Is your workplace inclusive? Here are 6 questions to ask yourself

Sep 24 2019, 9:00 am

Written for Daily Hive by Cicely Blain, the CEO of a Vancouver-based diversity, equity and inclusion consulting company, and founder of Stratagem: Workplace Justice Reimagined, happening Sept. 27 to 29.


Diversity and inclusion. Everyone’s talking about it, or writing xenophobic and inaccurate opinion pieces about it.

You’ve likely seen it as an agenda item at a staff meeting or received an email from HR about a new initiative. But while it may be hot on everyone’s lips, does the talk translate to real change? 

As a diversity and inclusion consultant, I get to work with so many businesses and organizations in Vancouver and beyond — from film studios to universities to art galleries to non-profits. I structure my consultations like a journey: Where are we beginning and where do we want to end up? Surprisingly, answering the former question is much harder than answering the latter. After all, where we want to end up is simple: we want diverse, inclusive and respectful workplaces where people feel valued and included. 

Cicely Belle Blain / Credit K Ho

It’s always the beginning that’s hard. That’s why I designed Stratagem, a 2.5 day diversity and inclusion conference, as a way to help local businesses and organizations jump that initial hurdle. I’ve also put together the following questions to help you reflect on your workplace:

Are you collaborating or competing?

Over the past two years I have accrued close to 100 clients and started separate diversity and inclusion initiatives with each of them. This is not intended to be boastful (well, not entirely) but rather to highlight how little collaboration I’ve seen in this work. I get it — it’s not natural in business to share your secrets to success. But when it comes to something so inherently collaborative as a diversity and inclusion initiative, competition just doesn’t make sense. 

There’s so much we can learn from one another. In fact, that’s literally the key reason diversity matters — the more voices and experiences at the table, the better our work will be. 

Consider collaborating with other businesses and organizations in your industry and sharing your best practices. This will not only save you money but bring in so many new, creative ideas.

Whose voices are being heard?

Most of us have read articles like The Universal Phenomenon of Men Interrupting Women since it went viral a couple of years ago and since then the evidence has not stopped rolling in. In team meetings or work presentations, women are more likely to get interrupted — usually by men, but also by other women. When we consider race, nationality, age, disability and other factors, the dynamics worsen for those who are marginalized. This type of silencing is one of the biggest reasons why women of colour quit their jobs.

Diversity is so important for business because it brings so many voices to the table. We’re able to hear perspectives we may not consider if everyone in the room looks, talks and acts the same. So when we’re creating diverse workplaces or interacting with diverse communities, it’s essential to create a space where everyone can share and contribute. 

Are you resistant to change?

Resistance is a natural part of this process because diversity and inclusion requires substantial change and in some cases a complete re-haul of your current structure. It’s normal for people, especially those in positions of power, to feel wary of a process like this. 

I often see that resistance as one of the biggest prohibitors to a more inclusive work environment. Managers don’t want to give time off for training opportunities, finance doesn’t want to sign off on the costs of a consultant, and people with privilege are worried they’ll be replaced. 

Open-mindedness is key to success in this process. It’s a long term journey and requires organization-wide buy-in. Starting a D&I project is a chance to get creative – try saying yes to something you wouldn’t normally do. 

What’s your process for decision making?

Every organization has decisions to make on a daily basis. Traditionally, and still in many workplaces, these decisions are made by the bosses. This top-down approach works in some situations — entry-level professionals or middle-management don’t need the stress of decision making on top of their busy schedules.

However, especially in small businesses and nonprofits, a non-hierarchical approach may be more inclusive. Allowing everyone to be involved in decision-making, with a democratic approach helps people to feel included and valued. More importantly, it gives people essential critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to move into leadership positions later.

How do your internal policies hold up?

Writing and editing workplace policies isn’t the most exciting part of my job (I’m currently working on one that’s 253 pages long!) but it’s definitely one of the most important parts of a diversity and inclusion initiative. 

Every workplace should have policy that covers respectful workplace guidelines, defines discrimination and harassment and clearly outlines the consequences of disrespectful behaviour. 

The easiest way to get one of these going is to refer to the BC Human Rights Clinic that outlines protected identities (race, gender, religion etc.) and also provides free templates for reporting procedures.

Who gets promotions?

Often when people think about increasing diversity in the workplace, they think of recruitment. But diversity isn’t just about getting people of different backgrounds in the door — it’s about making sure those people feel valued and have a place to thrive and excel. 

For example, the number of women in traditionally male-dominated industries (tech, construction, engineering) is steadily increasing in Canada. However, many of these women hold low-paid, short-contract positions meaning their male counterparts get paid more and are more likely to get promoted into a leadership position. 

Women of colour are the most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace and the least likely to be promoted. This is due to many things but largely unconscious bias and a lack of skill-building and mentorship opportunities for women of colour.