such as outstretched hands (being raised in unison or joining together in a team huddle) and so-called “diversitrees” (roots and branches used as symbols of inclusion).

Try to only use imagery and designs that feel authentic. Stick with your usual brand color palette so the message reads as sincere. And in lieu of stock photos, show real people and places that genuinely reflect your workforce. If you don’t yet have great pictures of your employees, you don’t have to use any images at all. Your words and actions carry more weight than looking the part.

9. Switch to gender-neutral bathrooms

Gender identity is a spectrum, yet most restroom signage still features the rigid binary of stick figures and stick figures that wear dresses.

If you’re working in office, there’s really no good reason not to make single-occupancy bathrooms gender-neutral (and in some places, it’s already required by law). For nonbinary and transgender people in your workplace, gender-neutral bathrooms can remove the discomfort that can come with being forced to choose between two (too-narrow) options.

Gender-neutral bathrooms also create a fairer system overall, where everyone waits the same amount of time to use the facilities. And it does away with the sexist imagery of depicting all women in skirts.

Even if your office has multi-stall bathrooms that require gender-binary labels, you can still create signage (and an atmosphere) that’s more hospitable to everyone. Before Textio went fully remote and was working from an office, we installed single-occupancy, gender-neutral bathrooms in our space. But we also had to keep the original “Men’s Room” and “Women’s Room” labels on our multi-stall restrooms. So we changed the rest of the signage.

Instead of gendered images, we feature simple depictions of the facilities that any person could expect to find inside: a toilet, a urinal, and accessibility for wheelchairs. We also added a note reading, “Regardless of the label, people of all gender identities and expressions are welcome in this restroom.”

10. Update your application forms with inclusive language

Many well-intentioned companies are guilty of unwittingly using othering language in their application forms. Changing your language can be a quick yet highly effective part of your diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace.

At Textio, we include an extensive and standardized voluntary self-identification section to collect candidate demographics in our application form, with explanations, definitions, and links to additional resources. But! When we were smaller, we used a more custom version—and we were very intentional with our language.

For starters, our demographics survey section asked applicants, “What are your racial, ethnic, and origin identities?” rather than just “What is your racial or ethnic identity?” By broadening the scope, writing “and” over “or,” and using the plural “identities,” this version recognized that many people carry multiple identities. Many job application forms force you to choose either a single category or just "Other."

We’ve also added an optional pronouns section to our form. Many companies don’t ask about pronouns, and the ones that do often make the mistake of using wording like “indicate your preferred pronouns.” That kind of language may seem sensitive, but it’s actually problematic. Pronouns are not a preference; they are a core part of an individual’s identity.

11. Remove bias from your job posts and sourcing outreach

Building a more balanced community often involves changing the way you recruit. Reworking application forms and your online DEI messaging to be more intentionally inclusive is part of that; another big part is ensuring your job posts, recruiting emails, and other talent communications are appealing to prospective candidates from all backgrounds.

You can start by finding and modifying any problematic gendered language in your job descriptions. Instead of saying “the sales manager will lead his or her team” try “the sales manager will lead their team.”

It’s also just as important, though much trickier, to suss out and remove the unconscious or otherwise hidden bias in your talent content. For example, relatively common descriptors like work hard, play hard have been shown to lead to more applications from men than from other genders, based on Textio’s applicant response data. So have seemingly innocuous words like exhaustive and enforcement.

The full list of words and phrases with hidden bias is far too long to fit into a simple checklist you can consult when writing job descriptions. Plus, it’s constantly changing, because the way people use and interpret language continues to evolve. Use always-updated DEI technology in these cases, for inclusive language guidance. Don’t yet have that? Try to bring your most aware, most intentional self to your writing, and carefully consider how your words might be interpreted.

12. Redefine “DEI” for your organization

A good (and important) way to refresh your DEI energy is to refresh your DEI language. Some terms in the space have become stale.

Consider the phrase “diversity and inclusion” itself: even it could use a rewrite. Diversity is important, inclusion is important—but does “diversity and inclusion” fully express what you’re going for? How about equity? How about belonging, the actual experience of inclusion?

If your org has been calling it D&I or even DEI, maybe today’s the day you start shifting to DEIB. We’ve done this at Textio and even updated some folks’ titles to reflect it. How might the perspective shift when you’re talking about the work in these terms? What new focus areas and opportunities could it open up beyond “diversity and inclusion activities”? This reframing could be just the boost you need.

Inclusion and belonging can be built in small steps

It can be tough to get past diversity fatigue and create a workplace that genuinely feels open to people of all backgrounds and identities. Come back to this list of DEI activities for the workplace when you start to feel defeated and let it inspire you to take small, but significant, action.

Even better: Share this list with the managers and leaders in your org. Help them help you create the environment you all deserve.

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