Diversity and inclusion work isn’t always about chasing the big win. As an individual, you may not have (or do not feel that you have) enough clout to move a solution forward. But there are critical moves you can make to advance the cause of equality. Micro-changes on an individual level serve as a catalyst to start fundamental workplace change. Unlike formal organizational initiatives – which may only focus on the big picture – micro-changes need not wait for official approval and can result in a significant groundswell of support.
Two strategies come to mind that individuals can utilize to begin creating change on a smaller scale. Both revolve around communications with your co-workers and with your supervisors. Both require bringing together the head and the heart in a way that is professional but also transformative. If you are seeking transformation (or adjustment) of some aspect of inclusion in your workplace culture, or to existing organizational policies, practices, and procedure, gauge the temperature of fellow employees that you think may also be affected or impacted by the change you seek. Have one-on-ones and build from there to small group conversations to determine if you have allies with similar sentiments. At a minimum, you will likely be surprised that there many individuals who are empathetic to the cause. For example, I have a friend who works at an educational consulting firm. He was telling me about a colleague who is a transsexual and wanted to advocate for there to be some gender-neutral restroom options at work. This particular worker began organizing and communicating with the diversity Employee Resource Center team on site and was able to establish a network of allies. They put forth a proposal to create a few gender-free restrooms in the organization and to keep some existing gender assigned restrooms in place. This was done in conjunction with a company PSA to inform and educate peers about the changes. This is an example of change from the bottom up that created a more inclusive culture for everyone in the organization.
As with most endeavors to change a system or policy, or when communicating with your supervisor about diversity and inclusion changes, there is strength in numbers. Doing the groundwork with your peers will help the process by showing there is workplace support. But don’t forget to bring in potentially one of your greatest supporters: your supervisor. Make the conversation about the problem or solution a pragmatic one rather than a discussion of interpersonal values, and present the opportunity as a win-win.
As my colleague Jahmad Canley (Founder of Potential Unleashed) would say, the focus of making changes around D&I should be about creating a greater sense of belonging to “unleash the potential of all employees.” Present your solution as a leadership opportunity for your management team that will cultivate trust and support from their base.
The biggest changes start with the smallest steps that have integrity, transparency, and partnership.